Is the Christmas Story Historical?

The Nativity and, in particular, the virgin birth has increasingly come under attack from liberal scholarship in recent years. Those committed to a naturalistic worldview dismiss the virgin birth of Jesus as fanciful. Muslims and Christians, on the other hand, are both agreed that Jesus was born of a virgin. The nativity story is somewhat different, however, in the Qur'an. Surah 19:17-23, for instance, tells us that the virgin Mary gave birth "at the trunk of a palm-tree" in a "remote place". The Christmas story is thus quite dissimilar. Muslims thus, along with atheists, often call into question the historicity of the Biblical version of the nativity story. Some have even questioned whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem and whether Mary and Joseph’s venture to this town was prompted by the Roman census as recorded by Luke. In this article, I discuss these questions.

Avoiding the Siren Temptation Trap: A Lesson From Homer

Avoiding the Siren Temptation Trap: A Lesson From Homer

The Sirens were mythical creatures spoken of in many ancient Greek stories, notably in the writings of the poet Homer (such as the Odyssey). The Sirens were beautiful creatures portrayed as seductively attractive women who lured and ensnared unsuspecting sailors with their enchanting music and hypnotizing voices. Sirens may have been beautiful, but they were also extremely dangerous. The clip above is excerpted from Pirates of the Caribbean 4, in which these mythical creatures are encountered.

In the Odyssey, when Odysseus leaves the home of the goddess Circe, Circe warns Odysseus about the Sirens, saying of them,

Next, where the Sirens dwells, you plough the seas; Their song is death, and makes destruction please. Unblest the man, whom music wins to stay nigh the cursed shore and listen to the lay. No more that wretch shall view the joys of life His blooming offspring, or his beauteous wife! In verdant meads they sport; and wide around lie human bones that whiten all the ground: The ground polluted floats with human gore, And human carnage taints the dreadful shore. Fly swift the dangerous coast: let every ear be stopp’d against the song! ’tis death to hear! Firm to the mast with chains thyself be bound, Nor trust thy virtue to the enchanting sound. If, mad with transport, freedom thou demand, Be every fetter strain’d, and added band to band.

The Sirens were cannibals. They would lure unsuspecting mariners, oblivious to the danger they were in, to their island, to be shipwrecked on the rocky coast. What a metaphor for the temptation we face as Christians! And just like temptation, the Sirens would offer a promise of delight, with a false assurance that the victim would be able to leave when he pleased

When the Head Meets the Heart: The Art of Biblical Integrity for the Christian Intellectual

When the Head Meets the Heart: The Art of Biblical Integrity for the Christian Intellectual

Do you really believe what you say and think you believe, and how can you know? The answer may at first brush appear obvious — “of course I believe what I say and think I do,” you might say. If you didn’t, after all, why would you be spending so much time engaged in the intellectual defense of it? This raises an interesting question: Can you believe that you believe something which you do not in fact believe in your heart? Is it possible that we deceive ourselves about what our own beliefs are?

"I and the Father are One" (John 10:30): A Claim to Deity?

"I and the Father are One" (John 10:30): A Claim to Deity?

One text that comes up frequently in Christian-Muslim dialogue is John 10:30 ("I and the Father are one"). In what sense was Jesus claiming to be one with the Father? Is John 10:30 a claim on the part of Jesus to deity? In order to understand exactly what Jesus was saying, we need to read the verse in the context of the surrounding verses (22-39):

The Authorship of Mark's Gospel, and Why It Matters

The Authorship of Mark's Gospel, and Why It Matters

The traditional attribution of the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) has come under immense fire today from higher critical scholarship. Bart Ehrman, a well known New Testament textual critic at the University of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has for a long time been a favourite skeptic of Muslims around the world. In his popular-level book Jesus Interrupted, Ehrman writes (page 101),

"There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them (apostles and friends of the apostles)." 

The Muslim is committed to this view. If the gospels really were written by the individuals whose names they now bear, this presents a problem for Islam. Why? The Qur'an, in Surah 3:52 and 61:14, claims that Jesus' disciples were Muslims. If the gospels were indeed written by their canonical authors, then two of those (Matthew and John) were prominent disciples, and the other two (Mark and Luke) were approved by apostles. In this article, I am going to focus only on the gospel of Mark.

There are at least four reasons to think that this gospel was indeed written by Mark and that it communicates the teachings of the apostle Peter.

Bacterial Cell Division and Peptidoglycan Synthesis: An Evolutionary Enigma

Bacterial Cell Division and Peptidoglycan Synthesis: An Evolutionary Enigma

The video above shows the process by which bacterial cells reproduce themselves. Looks simple, doesn't it? It's only a colony of cells elongating before splitting in two. Don't be fooled -- appearances can be deceiving. As is so common throughout biology, the apparent simplicity at the macro level masks remarkable complexity at the micro or molecular level.

In eukaryotes, cell division occurs by either meiosis (sex cells) or mitosis (somatic cells). Bacteria, however, undergo neither of those processes (they are asexual and contain no membrane-enclosed organelles or nuclei). Bacterial cell division occurs by a process known as binary fission. Rod-shaped bacteria (e.g. Escherichia coli or Salmonella typhimurium) elongate to twice their original length. This is followed by invagination of the cell membrane, and the formation of a septal ring in the middle (Vicente et al., 2006Weiss, 2004). The elongated bacterial cell splits down the middle, forming two daughter cells. Some bacteria exhibit variations on this mechanism. For example, in Caulobacter, no septum is formed (Poindexter and Hagenzieker, 1981) and its division is asymmetrical (Judd et al., 2003)

The Damascus Road Conversion of St. Paul: Fact or Fiction?

The Damascus Road Conversion of St. Paul: Fact or Fiction?

Muslims are often quick to dismiss the letters of the apostle Paul. In a previous blog post, I showed why there is good reason to think that Paul's message was largely consistent with the message of the Jerusalem church, and why this presents a problem for Muslims. Here, I want to present another reason why Muslims need to start taking Paul more seriously. In this blog post, I want to examine the historical evidence bearing on Paul's conversion experience. What transformed the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus -- a persecutor of Christians -- into the great apostle Paul, arguably the greatest evangelist who ever lived? Did Paul really come to believe that he had a vision on the road to Damascus that he interpreted to be Jesus Himself? If so, then what best explains the origins of this belief? It is these questions that concern us in the present article. 

How Do Apostolic Fathers Present a Problem for Islam?

How Do Apostolic Fathers Present a Problem for Islam?

In previous posts, I drew attention to the problems presented to Islam by the contents of the Torah and the gospels, and the letters of Paul. Here, I want to build a similar argument from the works of early church fathers. I havepreviously pointed out that the Qur'an maintains that Jesus' own disciples were Muslims (Surah 3:52 and 61:14). This is a problem for Islam because the historical evidence is quite strong that Jesus' disciples approved Paul's message -- and Paul's message was most certainly not Islamic. But are there any other individuals in the early church, whose writings are still extant, and who had the stamp of apostolic approval? There most certainly are. Here, I will consider a few of these.

How Does Paul's Relationship with the Jerusalem Church Present a Problem for Islam?

How Does Paul's Relationship with the Jerusalem Church Present a Problem for Islam?

In a previous article, I offered a simple reason why the Qur'an cannot possibly be the word of God, since the proposition that the Qur'an is the word of God entails a necessary contradiction. Here, I am going to present an equally compelling reason to reject the Qur'an as the word of God. 

As I alluded to in my previous post, the Qur'an contends that the disciples of Jesus were Muslims. According to Surah 3:52,

“…when Isa [Jesus] sensed disbelief in them, he said: “Who are my helpers in the way of Allah?” The disciples said: “We are helpers of Allah. We believe in Allah; so be our witness that we are Muslims.”“

So according to the Qur’an, there is no question that the apostles were Muslims, under Jesus. But what if we could establish that the teaching of the apostles differed starkly from the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur'an? Here’s an argument to ponder:

Premise 1: If the original disciples of Jesus rejected core Islamic teachings, Islam is false.

Premise 2: The original disciples of Jesus rejected core Islamic teachings.

Conclusion: Therefore, Islam is false.