Posts Tagged Biblical Sites

The truth of the oldest New Testament fragment

In John Rylands Library, Manchester, houses the oldest fragment of the New Testament to date. During this present age of critical modern scholarship and its heavy critique of Biblical texts, we have a great testimony in direct contrast to many critical claims of modern textual scholars.

Many claim that the New Testament accounts were written much later than they actually were, and when I see this fragment as I do on a regular basis, its surviving words never cease to amaze me. They are a pure testimony to the reality of the absolute identity of Jesus Christ, son of God, who was and is, and is to come, “The Truth”. Not ‘a’ truth, but ‘The’ Truth.

The Greek fragment, of John 18: 31-33, on the recto reads as follows, ,

“the Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill
anyone,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he
spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to
to die. Entered therefore again into the Praeto-
rium Pilate and summoned Jesus
and he said to him, “Thou art king of the
Jews?”

The Greek fragment of John 18: 37-38, on the verso reads as follows,

“a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would
testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth
hears of me my voice.” Said to him
Pilate, “What is truth?” and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, “I find not one
fault in him.”

Is it not amazing that the oldest fragment in the world of the New Testament, dated possibly earlier than 100 AD and no later than 150 AD, speaks of such a great testimony to the word of God? Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24: 35.

This is certainly true. Glory to the Lamb of God.

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The importance of Theology and the problem of religion

The problem of religion © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandThe importance of Theology is and has always been needed within the walls of the Christian life. If we sit outside the walls or on the walls we do very little but watch the sun go down and the sunrise. In other words it’s like sitting on the fence, or guiding sheep into a field where there is no grass. They don’t eat and the work does not get done. We and they, are wasting time and energy. Now suppose we do not sit on the fence or outside the walls but rather stand within the walls and not only take in the scenic views, but internalise them and embrace them, as one would do when he or she returns or marries the love of his or her life. We kiss, we hold each other, we embrace. We become one.

Now if we do not make the first move we will never know what lay before us or what we could have had or known if only we would make the move and ask the question, just as a nervous teenager asks a girl for a date. If he never asked, he would never know and that plaque would haunt him for the rest of his life. Now suppose he asked the girl, ‘would you like to come out with me for a date sometime?’ and she replied, ‘Sure, I’d love to’. Would he not be the better for it than if he had never taken the step to ask the question? Of course he would and the same can be said of understanding ‘Biblical Theology’. Asking questions is vital, but more than that, we need to listen to the answer or answers and take them on board. Remember the movie, ‘It’s a wonderful life’ where James Stewart and Donna Reed are challenged by an elderly guy sat on his porch, and he says, ‘Why don’t you just kiss her instead of talking her to death’. James Stewart could talk the ears of a wooden Indian and yet despite his true feelings, he hesitated to act upon them. But little did he know that in time he would marry the girl and raise a family. Thus we do not always know where we are going when we follow impulses but destiny and providence is working its hand in all our lives. There was a time when I was compelled to purchase books, yet all the time a war was going on within me to reject the books and buy something else rather than a book that inspires thought towards the truth of God. The human will would have you follow the world and feel the impulse of the human will, ‘go sin some more’, whereas Christ would say, “Go and sin no more”. Thus the war is underway in the search to find a Theology that can find us and place us where God would have us be. This Theology is the means appointed to us for eternal life. We need it, we should love it, and we should always apply it to every moment of life. But there are times when we don’t. We are men and women and we fail. But that does not mean that we cannot and should not continue to try. We should look at our human nature and say, ‘Wait a minute…if I don’t drink coffee for two weeks, I won’t have the desire to drink anywhere near what I did before’. Thus the nature of the will can be lessened by the practice of a Theology that is both vital and important for everyday living. Not a Theology that can often lead nowhere, but a Theology that can hold us, sustain us, keep us, watch over us, comfort us, bind us and keep us so near to Christ that we can hardly stand a brief minute being away from it. Its something that is practised and enjoyed. Like a Theology of the attributes of God. Who is He? What is He like? What does He talk like or what does He like? What offends Him and do I offend Him knowingly or unknowingly? And if so what can I do about it? This is what I would love to hear belted out from the heart and the mouth of every preacher in every nation. Truth, a Theology of Truth. A Theology that sustains and sticks to every word of the Bible like glue and does not ignore a single text that either contradicts or compliments a single Theology or a single creed. I’m talking about holding on to the word of God in every corner and every last syllable and every last text that our eyes and hearts embrace. Not ignoring a text or pulling out the old context or Greek interpretation ploy whenever its convenient. But asking God and ourselves, ‘What does this truly mean? Have I erred?’ If only humans would truly say to themselves, ‘I don’t care if I contradict a creed or a leader by not swaying from a single text of the Bible’. Or as Luther said, ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God, and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe’. Thus, a Theology that is put into practice before God, ourselves and man, is far greater than a theology put down on paper or belched out from the pulpit but not lived. There’s only one thing to do with such theoretic blasts of wind and that is to strike a match and burn the stench.

God gives warnings to His people, ‘get it right’ and we only have this life to do it in and then comes the judgement. Not judgement for indwelling sin, but being neither cold or hot. God would have us be one or the other. Same to can be said of our Theologies, are they cold or are they hot. I don’t know about you but I prefer the hot days rather than the freezing cold ones. I’d rather be in the blazing heat than in the dusty old cold cellar where there is little light or beauty. The beauty is in the light of the sun and the light magnifies the beauty of all things good. Thus when we open the pages of the Bible, what good would it be to open them in the dark and attempt to read it? Why not call out for a light as the jailer in Acts 16: 25-31 and fall to our knees and believe? That’s what Salvation is all about, believing and asking “What must I do?” (Acts 16: 30) It’s not a salvation that requires a man or women to sit and simply read or do nothing, it’s a salvation that at first requires belief and second beliefs to good works. Just as the Phipippian jailer believed and then washed the stripes of Paul and Silas and after the event of his baptism continued in good works and made Paul and Silas a meal (Acts 16: 33-34). In other words the Theology I am speaking of is a Theology that is put into practice and one that says, ‘Let’s talk about it over dinner’ and more than that, ‘I will cook the food for you’.

In other words Paul never spoke of a faith that is idle or so stable that it can hardly move. No it’s a faith that is so strong and active that there is little room for inactivity. Paul’s Theology was like a lion, it works best when you turn it loose. It’s not something that can be caged or contained within the limitation of words, books and preaching. It’s something that requires a person to get up off their backsides and do something about. It’s not a Theology that once learned stays behind closed doors or stained glass windows. It something life changing, threatening to authorities and governments, leaders and control freaks. It’s something that once turned loose, can cause a whole City to turn into uproar. This is what we have read about in the journals of Wesley, and the Foxes book of Martyrs. It’s a total uproar, a Theology that once learned must be practised and lived to the point of death. It is something so strong, so powerful, so addictive, so un-measurable that once tasted can never be erased from the taste-buds of our hearts and minds. It captivates people, arrests them and throws them into the prison and binds them in the chains and stocks of Christ. We must hear the word of God, believe all that is written and be astonished at the doctrine of The Lord.

A PROBLEM OF RELIGION, NO JOY

Many people dislike “religion” and view “religious people” as often miserable and tense, extreme and strange. Of course this is not always the case for many people admire others who have faith in something because they often fail to have any true faith themselves. Many find in their own characters and conduct a sustaining faith that influences their own selves, many say to me, “I believe in myself” and “I cannot believe in a God that I cannot see”. And although I can understand and identify with such people, it must be pointed out that such is not the case with “true religion”. One common view is that many people blame the many world religions as the one of the many problems that often provokes world wars? And although there is some if not a very lot of truth in that fact, I must state that true religion is not the cause of world wars. It is the power trips of certain evil dictators that cause war, it is not true religion. There would have been no wars in the Bible times if evil did not wage war upon goodness, therefore we cannot be blinded to true religion because of war. True religion is not a mystical faith that is nothing more than a leap in the dark, and a voyage to nowhere. “True religion” is true faith and true faith is an eye opener and a joy to behold. True faith is not a leap in the dark but is a leap from the dark into the light. It opens our eyes to who we are and who God really is. The problem we face with “religion” today is the many self appointed religious leaders who attempt to lead men to themselves or to God as though they are a necessary channel or mediator to the heavens. We see this with men like the Pope who are presented to the public as messianic type figures who claim to have the authority to anathematise people or bless them. False religions promote a threat that unless you join the certain church you are going to end up in hell. But true religion does not attempt to ensnare the individual into becoming a member of “the denomination church” but invites them to be reconciled unto God and to be at peace with Him through Christ. Religions such as Islam and Roman Catholicism all teach that unless you join the certain denominational church you cannot enter heaven. While on the other extreme some Religions claim that everyone will go to heaven with or without Christ or God. Yet Jesus did not teach this. On the contrary He said, “accept a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” John 3: 3. And no where does the Bible state that a man can only be born again when he or she is part of the denominational Christian Church. Christ said, “come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11: 28. “The truth shall make you free” John 8: 32. You see that Christ pointed people to Himself and not the denominational Church, and offered peace and rest for the individual in Him and not dismal church sacraments and dull services. While on the other hand Christ stated that without Him, there can be no hope of salvation for anyone. Christ did not say, “Come to the church” or “Come and receive the sacraments at your local church and inherit heaven through the church”. On the contrary, if one is truly saved and born of God, he or she will want to join other people of like mind and be blessed and built up by their company. That is what the Bible says is the true church. Thus, the distracting claims that religion promotes often clouds the eyes of many people and the actions of the church distract people from the personal conduct and salvation freely offered to the individual.

All such religions as Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, and many branches of so-called Christianity including the Church of England, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses all have one thing in common. They all promote the individual religious and sacramental workings of a man as a necessity of inheriting eternal life with God. But the problem is that true religion should promote the fact that God Himself came down to earth in order to reach man and reason with him concerning righteousness and heaven. God Himself came down onto earth and reasoned with Abraham, (Genesis 18: 16-33) God Himself came down onto mount Sinai and gave Moses the tablets containing Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20: 17). God came down to earth and said “Come now, and let us reason together” Isaiah 1: 18. God Himself came down to earth in the form of Christ and offered mankind the opportunity to reason with Himself and receive the free and unconditional gift of salvation. All man had to do was receive the gift and believe that God has made a way for him to inherit a gift that he was unable to achieve by human efforts. All those who believe in Jesus are saved to good works not by good works. This for me demonstrates that real God given Christianity is the true religion and the most powerful. For all other religions teach a certain way for man to find the truth and not the truth finding him. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). But Mohamed came along over 500 years after Jesus and based all his ideas upon what was already written by Moses centuries earlier. He could not say that he was the truth and neither could Buddha’s The sayings of Buddha for such writings only attempt to point people to human wisdom being nothing more than a form of the truth taught by Solomon in the book of Proverbs and Moses many years previous.

It has to be said that the problem we face today with our current religious and none religious generation is that there is no healthy fear of God and no healthy fear of authority, for religion has blinded many peoples eyes to the truth. In my opinion much responsibility for this is to be blamed upon the theory of evolution as a presentation and enticement that creation account recorded in Genesis is just a myth and evolution is factual religion. But such evolutionists fail to inform their hearers that the scientific world is 50-50 regarding the creation account and the Darwinian theory.

If only man would embrace the God given gift of eternal salvation and eternal freedom and wash away the clouds that religion blows in front of their eyes he would hear and know that what the Bible states is the truth of all hope and pleasure in the glory and beauty of almighty God. Therefore the problem of religion is that it blinds peoples eyes and blocks the ears to the actual text of the Bible beyond disputes concerning, the creation account or the Lords prayer or the virgin birth. Religion never finds the treasure because it never looks up from the map. If only the public of today would know that true religion is a joy to hold, it is an honour and a delight to embrace. It is filled with the spiritual truths, joy, pleasure and insights and unimaginable truths. But religion without joy is like a spare tyre with no jack and a spare tyre without a jack is like a Church without Jesus.

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The Experience of Visiting Biblical Sites

Simon Peter Sutherland at Philippi, Macedonia

Simon Peter Sutherland at Philippi © 2003/2011

In 2003 I visited the ancient remains of Philippi in Macedonia with my wife. Travelling over from Thassos to Macedonia by ferry we landed at Neapolis (Acts 16: 11) now modern day Kavala and from there to ancient Philippi, to the Biblical sites such as the market place, as mentioned in Acts 16: 19 and the so-called prison, as mentioned in Acts 16: 24-31 and then onto the river which was just outside Philippi, where Paul baptized Lydia, as mentioned in Acts 16: 13-15.

The whole exprience astounded me and I could not but be amazed that I was actually standing in the places where the events I had read about for so many years actually took place. Places where our Sovereign Lord ordained these events to occur.

The fascination which had birthed within me when I first saw the great Arena in Ephesus on a documentary when I was a child, but I had a slight fear of flying which my wife overcame and so my ambition grew from desire to reality. The ambition within me grew and moved me so strongly that I followed our first journey to Macedonia with many more visits to sites connected with Acts of the Apostles. My wife and I would follow this journey in an adventure over the Mediterranean around Greece, and travels not only to Macedonia, Kavala and Philippi but to Ephesus and the events of Acts 19, and the ancient city to whom Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians and one of the seven Churches of Revelation. Then onto Malta to the sites where the events of Acts 27: 39 may have happened, and travels on foot to the sites where the events of Acts 28: 1-10 most likely took place. From then we journed also to Cyprus, and Kition in Larnaka, and then to Paphos and the events of Acts 13: 4-13.

Simon Peter Sutherland at the Tomb of St Lazarus, Cyprus

The Tomb of Lazarus, Larnaca © 2003/2011

After this glorious time my wife and I had with the Lord and His word, I became passionately drawn to the ancient reality of the original New Testament and its 1st century setting. I began to see how far Christianity had moved away from the authentic gospel and into tradition and doubted very much that Paul would be happy with modern Christianity. In 2005 my wife Jenny gave birth to our first son, Peter and in 2007 our second son Luke was born and as you can imagine, travelling became more difficult. Now that our children are growing and we can travel once more to the Biblical sites, soon we hope to begin our journeys again. This time, we hope to head to Jerusalem and more of Greece and Rome.

If you have never visited such ancient Biblical sites, then I would highly recomend it. Being amongst the ancient locations gives the believer such a more dynamic understanding of the scriptures and when you are there and reading the text, its like being within the pages.

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