Just One More: A New/Old Kind of Skeptic

Though academics such as Bertrand Russel have won recognition from their ability to skillfully assault the claims of Christ, the typical skeptic that buzzes around the modern evangelical congregation has spent little time debating whether or not Jesus’s claims in Matthew 16 can be applied to the transfiguration. He or she possesses a different sort of skepticism altogether.

The Essence of Skepticism

Their issue is not so much the intellectual solvency of Christianity as much as their felt needs. I suspect many pastors and faithful church members have heard numerous people on the fringes of their congregation say that they would return to church if they had the time, or if their church had better preaching, more engaging music, or a more lively kids’ program. Others remain distant because God failed to meet a non-church need in a timely fashion. Despite the now skeptic’s prayers, he or she is still single, childless, sick, stuck in a professional rut, and hurting. In other words, this skeptic needs God to do one more thing for him or her in order that he or she might believe. They require another sign: a better preacher, a wedding date, or just something that proves that Jesus is truly who he says he is. Until then, they will happily give their Sunday to the local sports complex or to hiking the blue ridge mountains. Will they get it?

Jesus’s Response

In Matthew 16:1-4, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the spiritual elite of Jesus’s day, come requesting a sign. They want to know whether they can trust Jesus. And their question arises not from their study of the Scriptures but rather from their denial of their Old Testament scrolls. If these men had truly believed their God’s word, they would have understood that Jesus was the Messiah for his miracles fulfilled the promises of old. Matthew makes this explicitly clear when he writes of Jesus’s miracles, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illness and bore our diseases (Matt 8:17).’ In other words, these men want another sign because they have rejected the revealed words of God as found in the Old Testament and Jesus ministry. Jesus condemns them as being “An and adulterous generation,” and then declares that they will receive only one more sign, “the sign of Jonah” the sign of the resurrection (Matt 16:4; 12:39-41).

If the resurrection of Jesus will not convince someone to follow our Savior, nothing else will. If a soul can assent to the reality of their sin, to Jesus’s death as the substitutionary payment for said sin, and to his resurrection which grants us eternal life and then say, “show more me,” it will never be satisfied. Even if Jesus were to comeback and perform a modern-day miracle or bless a church with the most amazing music ministry, or give someone a positive pregnancy test, the skeptic would still not believe. If God’s currently revelation as contained in the Bible is not enough for them, future revelation will also fail to convince them of the reality of Jesus’s claims. There is no greater sign than the sign of Jonah.

Our greatest need is not tied to our love life, or our professional career, or to the efficiency of our church. Our greatest need is deliverance from sin and death. If Jesus’s unique ability to give us eternal life will not draw us to our bibles throughout the week and to our churches on Sunday morning, neither will good health nor a full bank account. The Jesus of our health and family will ultimately prove as convincing or unconvincing as the Jesus of the resurrection.

How To Pursue the Skeptic

Men and women who regularly find Jesus and his church wanting do so not because of some great fault in either Jesus or his people but because their hearts are hard. And if Jesus responds to such skepticism with fresh mentions of the resurrection, then we should follow suit. We should not stress about whether we have the best this or that. Nor should we should spend our time trying to produce a program or event that will positively meet their felt need. Rather, we should continue to lovingly and unapologetically preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the only antidote for the religious skeptic who frequently buzzes about our church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the sign of Jonah is not enough nothing will be.

1 Corinthians, KJV Pitfalls, & the Need for a Readable Bible

The church should value a Bible translation’s readability as much as its fidelity to the intent of the original authors. For a translation of God’s Word to change lives, it must be understandable. Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 14:9: “If with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air.” Though Paul addresses the ability to share the gospel in a foreign language through divine inspiration, the passage can be easily applied to the topic of Bible translations. Just as witnessing proves useless if no one can understand you what you are saying, a Bible translation proves useless if people cannot understand it.

Understandability proves to be the great downfall of the view that King James Bible is the best Bible translation of all time. Most readers simply cannot understand the Old English of the KJV as they don’t use “thee” and “thou” when grabbing a soda at their local gas station.

A Brief KJV History

Admittedly, the King James Bible has not always been associated with Shakespearian or highbrow English. It has not always been hard to understand. The original translators often stated that the goal of their translation was to gift English speakers a Bible in their “vulgar” or common tongue. When the translators of the King James Bible wrote out 1 Corinthians 15:31 as,

I protest by your reiocycing which I haue in Christ Iesus our Lord, I die daily,

the average 1611 reader could easily understand the terms above.

Thankfully, the original translators understood that no Bible translation “is begun and perfected at the same time.” The translators of the KJV Bible were in large part updating the text of the Bishop’s Bible and anticipated that the KJV would need to be updated in the years ahead. The KJV would be undergo five major updates and more than 100,000 changes between 1611 and 1769. Because of those changes, 1 Corinthians 15:31 reads, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” The text undoubtedly benefited from the updating. I have yet to meet anyone who carries around a first edition 1611 KJV reprint.

After 1769, the updates stopped. The translators made a more decisive break from the KJV and published the Revised Version of the Bible in 1885. Around 1930 following the teachings of a Seventh Day Adventists, the King James only crowd emerged and rather arbitrarily declared that the KJV could no longer be updated. The sentiment reflected their misplaced effort to protect the inherent meaning of the text against the attacks of Christian liberalism which had gained influence at the beginning of the 20th century. In the process of trying to protect the relevance of the KJV, KJV only crowd fossilized the text.

More Than A Dictionary

Admittedly with the help of a dictionary, readers can look up some uncommon words like ‘chapmen’ and get to the meaning of the text. But that is not the only challenge facing readers of the KJV. In addition to relying upon an antiquated vocabulary, the KJV also contains a host of “false friends“: words which meant one thing in 1611 and another in 2022. For example, 2 Timothy 2:15 in the KJV reads “Study to shew thyself approved unto God.” The word “study” in the KJV does not mean Timothy needs to grab his Bible, pencils, and highlighters and head to the library. The word in Old English meant “to do one’s best.” The KJV contains countless such illusionary words that can lead readers to false assumptions about the Biblical text. The fault lies not with the translators nor with the readers but in the span of time between the two groups during which the meaning of words naturally changes. Even academic works published in English a few hundred years ago such as John Wycliffe’s volumes require translation. Like many other old English works, the KJV no longer contains the “vulgar” language of the everyday reader.

Church History & KJV

Still some counter that the beauty and history of the KJV should compel readers to pull out their massive English dictionaries. Though well intended, the impulse to demand that Christians read the KJV as opposed to a more colloquial translations goes against the intent of the Scriptures and of the history of the protestant Church. When the apostles penned the New Testament, they used Konia Greek which was spoken by everyday merchants as opposed to the “Classical Greek” of Plato and Aristotle. The God who was the Word become flesh desired for people to readily have access to his thoughts.

Before there was a King James only camp, there existed a Latin only camp. This group of scholars, pastors, and churchmen believed that the poetic nature of the Latin Bible translated by Jerome proved far superior to the then unimaginative and modern language Bibles appearing in vulgar tongues such as English. Yet as John Wycliffe noted in 1384, those who mandate the usage of a hard-to-understand Bible unquestionably go against the teaching of Scriptures they seek to protect. He wrote,

“The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles essential knowledge at Pentecost in order to know all languages to teach the people God’s Word. God willed that people were taught his Word in diverse tongues; therefore, what man acting on God’s behalf would reverse God’s ordinance and his revealed will?”

One of the things Protestants protested was the absence of the Bible in the common language. For sinners to be saved, Christians sanctified, and pastors held accountable, men and women needed access to Bibles that they could understand.

The events of Pentecost, Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 15, and the history of the church reveal that God intended for people to have a Bible in their language. Since the KJV no longer contains common English, readers should be suspicious of pastors who demand strict adherence to the KJV. That sentiment resides outside the bounds of Scripture and historic Protestantism. John Calvin concluded, “Faith needs the Word as much as fruit needs the living root of the tree.” The Scriptures should be understandable.

Benefits of the KJV

Despite its perils, the KJV remains an accurate translation of the Bible. Many pastors, Christians, and historians can still appreciate the poetic beauty of the KJV. Others rightfully find a sense of peaceful familiarity in the KJV when they recite the Lord’s Prayer and other well-known passages. The KJV was a masterful translation for its time and still contains value for some modern readers.

A Readable Bible

But it was never meant to be the final English translation as all the updates to the original 1611 edition make clear. We also no longer live in a world of “thee’s” and “haveth’s” or “harts.” The Bibles in our homes and in our pews should be readable. They should use the language of today’s construction workers, middle school teachers, and doctors. A good Bible translation will be accessible to all readers.

Responding Biblically to the Russo-Ukrainian War

While war proves scary, the Bible proves ever relevant. When the images of the first Russian rocket attacks lit up my phone with notifications, my heart sank. While I cannot grasp the geopolitical consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in earnest on February 24, 2022, I do know that we have indestructible hope. The Scriptures offer us 5 life-inspiring principles that will guide us through this age of international turmoil:

1: Do not Fear

While wars and rumors of war catch our media pundits and military analysts by surprise, Jesus fully anticipated all that we are experiencing today.

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet – Matt. 25:6.

Christians should understand that war is the natural disposition of men and women who refuse to bow the knee to king Jesus (Jm. 4:4). As Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:9, peace proves to be the exclusive fruit of the Kingdom of God. Until men and women submit to God’s will on earth like the angels do in heaven, wars will remain. The day is coming when every knee will bow. But that day is not today. Wars remain.

Despite what the social media says, Christians should not assume that every war represents the beginning of the apocalypse. As Jesus notes in Matthew, “the end is not yet.” The fact that Putin could be labeled the anti-Christ today more than 505 years after Luther determined that Pope Leo X was the anti-Christ and more than 218 years after English protestants determined that Napoleon was the Anti-Christ should give us pause. Like the Christians before us, we hate suffering and want to console ourselves with the hope that our suffering will be special and short lived. Yet, Jesus anticipates his church will suffer much non-apocalyptic harm because of wars and unjust governments prior to his return. Wars and rumors of war reveal the need for Jesus to come quickly but they do not necessarily serve as the guarantee of his immediate return. Do not place your hope in the apocalyptic predictions of pastors; place them in the God who promises to never leave us nor forsake us no matter our circumstances. Jesus will come back but until then we must live by fatih.

2: Do not Trust in War Horses, Tanks, or Kings

The images of burning trucks, exploding buildings, and wounded civilians prove to be a powerful reminder of the folly of trusting in things other than Christ. Though politicians promise peace and claim their military policies will prevent World War III, no nation-state can prevent sin from taking hold of another nation state for it is intrinsic to the human condition. Tanks and missiles alone cannot guarantee our safety and security. Psalm 33:17 informs us that:

The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. – Ps 33:17

Those who trust in warhorses, tanks, and aircraft carriers will be disappointed. But those who trust in the Lord who controls the hearts of kings need never fear. For the God of the universe cares for his children and has liberated them from the sin within and from tyrants without. As Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:28, Christians no longer need to fear those “who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Though nations can kill us, no nation-state or forty-mile-long convoy of tanks, troop carriers, and mechanized artillery pieces can separate us from the love of God. Such things can destroy the world order and our lives. But our eternity remains secure. When war rages, we should trust our Lord and savior Jesus Christ and not in the empty rhetoric of politicians however patriotic or common sense their appeals maybe. The Psalmist concludes, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes (Ps 118:9).”

3: Pray For Peace

Except for the small numbers of us who work in the State Department or in the strategic planning wings of our various military branches, few of us can meaningfully advocate for peace on the world stage. All of our tweets and endless speculations about what should have been done or about what our governments should do now will move almost no one to action expect perhaps our friends who will ask us to stop talking while rolling their eyes. Our words will do little.

Even if we do travel in geopolitical circles, the success of our pleas for peace still depend upon God’s kindness. “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain (Ps 127:1).

Though we can do little, our God can and does much. Quite naturally then, Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to pray to the God of peace:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly, and dignified. – 1 Tim 2:1-2

Peace both within and without is a gift of the Lord. When the fears of war invade our hearts, we should pray to the author of all peace in heaven and on earth.

4: Share Christ

Though I do not fully understand Putin’s political, cultural, and economic reasoning, I can speak to Putin’s spiritual motivations. According to the Scriptures, wars forever remain the byproduct of the sinful heart. Jesus claimed that “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander,” all come out of the heart (Matt 15:19). Children squabble over toys because the evil thoughts of their hearts lead them to unjustly snatch their sister’s doll. Nations fight over resources and national pride because their leaders possess the same corrupt hearts the makes kindergarten classes so dramatic. In other words, kings, presidents, and dictators take aggressive military actions because they lack inherit goodness and by consequence are enslaved to evil desires which invariably produce disastrous consequences on the national and international stage. “None is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10).”

While negotiations have their place and we should pray for God to bless them (see above), the grand solution for war resides not in diplomacy but in salvation. Jesus alone possesses the power to bring stone cold hearts to life. When people repent and believe and gain the spiritual ability to promote peace, extend mercy, and grant forgiveness, the impulse to fight begins to die. The more men and women embrace Christ, the more war and conflict dissipate. Heaven has no wars for there the love, mercy, and peace of God reign without interruption. If we long for peace on earth, we should share the gospel, which alone enables men and women to experience community with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Community with heaven produces peace on earth. As long as children willful disregard the commands of God and fight on the playground, the possibility for international conflict will remain.

5: Help The Hurting

While sharing the hope of peace, Christians should also care for the practical needs of their brothers and sisters who suffer under the terrors of death. In Hebrews 13:3, the biblical author encourages those of us in peaceful lands to, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison.” Paul clarifies in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14 that our financial abundance has been given to us not so that we can go on dream vacations but so that we can care for the needs of our brothers and sisters around the globe who are suffering. Paul writes,

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness, your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. – 2 Cor 8:13-14

In other words, those of us who enjoy peace and abundance should take an avid interest in the Ukraine church and in Christians around the world who lack such peace. We care for them because at some point they will be caring for us. If God has blessed you with excess funds, I encourage you to click here and to give to Send Relief or to give to other Christian organizations working to help Ukrainian believers.

Final Thoughts

War always proves to be a horrible thing. But believers are not without recourse during global suffering. When war rages, we are to cast out of fear, trust the Lord as opposed to tanks and kings, pray for peace, share the gospel, and help the hurting. May God help us all to live consistent and godly lives in the present age as we await the hope of the appearing of our glorious God and savior.