Is the New Testament reliable?

Is the New and Old Testament reliable?  This is a question that some Christians is challenged with but are not sure how to respond because we don’t have the tools for a defense of the bible and theological apologetics.  To begin, here are some links to debates between Craig Evans (Acadia) and Bart Ehrman (UNC). They are just some of many New Testament scholars who can debate this issue critically.

Criag Evans vs Bart Ehrman  debate (Jan. 19, 2012) (Night 1; Night 2); (and an earlier debate from 2011) (here). (More may be added later).

Self-evident Inalienable Rights and Genesis 1:26

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The U.S. Bill of Rights amendments to the original Constitution contained very important statements that recognized some of the most basic human rights. The American Declaration of Independence, dated July 4,1776, states:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“Self-evident truths” indicates that the framers drew from natural law.  Moreover, the preamble of the Declaration states explicitly of “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”. This can be derived from our understanding of natural law and through scripture that all people are created in God’s image (Imago Dei).  Genesis 1:26 states: “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”, which would imply that since all human beings have been created equal in God’s image, we have been given basic inalienable human rights.  These inalienable rights, given by God, cannot be given by the State; neither can they be taken away, nor given away.

As people around the world, we must continue to defend our inalienable rights as human beings and not allow the state or others to minimize or reduce what we have already been endowed by God at creation.

First use of “wall of separation” between Church and State

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Depiction of Roger Williams while he was still a member of the Puritan clergy (his pre-Baptist days).

The first Baptist in America, Roger Williams, was actually the first to use the phrase “wall of separation”.  In his quote below, Williams compared the true church as a sort of garden of Eden, and he referred to this world’s secular realm as the “wilderness”.  He stated:

“[W]hen they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world, God hathe ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, and made his Garden a Wildernesse.”

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Depiction of Roger Williams after he was banished from the colonies by the State.

Williams was later to be banished from the colonies for his seemingly liberal and heretical views of a division between Church and State. Previous, such a secular approach to government had never existed because the Crown’s Head of State was ordained and was to dutifully and responsibly act as “Defender of the Faith”.  Williams realized that a state-run religion would create a spiritually void culture of Christendom (in borrowing a term from Soren Kierkegaard), rather than, encourage true and genuine faith that would save one’s soul.  Therefore, a joint State and Church was seen as an enemy of true and genuine faith. He believed  to mix religion with politics would result in politics; and that to mix church and state would corrupt the church.

To this day, Baptists and Evangelicals believe that true religion must be voluntary and arise from a free conscience (thus, the Baptist doctrine of “Soul Liberty”).

Keeping a “wall of separation” between Church and State

President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson

Baptists had a very important role in the formation of the idea of a “wall of separation between church and state”. Thomas Jefferson made this phrase famous, and in part, it was due to the influence from the Baptists. Jefferson had written two letters. The first of the two letters was addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1802, in which he mentioned this concept of a “wall of separation between church and state”. This letter was written in response to alleviate concerns that Baptists may have had about any creation of an official State Church. Baptists were not anti-religion (as some secularists may prefer to portray). Baptist believers loved religion and their Christian faith. What they abhorred was one official state religion, for fear that the State’s politics would interfere with the church’s affairs and cause corruption.

President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Baptist Association of Connecticut dated January 1, 1802.
President Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Baptist Association of Connecticut dated January 1, 1802. It was a letter in response to concerns raised about creating an official state church.

Today, some misinterpret the phrase “wall of separation” to mean that we are to keep all religious involvement outside of the public square for fear it might be perceived as it being sanctioned or approved by the state (example). However, this was not what Jefferson had intended; what he had intended was exactly the reverse. This revolutionary concept of having a “wall of separation” between church and state was made in response to the State’s intrusion upon the church’s right to determine its own affairs. It had over-stepped its bounds, as proven in the Crowns persecution of Baptist and Quaker believers. The one and only intent for this conceptual wall was to keep the government’s hands completely off how churches and what Christians believed and live out their faith.

After stating all of this, I would also opine that the State does have  place to maintain religious liberties and freedoms for its people. Today, our courts have done a disservice by deconstructing the precedent of an accommodationist approach historically established by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the framers.   The separationist approach will completely distance any concepts of religion from the public square; whereas, the accommodationist approach will not prohibit or inhibit religious ideas and speech from flowing freely in the public square (e.g., public prayer, reading of scripture, etc.). Personally, I prefer the accommodationist approach over the separationist approach.  Keeping religion actively flowing freely in the public square creates a healthy religious atmosphere in society, which I feel would still be a good thing for today’s seemingly over-secularized western society.

First Freedom–Fight for Religious Freedom on PBS

In my readings on religious liberty and freedom, I’ve come to appreciate that we are all endowed with certain inalienable rights by our Creator. In our pluralistic society where certain religious groups accuse people of blasphemy and seek to remove all religious expressions from the public square, I think there is still so much we can all learn about religious freedom.

FYI, I’ve found a documentary by PBS that gives a brief historical account of how America’s religious freedom came about. The 5-6 episodes are clips are only 4-5 minutes each but the DVD is 87 minutes long. The free preview and the link to purchase the DVD is here: http://video.pbs.org/program/first-freedom/ .