Friday, July 18, 2014

Is God the Ultimate Warrior?


From the May 2011 E-Block.
***
This essay is composed as an accessory to our series analyzing Thom Stark’s critique of Paul Copan’s is God a Moral Monster? A point which has obsessed Stark for some time, even prior to his critique, is an alleged misuse by Copan of material by Susan Niditch in her War in the Hebrew Bible (WHB). I am not particularly interested to resolve Stark’s claim of abuse, as even if he is correct, there is little reason to enable or credit his obsession by doing so, given his own patent unreliability. However, we will look at some critical aspects of Niditch’s commentary on the so-called “ban” in the Old Testament – the total destruction of an enemy as an act of devotion to Yahweh. 

Niditch and other critics have connected the ban to concepts of human sacrifice. I have always found this connection to be tendentious, and to be a likely case of illegitimate conceptual transfer. “Human sacrifice,” after all, has been used tendentiously to describe the deaths of Christian martyrs and even that of Jesus. It is manifestly little more than an effort to apply a term overbroadly in an effort to invoke images of hapless Aztec victims having their hearts carved out for the sake of pleasing a bloodthirsty and evil deity, and thereby identify Yahweh as one such as well. 

I supposed that Niditch was unlikely to have approached the issue in terms of a correct social anthropology, taking account of honor, and the agonistic tenor of the Biblical world, as a defining factor in the ban, for after all, few scholars – even among the most competent in their specialties – have done so themselves. In this, I was correct. In the first chapter of WHB alone, “The Ban as God’s Portion,” Niditch makes two substantial blunders in this regard. The first is one in which she takes far too literalistically the boast of King Mesha of Moab that Israel “utterly perished forever.” We have learned that the dramatic orientation of this society was such that we are not meant to take such statements any more literally than we would take professions made at a typical sports event of prowess by team leaders. Niditch, however, blithely judges Mesha’s profession as “wishful thinking” (31) as though he truly wished to assert that Israel had literally “utterly perished forever.” 

The second blunder is far more substantial. Attempting to explain why humans conceived of the idea of the ban, Niditch proposes that it was a way to assuage the “guilt” soldiers felt at killing others. If God ordered it, so the reasoning goes, they would not have to feel guilty about it, so the ban was contrived. As we have noted from relevant scholars, reading guilt into any Biblical passage is a “serious mistake,” for guilt did not exist as yet in the pre-introspective world of the ANE. Shame would be at the fore, but here, would be of little relevance, inasmuch as other societies surrounding Israel also had their own version of the ban, and so no one would be shaming the Israelites over it. 

Rather than view the ban as related to concepts of human sacrifice, it seems far better to propose the following, much of which is contrary to Niditch: 

First: The ban has not to do with sacrifice to appease God, or to buy victory from Him. Rather, it has to do with God acquiring honor by the performance of the ban.

A critical point is that Israel’s opponents were persons who believed that their own gods – the “landlords” and suzerains who owned their land, and were supposed to protect them from invasions and the acts of foreign gods – would protect them, and especially preserve their lineage. The ban served as a clear and indisputable demonstration that these pagan deities were helpless and useless in protecting these people and their land, for they permitted total destruction to occur. The leaving behind of even one survivor would be taken (desperately, to be sure!) as a sign that Baal, or Chemosh, or whomever, had in some way acted to protect the future of the defeated people, who had decided to stay in their cities and nation (rather than flee, as some did – thereby admitting that their gods would not be able to help them).

To that extent, the ban was the most clear message that could be sent to a much larger population that they would do well to flee rather than fight. Arguably, with a population committed to fight to the end using the “last man” to do so – as was the case in WW2 Japan – a message like the ban worked to save lives in the long term, much as the atomic bomb is well argued to have saved lives by compelling Japan to surrender earlier than they would have otherwise.

Comparative use of the word in question, the Hebrew cherem, we should point out, is equivocal in this regard. The word is also used of fishing nets (eg, Ezekiel 26:5, 14; 47:10; Hab. 1:15-17), which suggests that cherem indicates a setting aside or apart of something from some other larger collective. However, this also means that it has no innate sacral meaning; that is acquired by context.

Second: Sacrifice to Yahweh is better understood not as an offering to “feed” Yahweh but as a way to keep humans from having them for their own use. Skeptics routinely ask what God needed with sacrifices, and argue that sacrifices to Yahweh imply some more primitive notion of Him as being hungry and in need of food. (See second link below for more.) In this no one seems to ask the question of why a deity should prefer meat that has been burnt into ashes, which is hardly likely to be any more appetizing to a hungry deity than it is to a hungry human.

The idea of sacrifice, and of devoting certain things to Yahweh, then, ought to be understood in terms of making it so that humans cannot use the sacrifice for themselves; in turn, the sacrifice is placing themselves under the patronage of the deity, trusting in the deity’s resources rather than their own. It is not that Yahweh needed food, or gold, or even humans for that matter; it is that humans obliterated the sacrifice to demonstrate that it was the property of the god rather than their own. It is also important that no one will be able to accrue the honor of having the captured goods; all of that honor will be reserved for Yahweh alone.

Niditch herself quotes passages that indicate this. In most cases, the ban involves only total destruction of humans, while livestock and booty is kept by the people. If God “needs” food and booty, then surely as a deity His energy needs are vastly greater than those of a human, and He would need far, far more humans, livestock, and booty to keep Himself alive. Niditch struggles, however, to explain the disparity between different ban orders, supposing that humans are always devoted to God because they are the “best booty”. Really? Then why are they killed? What good, to put it bluntly, is dead booty?
Further forced reading by Niditch may be found in her effort to read Ezekiel 38-9 in terms of God making a “sacrificial feast” of slain enemies: Ezekiel plainly says that the slain are eaten by birds of prey, and apart from the assumption of a hidden code in such language, there is little reason to impose some “mythological framework” on the text and see some hidden suggestion of “divine satiation” behind the text. Clearly, Niditch’s explanations are yet again a tendentious effort to illegitimately transfer stereotyped concepts of “human sacrifice” into the Biblical text.

Third: Failure to enact the ban requires recompense not because God requires recompense, but because of the inviolability of one’s oath in an honor-based culture. Niditch tendentiously regards such matters as the punishment of Achan and his family (Josh. 7), or the oath of Saul that anyone who eats before evening will die (1 Sam. 14), as required substitution because “God has been denied his due.” But this is an interpretation that smacks far more of one bearing the “white man’s burden” of bringing civilized mentalities to barbaric savages. An unbigoted assessment sees in such instances rather an enactment of, “your word is your bond”. To go back on one’s word is dishonoring – even if that word involved a grievous mistake.

Further on, Niditch explores the theme of the ban as an enactment of God’s justice. She believes that this theme evokes a contradiction, between the concepts of the ban as a sacrifice, and the victims (like Achan) as unclean sinners. But this tension is the result of her assumption that the ban is a sacral offering; if it is seen, rather, as a matter of honor, then the tension vanishes. Under such circumstances, the ban as God’s justice is complimentary, not contradictory.

The remainder of WHB is beyond our interest, though we may note that Niditch also comments on the Numbers 31 story extensively, for which we refer, as usual, the reader to Miller’s treatment linked below.

In the end, Niditch’s arguments are performed in service of a misguided pacifism, laced with emotional rhetoric and tainted by a “white man’s burden” attitude which looks down upon ancient Israelite culture with the same regard as a fundamentalist atheist who rants endlessly about “primitive Bronze Age goatherders.” Though Niditch’s commentary has the backing of a credentialed scholar, there is little conceptually different from what can be found in any tome written by a New Atheist. 


Numbers 31
God and food

Friday, July 11, 2014

The One-Egg Dozen


From the April 2011 E-Block.
**
In recent weeks I had a preview of what it would be like to deal with those who adhere to the “hyperpreterist” heresy – the idea that the resurrection of all men occurred in 70 AD along with the parousia. In due time I expect to compose a Building Blocks book on eschatology, and a fuller treatment of this heresy will be part of the package. But for now, here is a look at some of the ideas espoused by hyperpreterists. (I will not be naming the sources of these arguments, as they are persons who are desirous of just that sort of attention.) I will begin by noting the orthodox view in each section. 

Orthodox: We are currently in the millennium, in which the “thousand” years represent a very long time of unspecified length (hence the round number).

Heresy: The millennium took place between 30-70 AD.

Yes, you might want to read that again. The heretical view is that we should compress that “1000” into a bare 40. The matter here is not that the 1000 is not a literal number – all agree that numbers, especially round numbers, in the Bible can be interpreted to mean something more vague – but in such cases, as with the orthodox view, it has to do with the ability to precisely recount large numbers.

Thus for example, Rev. 9:16 literally refers to “two hundred thousand thousand” – we render this in terms of 200 million, but there was no word for “million” available. In the same way, large and precise numbers posed a certain difficulty in terms of expression.

In contrast, compression of that 1000 down to 40 (!) has no linguistic basis whatsoever. “Forty” is perfectly able to be expressed in Biblical Greek (eg, Acts 1:3, 7:23, etc). There is simply no reason from that perspective to crush 1000 down to 40.

So why would a hyperpreterist do this? The argument goes that conditions described as occurring in the millennium are seen in the NT as happening between 30-70 AD. To argue this, however, requires some exceptionally creative exegetical tap-dancing. Let’s look at the arguments, which will hereafter be in italics.

The living were resurrected, awaiting the consummation of the resurrection at the last hour (John 5:24-28; 6:44). Notice Jesus’ “the hour is coming and now is” and “the hour is coming.” John later wrote: “It is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The resurrection scenario of Revelation is not different from John 5. The fact that 1 John says the consummative last hour was upon them proves that the end of the millennium was near.

The error here is the same made by Mormons who try to force John 5:24-5 to refer to the evangelizing of the dead. There are two “hour is coming” references. One in 5:25 refers to the enlivening of those spiritually dead. The other, in 5:29, refers to an entirely different hour, that of the final resurrection; there is no justification for compressing the two “hours” into one.

In the same way, there is no justification for identifying the “hour” on 1 John 2:18 with either of these “hours”. The word used, hora, can connote a specified length of time like our hour, but it also refers to a known, definite time period (cf. Matt. 10:19, 24:36). Collapsing down all “hours” as being the same is linguistic simple-mindedness. In 1 John 2:18, the proper question to ask is, “the last hour of what”? Then the question is whether that “hour” is the same as either of those in John 5.

Of course, the question can then become whether what is described in John 5:28-9 happened in the first century, and that point – which has to do with what “resurrection” constitutes – we reserve for another article in this series.

The next several items apparently ought to go together, but we will intersperse as needed:

The martyrs sat on thrones and were given authority to judge (Revelation 20:4). The martyrs were told that they would only have to wait a little while before their full victory was achieved, but first, their living brethren had to suffer to fill the measure of suffering (Revelation 6:9-11).

The living and the dead had been enthroned with Christ “in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 2:1-6).

This last point requires a correction. It is being taken to refer to a literal enthroning of the living and the dead, but that is not what is being described here. Rather, this is a statement of our collective identity in the body of Christ, and is an expression of the collectivist (group-thinking) of the social world of the NT, in which Christ represents us. It is an obvious mistake that comes of reading the text in modern, individualist terms, and this text no more means there are literally people judging with Christ at this time than “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) means that Paul literally hung on a cross with Jesus in 30 AD.

It is in this way also that believers could in a sense be said to “reign” with Christ – by the mode of collective identification. Thus it could be said that believers reigned by proxy, as it were, but not that they literally and effectively ruled and administered.

In contrast, what is seen in Revelation reflects a literal administration. Conceivably, one could argue (here and for other citations below) that Revelation here also symbolizes administration by proxy. That is not likely, since it is a select group, not the body of Christ, said to judge. However, even if this were the case, all it would tell us is that rule of believers by Christ’s proxy was not exclusively a characteristic of the millennial period – and indeed, based on the collectivist mindset, it could not be anyway.

The living had been given the authority to judge (Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16). In Matthew 19:28 Jesus told the apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This judgment would take place through the message they preached (Matthew 16:19; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15f).

Here again events have been illicitly collapsed into one. The “judgers” of Matthew 19 are the twelve. The “judgers” of the Cor. passages are the whole body of Christ. The “judgers” of Rev. 20 are martyrs for the faith. We have three different (but to some extent, slightly overlapping) groups in view. Although, there is some attempt to collapse these down:

The living saints had to experience the suffering already experienced by the martyrs.

The living would only have to suffer for a little while (Revelation 6:9-11; 1 Peter 1:4f).

Nevertheless, a full collapsing down is not possible here. Very few Christians became martyrs, and the twelve is not the whole body of Christ. Furthermore, there will certainly be ample opportunity for multiple groups to effect various types of judgments – plenty to keep all three groups occupied. There is no reason to collapse all these events into one.

Satan was bound for the millennium. Here too we find common ground with the ministry of Jesus and the forty years.

When Jesus cast a demon out of a man, the disciples marveled. Jesus’ said that this was not possible unless the strong man was being bound (Matthew 12:29). As he sent his disciples out on the “limited commission” they returned incredulous at their success. Jesus told them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18; cf. Revelation 12).

This is a rather curious understanding of what it means to be “bound”. A single, localized instance of a demon (not even Satan) being cast out of a man is not a binding of Satan. Nor is falling from heaven being “bound”. The word used in Revelation connotes such things as John the Baptist being put in prison and the colt being tied to its place before Jesus’ disciples retrieve it. In contrast, Peter (1 Peter 5:8) later in the NT period (during the supposed millennium!) has Satan prowling around like a lion, and throughout the NT Satan is suspected of a certain amount of activity as well; nothing so trivial as ruining BBQs a la Joyce Meyer, but tempting, acting as an agent of destruction, and so on. Later on, the hyperpreterist amazingly cites 1 Peter 5:8 as evidence of the millennium ending; we will get to that shortly.

Appeal is also made thusly:

We have the binding of the enemy of God: “You know what is restraining him...” “The one who now restrains him will do so until he is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:5-7); the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-4).


Unfortunately, there is no possibility of identifying the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3) with Satan, and it is he, not Satan, who was being restrained. Who this “man of sin” is can be debated; I am inclined to identify him with the Roman Emperor Vespasian at present. However, there remains no way Satan could be in view, especially in light of all the other references to his activity in the NT.

Paul said the last enemy, death, would be put down at Christ’s parousia (1 Corinthians 15:19-25). John said death would be destroyed at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:10f). Therefore, Christ’s parousia would be at the end of the millennium: Jesus said “Behold, I come quickly!” Thus, the end of the millennium was near when John wrote.

Here the error is one we have noted in our article on Paul (link below) and eschatology. It assumes that parousia refers exclusively to a single event. In reality it would have no such exclusive connotations.

One way of determining whether the forty year period could have been the millennium is to examine what was to happen at the end of the millennium, and to compare that with the language of imminence found in the NT. If the events that Revelation posits at the end of the millennium were coming soon in the rest of the NT, this constitutes prima facie evidence that the end of the millennium was near.

Examples, however, are rather poor for proving the point.

1.) Satan released– 1 Peter 5:8 – “The Devil walks around seeking whom he may devour.”

But 1 Peter was written before the end of the 40 year period – the alleged “millennium”. Revelation has Satan released after that period is over. There is no “coming soon” in Peter’s words – Satan is seeking victims NOW, in his present. There is no “language of imminence” or any qualification that fits such a thing (e.g., Peter not knowing if it would occur in or past his lifetime).

2.) War with the saints – 1 Peter 1:4f – The Saints had to suffer a little while (cf. Revelation 12:10).

Persecution, however, continues even to this day, past the alleged millennium, though mostly in other places in the world than the West. Being persecuted is not an exclusive characteristic of any period.

3.) Destruction of Satan – Romans 16:20 – “The God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Simply stated: The destruction of Satan would be at the end of the millennium. But, the destruction of Satan was near when Paul wrote Romans. Therefore, the end of the millennium was near when Paul wrote Romans.

This too reflects a rather idiosyncratic definition. As I say in the article linked below:

It is far from clear that Paul here necessarily refers to an eschatological condition. God could "bruise Satan" in any number of ways in the temporal life of the believer. However, the phrase used for "shortly" (en tachei) could also have two meanings: either shortly in time or speedily, with dispatch.
Witherington notes that the phrase is adverbial and should indicate manner. [31] The verse tells us how, not when, Satan will be crushed. There is, in any event, no contextual reference to the parousia or any event associated with Christ's return or advent; and even if not, preterism holds that Satan was bound around 70 AD, so that it could be argued that this prediction was fulfilled.

Either way, “destruction” is far too strong a word to use for what is described here.

4.) The resurrection– (i.e. “the rest of the dead,” who came to life after the 1000 years, 20:7-12) – Christ was “ready (hetoimos) to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

5.) Opening of the books / judgment – “There are some standing here that shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).

It is hard to see what point is being reached for here. That Christ is “ready” to judge people in the afterlife does not mean they are resurrected, or will be any time soon. Nor does Matthew 16 say anything about the books of judgment being opened.

6.) Heaven and earth fled, the New Creation– God dwells with man – “These things must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 22:6, 10-12).

This, however, has all of what is predicted in Revelation as a referent, which by the preterist view includes events of the first century – indeed, by the orthodox view, all but a few lines occurred in the first century, and those lines are cordoned off with a promise of a wait of a “thousand years” – which we are still waiting to be explained as merely 40 years by the hyper-preterist.

A point follows arguing for the end of the millennium as fulfilling Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles, in which it is roundaboutly added:

It is commonly argued that the “ceremonial aspects” of Torah ended at the cross, and that Israel ceased to be God’s covenant people at the cross, while OT prophecy remained (to AD 70) or remains valid (futurism). However, nothing was more “ceremonial” or prophetic, than Israel’s covenantal feast days! The fact that Revelation 20-21 depicts the fulfillment of Israel’s last three feast days at the end of the millennium proves that the “ceremonial” aspects of Torah remained valid when John wrote.

Not at all; this is a non sequitur. Even if we accept the notion that events at the end of the millennium somehow “fulfill” the Feast of Tabernacles – a rather vague claim that is akin to claims that Jesus “imitated” certain pagan deities in that he, like they, offered “salvation” – such a fulfillment would not require a present and continuing observation of that Feast by humans. This is simply a desperate stretch. God is hardly dependent on continuing human observation of holidays for fulfillments of this sort to occur. Nor would it be required for humans to recognize such a connection, since this writer has done so (however correctly – or not) 2000+ years after the fact.

That said, it is far better to see the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles in terms of the Holy Spirit residing within individual believers – which occurred c. 30 AD.

One last non sequitur is forced in, where it is said that Daniel 12 predicted the final resurrection of all men. We will deal with more detailed claims in that regard in another entry in this series. In the end, no success was had at compressing 1000 years into 40 – and it is akin to offering a single egg and claiming to offer a dozen.

Paul and the end times

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Snap: "Urban Apologetics"

Here's yet another gateway apologetics book, and it has a very good special niche which you can discern from the title. Brooks is writing to those who wish to minister in inner city settings. The urban apologist may not get very far in such settings with a 10 point argument for the Resurrection; at least not until they've first addressed things like social issues important to urban dwellers, such as poverty. As some have observed, there are times in apologetics where you have to come to people on a human level first. 

The incoming reader may look at the chapters and think, "Gee, this guy is all over the place on topics." He's not, really: I haven't ministered in inner cities, but as a former state prison employee, I met plenty of inmates from that sort of region, and I can assure you that each chapter is relevant, even the one that talk about various cults of Islam.

So, if you think inner city ministry is in your future -- give this one a whirl.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Snap: "Rethinking Hell"

A book like this one is of the type that makes me feel like someone watching two boxers beat each other up, knock each other out, each unaware that the prize they were fighting for was already taken by someone else. Rethinking Hell is of the genre of what you could call a "convenience collection" of previously-published materials, assembled in one place for ease. (A very sound tactic I use, too.) Multiple essays here are collected to defend the premise of conditionalism/annihilationism, the idea that human spirits who are not part of Christ's covenant end up annihilated after judgment.

Like I said, though, this is one of those things where I'm mostly a bystander. My own view of hell, based in the agonistic context of the New Testament, bypasses many of the criticisms of a literal-fire hell that these varied authors stand against. This view also happens to undermine attempts made by some in this volume to read "fire" passages about hell in terms of annihilation, since such terms already come semantically occupied by another metaphorical fulfillment (that of shame). I did say "some". Others in this volume actually reach close to my view, reading hell in terms of separation from God -- a conclusion they reach without the agonistic tenor, which would end up reinforcing their conclusion even so.

At any rate, this and some other material has led me to update my own little volume on hell, which I expect to have ready next month. You should pick this one up if you want to get up to snuff on the debate, even if (like me) you don't buy into the same conclusions.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Illustration of "Copycat" Logic

A recent news story from my neck of the woods offers a handy illustration of a sort of poor argument method that characterizes many critics I know -- ranging from "copycat" Christ theorists to those who adhere to the "Mark stole from Homer" thesis.
 ***

 The dome atop downtown Tampa’s SunTrust tower honors sports teams and special events with its multicolored, digital light display.

So as the U.S. team opened World Cup play Monday night against Ghana, soccer fans might have been puzzled to look up and see the skyscraper’s dome aglow in stripes of red, yellow and green.

Those would be the colors of the Ghana flag .

At one time, they also were the colors of Shriners International — the service organization headquartered on Rocky Point that the 500-foot-high LED display was intended to honor.

“Basically it’s a coincidental thing,” said Melissa Cronk, assistant general manager for Jones Lange LaSalle, which manages the 36-floor SunTrust Financial Centre. 

This came to mind because of late, someone has been writing to me asking about some of the arguments of this sort made at "jesusneverexisted.com." The essence of such arguments is that because the critic is uneducated about relevant Biblical contexts, when they see a seeming "parallel" between the Biblical text and something else in the Biblical world, they assume that it can't be a coincidence.

By way of illustration, because World Cup dominates people's thinking right now, they assumed that the tricolor feature on this building could not have any other meaning. This is in spite of the fact that these colors (red, yellow, and green) are commonplaces. For all they knew the building was celebrating National Stoplight Week.

At any rate, just an amusing illustration of how these things go.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Snap: Mark Lanier's "Christianity on Trial"

For today we have another gateway apologetics book to consider, and this one's more of a familiar trope: Lanier is a well-known attorney who takes a legal approach to apologetics. How does he do? I can't say entirely, since only one chapter is within my expertise (on the Resurrection). I'll be sending this one to Nick Peters to evaluate the rest. What I can say for sure is that Lanier's presentation is satisfactory for a gateway book. It's not exactly the "hit 'em with evidence hard" approach, though; it's more of a methodological apologetic, with Lanier explaining in some depth how he would approach arguing his case if he were in court (for example, what witnesses he would call, and why).

As an information guy, who has also worked in a law library, this was nothing new for me, but I can see how new readers would benefit. So by all means, give it a shot.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What is a Christian? The Preacher Who Didn't Know the Answer


Today we feature a guest post.

****

            This is a true story.

            Once upon a time, there lived a man who claimed to be a Christian and that he was a Preacher.

            “I spent fifty years in the Christian church and I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. (I preached for a total of thirty-three years),” he proclaimed.

            But, as Jesus related in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), the preacher became like the seeds that fell on stony places.  He rejected the Gospel and quit his Christian ministry.

            “The Church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time,” he wrote.

            He began a new ministry, preaching against the Gospel through his website.

            “Some may ask, since I am an atheist, why I bother with matters concerning the Bible and Christianity. First of all, I like talking about it,” he wrote (listing other reasons that we shall address later).

            And so, the Church continued to occupy his time.

            One day he came across an essay by the evangelist, R. C. Ryle (1816-1900), “Are You Born Again?”  As follows:

http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=2376

      Are you born again? This is one of the most important questions in religion. Jesus Christ says, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"-John 3:3.
     It is not enough to reply, "I belong to the church; and I suppose I am." Thousands of nominal Christians have none of the marks and signs of being born again which the Scripture has given us.
      Would you like to know the marks and signs of being born again? Give me your attention, and I will show them to you out of the first epistle of John.
      First of all, John says, "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin;" and again, "Whoever is born of God sins not."-I John 3:9; 5:18. A man born again, or regenerate, does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. In one word, sin no longer pleases him, nor is even a matter of indifference; it has become the abominable thing which he hates. He cannot prevent its dwelling within him. If he said he had no sin, there would be no truth in him (I John 1:8). But he can say that he cordially abhors it, and the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent bad thoughts arising within him, and short-comings, omissions, and defects appearing, both in his words and actions. He knew, as James says that "In many things we offend all" (James 3:2). But he can say truly, and as in the sight of God, that things are a daily grief and sorrow to him, and that his whole nature does not consent unto them.
      I place this mark before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Secondly, John says, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God"-I John 5:1.
      A man born again, or regenerate, then, believes that Jesus Christ is the only Savior by whom his soul can be pardoned; that He is the divine person appointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside Him there is no Savior at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in Him he believes that his sins are all forgiven. He believes that for the sake of Christ's finished work and death upon the cross, he is reckoned righteous in God's sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. He may sometimes tell you he feels as if he had not faith at all. But ask him whether he will rest his hopes of eternal life on his own goodness, his own amendments, his prayers, his minister, or his church, and see what he will reply. Ask him whether he will give up Christ, and place his confidence in any other way of religion. Depend upon it, he would say that though he does feel weak and bad, he would not give up Christ for all the world. Depend upon it, he would say he found preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to him.
      I place this mark before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Thirdly, John says, "Every one that does righteousness is born of Him"-I John 2:29.
      The man born again, or regenerate, then is, a holy man. He endeavors to live according to God's will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. His wish is to be continually looking to Christ as his example as well as his Savior, and to show himself Christ's friend by doing whatever Christ commands. No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against Grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all shortcomings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy-his doings are holy, his tastes holy, and his habits holy. In spite of all this swerving and turning aside, like a ship beating up against a contrary wind, the general course of his life is in one direction-toward God and for God. And though he may sometimes fell so low that he questions whether he is a Christian at all, he will generally be able to say with old John Newton, "I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world, but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the Grace of God I am what I am."
     I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Fourthly, John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren"-I John 3:14.
      A man born again, or regenerate, then, has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Savior, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company. He is never so happy as when he is among the saints and the excellent of the earth. Others may value learning, or cleverness, or agreeableness, or riches or rank, in the society they choose. The regenerate man values Grace. Those who have most Grace, and are most like Christ, are those he most loves. He feels that they are members of the same family with himself. He feels that they are his fellow-soldiers, warring against the same enemy. He feels that they are his fellow-travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. He and they may be very different in many ways-in rank, in station, in wealth. What matter? They are Jesus Christ's people. They are his Father's sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them.
      I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Fifthly, John says, "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world"-I John 5:4.
      A man born again, or regenerate, does not make the world's opinion his rule of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world's way, notions and customs. "What man will say?" is no longer a turning-point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which most around him call happiness. He cannot enjoy their enjoyments: they weary him: they appear to him vain, unprofitable, and unworthy of an immortal being. He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of men. He fears offending Him more than giving offense to man. He has counted the cost. It is a small thing with him no whether he is blamed or praised. He is no longer the servant of fashion and custom. To please the world is quite a secondary consideration with him. His first aim is to please God.
      I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Sixthly, John says, "He that is begotten of God keeps himself"-I John 5:18.
      A man born again, or regenerate, is very careful of his own soul. He endeavors not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is for more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the employment of his time: his chief desire about it is to spend it profitably. He is careful about the friendships he forms: it is not enough for him that people are kind and amiable and good-natured; all this is very well; but will they do good to his soul? He is careful over his own daily habits and behavior: he tries to recollect that his own heart is deceitful, the world full of wickedness, and the devil always laboring to do him harm; and, therefore, he would sincerely be always on his guard. He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy's country, to wear his armor continually, and to be prepared for temptation. He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be watchful, humble, and prayerful man.
      I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?
      Such are the six great marks of being born again. Let every one who has gone so far with me, read them over with attention, and lay them to heart.
      I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks in different people. In some they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that any one may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow.
      But still after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of God. Here is an inspired Apostle writing one of the last general epistles to the Church of Christ, telling us that a man born of God, Does not commit sin, Believes that Jesus is the Christ, Does righteousness, Loves the brethren, Overcomes the world, and Keeps himself. I ask the reader to observe all this.
      Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that regeneration is only an admission to outward church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that only those people are born again who have these six marks about them; and that all men and women who have not these marks, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come.
      Reader, have you these marks? Are you born again?
*  *  *
            The preacher decided to put his own spin on Ryle’s essay, “Are You Born Again?” and calling his own, “What is a Christian?”
            Rather than referring readers to Ryle’s essay, the preacher republished and addressed only a portion of Ryle’s summary:
But still after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of God. Here is an inspired Apostle writing one of the last general epistles (1 John) to the Church of Christ, telling us that a man born of God, Does not commit sin, Believes that Jesus is the Christ, Does righteousness, Loves the brethren, Overcomes the world, and Keeps himself. I ask the reader to observe all this.

            “The Bible basis for what Ryle says is found in I John,” the preacher said, disregarding Ryle’s quotes of John 3:3 and James 3:2.  He then quoted five (in bold) of the seven verses cited by Ryle, then added more beyond Ryle’s essay, emphasizing text in bold:

6If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

1 John 3:4-6
4Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

1 John 3:8-9
8He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 9Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.


1 John 3:14-15
14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

1 John 5:1-5
1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.  3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.  Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

*  *  *

            In the above verses, the preacher imagined contradictions where none exist.
            “Denominations, pastors, and individual Christians explain, or should I say explain away, these verses in a variety of ways,” he stated.  Who these people were, he didn’t say.  The preacher raised the concepts of “explain” and “explain away” as if explanations were invalid, but did not support his assertion.
            For some reason, the preacher chose to ignore the explanations provided in Ryle’s text.
            The preacher rambled on:  “Some take the verses exactly as they are written. To them it is simple, these verses mean exactly what they say.”
            Here, the preacher failed to take into account a concept called “context.”  This was not a problem for Ryle.
            We repeat Ryle’s statements on 1 John 3:9, which the preacher ignored:
      First of all, John says, "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin;" and again, "Whoever is born of God sins not."-I John 3:9; 5:18. A man born again, or regenerate, does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. In one word, sin no longer pleases him, nor is even a matter of indifference; it has become the abominable thing which he hates. He cannot prevent its dwelling within him. If he said he had no sin, there would be no truth in him (I John 1:8). But he can say that he cordially abhors it, and the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent bad thoughts arising within him, and short-comings, omissions, and defects appearing, both in his words and actions. He knew, as James says that "In many things we offend all" (James 3:2). But he can say truly, and as in the sight of God, that things are a daily grief and sorrow to him, and that his whole nature does not consent unto them.
      I place this mark before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born again?”
            It’s a matter willfully ignored by the preacher.  The question rises—Why?
            James Patrick Holding comments on the verse here:  http://www.tektonics.org/lp/mansin.php, taking 1 John 1:8-10 and 1 John 3:5-8 into account.
            “Others go to the Greek text and say that these verses say one thing in the English text but another thing in the Greek text. They do a lot of explaining to get away from what the English text clearly says.”
            Who “they” are, the preacher didn’t say.  He did not support his assertions.  We therefore have no reason to believe him.
            Of course, 1 John was written in Greek, so that has to be taken into account.  Matt Slick does so here: http://carm.org/can-true-christian-sin.  He concludes, “There is no contradiction.  What is happening is that John is saying that the one who is born again does not habitually abide in sin.  He may fall into it, but he does not practice it as a lifestyle.  The nuances of the Greek language are not carried over to the English, but when we understand what is happening we then see there is no problem.”
            “It seems to me that the writer of 1 John,” said the preacher, “is very clear.”
            Yes, it is.  Yet these verses, some cited by the preacher, seem to be beyond his comprehension when the matter is presented in context:
1 John 1:5-10
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
            “Keep in mind some scholars think 1 John is a fraudulent text,” the preacher wrote, but failed to substantiate.  However, the authenticity and authorship of 1 John was affirmed by the following sources:  Polycarp, Valentinus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, the Muratorian Canon, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Codex Sinaiticus, Athenasius of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, the Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate.  Ref. the hyperlinks from http://www.ntcanon.org/table.shtml.  On this matter, they have credibility whereas the preacher and his unnamed scholars do not.
Thomas Hartwell Horne elaborates:
Thomas Hartwell Horne.  An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, Volume 4,  1877 edition.  Edited by Thomas Hartwell Horne, John Ayre and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. 14th edition, London: Longmans, Green, 1877.
http://books.google.com/books?jtp=610&id=vS4XAAAAYAAJ#v=onepage&q&f=false
CHAP. XXVIII.
ON THE FIRST GENERAL EPISTLE OF JOHN.
I. Although no name is prefixed to this book, its authenticity as a genuine production of the apostle John is unquestionable. It was almost universally received as his composition in the Eastern and Western churches, and appears to be alluded to by Hennas.2 It is distinctly cited by Poly carp3, and in the Epistle of the churches of Vienne and Lyons4, and is declared to be genuine by Papias5, Irenaeus6, Clement of Alexandria7, Tertullian8, Origen9, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, and all subsequent ecclesiastical writers.10
2 Lardner's Works, 8vo. vol ii. p. 61.; 4to. vol. i. p. 311.
3 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 99. j 4to. vol. i. p. 332.
4 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 152.; 4to. vol. i. p. 362.
5 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. pp. 108, 109. 113.; 4tO. vol. i. pp. 337. 34a
6 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 168.; 4to. vol. i. p. 370.
7 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 227.; 4to. vol. i. p. 403.
8 Ibid. 8vo vol. ii. p. 275.; 4to. vol. i. p. 429.
9 Ibid. 8vo. vol. ii. p. 481.; 4to. vol. i. p. 540.
10 Ibid. 8vo. vol vi. pp. 584, 585. j 4to. vol. iii. pp. 525, 526.
A still more decisive testimony is the fact that it is found in the Syriac version of the New Testament, which omits some of those books of the New Testament respecting whose authenticity doubts were entertained. But, besides this external proof, we have the strongest internal evidence that this Epistle was written by the apostle John, in the very close analogy of its sentiments and expressions to those of his Gospel. There is also a remarkable peculiarity in the style of this apostle, and particularly in this Epistle. His sentences, considered separately, are exceedingly clear and intelligible; but when we search for their connection, we frequently meet with greater difficulties than we experience even in the Epistles of Paul. Artless simplicity and benevolence, blended with singular modesty and candour, together with a wonderful sublimity of sentiment, are the characteristics of this Epistle; in which John appears to have delivered his conceptions as they arose in his mind, and in the form of aphorisms, in order that they might produce the greater effect. In his Gospel John does not content himself with simply affirming or denying a thing, but denies its contrary to strengthen his affirmation; and in like manner, to strengthen his denial of a thing, he affirms its contrary. See John i. 20., iii. 36., v. 24., vi. 22. The same manner of expressing things strongly occurs in this Epistle. See ii. 4. 27. and iv. 2, 3. In his Gospel also, St. John frequently use the pronoun or ούτος, αύτη, τουτο, this, in order to express things emphatically. See i. 19., iii. 19., vi. 29. 40. 50., and xvii. 3. In the Epistle the same emphatical mode of expression obtains. Compare i. 5., ii. 25., iii. 23., v. 3, 4. 6. and 14.1
1Lampe. Commentarius in Evangelium Johannis, torn. i. Prolegomena, p. 104. Macknight's Preface to 1 John, sect. 2. Langii, Hermeneutica Sacra, pars ii. De Interpretation Epistolarum Johannis, pp. 167—175.

pp. 610-611.
            The preacher challenged his readers, “You SAY you are a Christian? Here is the standard to judge yourself by. Do you measure up?”
            This echoes Ryle’s concluding statements:
            “That conclusion is, that only those people are born again who have these six marks about them; and that all men and women who have not these marks, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come.
     “Reader, have you these marks? Are you born again?”
            The answer is up to the individual.
            After addressing the topic addressed by Ryle, the preacher’s mind wandered.  He continued with contentions that, if he were competent at his job, he would know the answers.
            “Granted 1 John contradicts other books of the Bible. 1 John and the book of James set a very different standard for what a Christian is than Paul does in his writings.”
            Nothing has been granted, since the preacher failed to support his assertions.  Making no argument, the preacher offered nothing to address.
            The preacher admitted to being willfully ignorant, offering the following excuse:  “Christians go to great lengths to smooth over and mediate the conflict, but since I am not a Christian I have no need to make everything ‘fit,’”  For some reason, the preacher states a conflict without stating what the conflict was.
            The preacher’s mind wandered further, entering the territory of hypothetical assertions, as if he didn’t know the difference between hypothesis and evidence.
            “I ask myself, if a person who had never had any contact with Christianity was stranded on an island and only had the book of 1 John to read, what conclusions would they come to?  Remember, Christians tell us the gospel is simple and clear enough that even a child can understand it. I wonder if a person who had never had any contact with Christianity was stranded on an island and only had the Bible to read what conclusions would they come to?” the preacher asks.
            This is from a man who spent 35 years in the ministry, yet remains incompetent in dealing with these questions.
            Since this is the Christian paradigm, the answer lies in 1 John 1: 5-9.  Another
Matthew 7:6-8
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

and

Luke 11:9-10
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
            Astonishingly, these verses eluded the 35-year preacher’s mental grasp.
            His mind continued to drift into the Land of Missing the Forest for the Trees.
            “Let’s assume,” the preacher wrote, “they figured out enough of the Bible to be “saved.” Now that they are saved the Holy Spirit lives within them and is their teacher and guide. Would they be a Calvinist? An Arminian? Would they be a dispensationalist? Would they believe in the rapture? Would they start a church? If they started a church what would it s government be? Would they tithe?”
            Assumption is fun, isn’t it?  Let’s play!  Let’s assume an immigrant learns enough of the U.S. Constitution to be an American.  Now that they have sworn allegiance to the Constitution they use it to be their teacher and guide.  Would they be Republican?  A Democrat?  Would they be a capitalist?  Would they believe in supply-side economics?  Would they start a business?  If they started a business how would they run it?  Would they pay their taxes?”
            Was this preacher mentally competent?
            He did admit a willingness to ramble:  “I could go on and on and on….”
            According to the preacher, delivering yet another unsupported assertion, “So much of what is called ‘Christianity’ is actually man’s interpretation of what the Bible says, and as the centuries click by the interpretations become more complex and varied. It is almost impossible to get a Christian to see that Christianity is actually a man made religion, shaped and molded over centuries.”

            But according to the Oxford English Dictionary, Christianity is “2a. The religion of Christ; the Christian faith; the system of doctrines and precepts taught by Christ and his apostles.” 

            What proof did the preacher offer that this definition has changed?  Zero.

            Man-made?  The Bible is known as the Word of God, not the Word of Man.  Strange, isn’t it, that an alleged preacher would be so ignorant of the testimonials listed here:  http://www.tektonics.org/guest/truthlegal.html#fouri
             “I am think [sic] that modern Christianity is Paul’s version of Christianity and not Jesus’ version,” the preacher declared, demonstrating his ignorance of the Scriptures listed here:  http://www.tektonics.org/guest/truthhistory.html#fivem
            “I suspect the essence and nature of the Christianity of Jesus has been irretrievably lost.(perhaps the Gnostics were the real Christians),” according to this preacher, who has discredited himself a great deal in this discussion.
            Sir Frederic George Kenyon, The Story of the Bible, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, p. 113:  “It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries (of manuscripts) and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable Word of God.”
            Sir Frederic George Kenyon.  Our Bible and Ancient Manuscripts, New York: Harper & Bros., 1941, p. 23.  “One word of warning already referred to, must be emphasized in conclusion.  No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading. ...
            “It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: Especially is this the case with the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities.  This can be said of no other ancient book in the world.
            “Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers whose works have come down to us, of Sophocles, of Thucydides, of Cicero, of Virgil; yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of manuscripts, whereas the manuscripts of the new Testament are counted by hundreds, and even thousands.”
             “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”
            Who has greater credibility, an archaeologist like Kenyon, or a preacher who is willfully ignorant?
            The preacher then tried to find his way to the original topic.  “Some may ask, since I am an atheist, why I bother with matters concerning the Bible and Christianity. First of all, I like talking about it. Second, our culture is deeply influenced (and sometimes controlled) by Christianity, and how Christians interpret the Bible affects the culture as a whole.”
            And yet, it is a fact that American civilization has benefitted greatly from Christianity and has been acknowledged by our statesmen as well as the general public.  Whether the preacher can cope with—or comprehend--the primary source documented at the hyperlinks below is another matter:


            “Third, Christians tend to evangelize and preach at non-believers, so it is fair to hold them to the same standard they hold others to.”
            What standard this is, the preacher neglected to define.
            It is a challenge, however, that Christianity can meet.  Simon Greenleaf, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard, wrote, “All that Christianity asks of men on this subject is that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they threat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth. In the course of such an examination, the undesigned coincidences will multiply upon us at every step in our progress; the probability or the veracity of the witnesses and of the reality of the occurrences which they relate will increase, until it acquires, for all practical purposes, the value and force of demonstration.”  From An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice with an Account of the Trial of Jesus, online at http://www.classicapologetics.com/g/GreenTes1.html.
            Reflecting back on 1 John, the preacher wrote, “Based on the verses above it is quite evident that no Christian measures up to the Bible standard of what it means to be a Christian.”
            Alas for the poor preacher, he failed to comprehend Ryle’s full essay, and the context of the Scriptures he and Ryle presented.  The argument has been countered; the preacher’s sophistry has been exposed.
            One wonders whether this preacher—avoiding Ryle’s discussion of “born again”--actually knows what the Gospel is. 
            Winding down, the preacher addressed readers on the verge of leaving Christianity, claiming “Post [sic] like this one are meant to help them settle some of the issues they are struggling with.”
            To quote Ben Kenobi, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the one that follows the fool?”
            The preacher finished with a question, “For those of you who are, or were Christians how did your pastor explain the 1 John verses mentioned above?”
            Answer:  Read the verses in context.  Read Ryle in context, as well as the essays by J. P. Holding and Matt Slick.
            The moral of the story:  Learn to comprehend what you read.