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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Why are there so many Churches?

"Why Are There So Many Churches?

My wife and I have always attended different churches. But now we have children and we are looking for a church we can attend together. We have been told to choose the one that feels right to us. But with there being so many churches, how can we know what's right?
I've been a member of a number of churches in my lifetime. Some big and some small. You name it. They all believe in the same God, but worship in a lot of different ways. Does it really matter?
Growing up, my friends and I did everything together except church. I have always wondered, why not? If we believe in the same God... Why are there so many different churches?
With all the different religions and churches represented in the military, a chaplain holding one service where we can all come together for worship makes it simple. I mean, isn't that just like the church we read about in the Bible?
I heard a preacher say once, that all Christian churches are okay even if they do not all teach the same things. How can that be? I have always been confused by that.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many different churches and practices and beliefs?
Is it possible that every denomination is right? Does God approve of this kind of division and confusion? And does it even really matter? Why are there so many different churches? Does it matter to God? Is He pleased with the current situation in the religious world?
If I were to ask you exactly how many different churches exist in the world today... what would you say? You would probably say, "I don't know...A lot I guess." And that would be right. There are a lot! In fact I looked this up recently. I found that there are approximately 38,000 different churches. 38,000! Friends, that is amazing.
And think about how confusing this can be for a person who is seeking the truth. Because you have one church over here that is teaching this practice and another church that is teaching the opposite. One church says that item A is sinful and another church says that item A is mandatory. Who is right? Can they both be right?
And of course, some people will tell you, "That is good!" "It is good to have variety." "Just attend the church of your choice." And they will say, "One church is just as good as another." "We are all going to the same place anyway." "There are just different paths leading us to the same location."
Dear friend, may I respectfully tell you that the Bible says "God is not the author of confusion".

When I read my New Testament, I read about only one church. But when I look around me today, and I see those who profess Christianity, I see thousands. Now the question is how did we get from one to thousands? And the answer is... something went wrong.
Something went severely wrong.
But you see, It didn't go wrong with God. It went wrong with man.
Now, here is the first point I want us to observe as we consider this subject together. And that is, in the Bible we read about only one church.
I want you to use your imagination with me for a minute. I want you to imagine that there is such a thing as a time machine. And I want you to imagine that you can get in this time machine and travel back to the first century to the day that the Lord established His church. You get out and you see all of these converts to Christianity, about 3,000 of them. You walk up to one of them and you ask him, "Sir, I would like to know what denomination did you just become a part of?" What would he say? He would probably say, "I don't know what you are talking about." "I mean what church did you become a part of? "Was it the Methodist, or Catholic, or the Baptist? Which one was it?" He'd say "Sir, I don't know what you are talking about. I have never heard of a denomination. "I have never heard of these groups you're discussing. All I know is that I became a part of the church that belongs to Jesus Christ." "The church of Christ"
And that would be exactly right. Because there was only one.
Acts 2:47 says "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." And this fits perfectly with what Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18. He promised A...upon this rock I will build My church."
The apostle Paul later echoes the sentiment of the one church as he is speaking to the elders in Ephesus. He tells them to "Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28)
In the book of Ephesians we are told that God has put all things under Christ's feet and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church which is His body..." And so the church of Christ and the body of Christ are the same thing. And then the singularity of the church is nailed down in Ephesians 4:4 when He says "There is one body."
Dear friend, when one reads the New Testament he is impressed by the fact that there existed only one church.
Well, what if someone came along and wanted to start some different divisions of that one church? Different denominations if you will. Would that be okay? And the answer to that question is, no. That would not be okay.

I want you to listen to the words of the apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Corinth.
He says "Now I plead with you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment." I Corinthians 1:10
Now friends how does that mesh with what we see in the religious world today? With all of the different denominations and divisions and sects that are all teaching different things?
And the answer is... It does not mesh at all. It is completely foreign to the New Testament concept of the church.
Now, more specifically, what was the problem with the church in Corinth? I want you to listen again.
This is verse twelve. Paul says "Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
You see, within the First Century Church, we see the seeds of denominationalism. Some were starting to hold to Paul, while others were holding to Apollos others to Cephas, to Peter, and others to Christ. Divisions were starting to form and Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, condemns this. And he makes it clear that this is not of God.
Okay, as we seek to answer the question, "Why are there so many churches," I want us to notice that God predicted that there would be a departure from the New Testament pattern. You see, despite the clarity of the New Testament with regard to the oneness of the church and despite the warnings against division, God knew that divisions would come. In fact, the Bible foretells of it and warns against it several times.
One of these warnings comes from a passage we mentioned a moment ago. It's the conversation between Paul and the Ephesian elders. He tells them to "shepherd the church..." which was purchased by the blood of Christ. He says that AFor I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves."
Now, it is interesting that Paul tells the leaders of this church of this congregation that a departure would come from them. And the reason that this is so interesting is because one of the first departures in the church was with regard to its leadership and its organization.
Now, another warning concerning departure is found in I Timothy, chapter 4. Let's read this one together.

It says, "Now the Spirit speaks expressly (that is the Holy Spirit is speaking very plainly here) that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies and hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth."
We will see in history that two of the specific departures that will later take place relate to forbidding marriage and not being allowed to eat certain foods.
Now, thus far we see that according to the New Testament pattern there was only one church, but we also see that God predicted that there would be a departure from that New Testament pattern.
Alright, let's get to the key question. Why are there so many churches today? How did a basic Bible belief system with a unified group of people turn into literally thousands of different denominations with different practices and different beliefs?
Well, history tells us that very early on there came along splinter groups who had ideas and doctrines contrary to that of the first century church and contrary to the doctrine that they had received and practiced. Some of these groups include:
the Gnostics around A.D. 125,
the Montanists around A.D. 156,
the Manicheans around A.D. 244, and
the Novations around A.D. 251.
Now, one of the largest and most significant divisions that relates to the early church relates to its leadership and involved the Roman Emperor by the name of Constantine. Now, from the beginning of God's plan it was to have elders and deacons in the church. And you can read about this in I Timothy and Titus. And these elders had authority only over the congregations where they were members.
That is the way God established it. Each congregation was autonomous. But you see, over time elders began meeting together to discuss problems relating to the various congregations.
When you get to the 300s A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine was starting to have interest in this growing group of people known as the church of Christ. In A.D. 313 he passed the Edict of Milan which ended the persecution against Christians.
And you can imagine this gained in favor with Christians in and around Rome. And so the Roman government began gaining a lot of influence with elders in the church of Christ and the end result was a very adverse effect on a large portion of Christ's church. You see this new relationship led to a meeting between elders in the church of Christ and Roman officials.
This meeting took place in A.D. 325 and history calls this event AThe Council of Nicea".

This meeting gave rise to the first officially recognized departure from the original New Testament church.
Now, this newly created denomination took a Latin word, Catholic, which is translated Universal, and established a hierarchy very similar to that of the Roman government.
They literally took the example of the Roman government and built a church that was based on that model.
And so in this new church there were men who were over several churches or groups of churches which was a very clear departure from the New Testament pattern.
Now, Christians who were faithful to the Bible, those who stood against this newly created Catholic denomination, they were persecuted and ostracized. They had to meet in hiding.
But the pure New Testament church of Christ continued to exist.
Now, historically speaking after the formation and establishment of this Catholic church, it grew in strength and number and political power. They created new doctrines and man made traditions and they enjoyed growing political endorsements from the Roman government.
In time their doctrines were made mandates and required of all of the members of the Catholic church.
Notice the dates on the chart as the Catholic church implemented some of these doctrines long after the formation of their denomination. There was:
Latin Mass,
Purgatory,
The First Official Pope (they called him "God on Earth"),
Transubstantiation,
the mandate of the celibacy of the priest in 1015.
Now, if you will look at the timeline you will see that for the first thousand years there was really only two churches. You had the church of Christ that began on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem that still existed. And then there was Catholicism.
Now, history tells us that in 1054 the Catholic church split into two denominations. You had Roman Catholicism and the Greek Orthodox Church. Now, during this time the Bible became more and more unavailable to the common man. And this period became known as The Dark Ages.
And the Catholic church just continued to add man made doctrines.
Examples include:
Indulgences in 1192,

The AConfessional Booth" in 1215,
Sprinkling replaced immersion for Baptism in 1311,
and the Pope was declared infallible.
Now, by the time you get to the 1500's you will see a lot of activity on the timeline. This is because there were men such as Martin Luther who began to stand up and say "This is not right!"
Martin Luther was a German monk and he hated the selling of indulgences. He challenged the Pope saying "The Bible is only source of authority." Martin Luther's widespread opposition to the Catholic church ignited a protest movement which is historically known as The Protestant Reformation.
In 1521, another denomination appeared shortly before the Lutheran church came on the scene, it was known as the Anabaptists. They started as a protest against the Catholic church and its practice of infant baptism. "Ana" means "again". They baptized again those who had been baptized as babies in the Catholic church.
But what is really interesting, is that the Anabaptist movement spawned several other churches to include the Baptist, the Amish, the Mennonites, and brethren in Christ. And as religious freedom expanded denominationalism continued to grow and to multiply into dozens of factions and you can see that on the timeline. And this laid the foundation for a multitude of denominations that exist in our present day.
Some of these churches began with a noble desire to break free from some clearly unscriptural practices. Others began with less than noble reasoning.
You will notice on the chart that the church of England started in 1534. This church began after Henry VIII's desire to have his marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled. When the Roman Catholic church would not grant his annulment, the result was the separation from the Catholic church and the formation of a new church, the Church of England.
Well, what is the point of all of that? The point is, if you look at the chart, the timeline, it represents just a small fraction of churches that exist today.
Some began with good motives and others began with bad motives, but all of them were started by men.
Now, if you will go back to the top of the chart you will see the green line that represents the church started by Jesus Christ. This is the church that began in A.D. 33 in Jerusalem. It is the church of Christ, the one we read about in the pages of the New Testament. And from history, we see that all other churches were man made denominations.

Hopefully now, you can see why there are so many churches. And here is the message that we really need to take to heart. Since Jesus condemns division, we need to be a part of that one church that Jesus established. The one that He bought with His blood. Not one of the man made churches that came along later in history.
Now, what does all this mean for us today? Does this mean that denominations are wrong?
Dear friend, we want to be kind but we want to be clear. And the answer is... yes, it would have to mean that. All churches other than the one built by Jesus Christ exist without New Testament authority or example.
Now somebody says, "Does that mean that good intentioned morally upright people in denominations will be lost?" Well, let's let the Lord answer this question.
I want you to listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21 23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And I will declare to them, >never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"
Dear friend, observe with me that Jesus says that on the day of judgement there will be good people, people who are teachers, people who claim to hold to the name of Jesus, people who will be lost because they haven't done the will of the Father.
Now, the point is, having good intentions is not enough.
Having my heart right is not enough.
I actually have to follow the New Testament pattern.
I want you to listen again to the words of Acts 2:47 A...praising God and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."
Friend, all of the saved people are in the church. That one built by Jesus. The same one that existed in Acts chapter two. The same one that we read about throughout the New Testament. The one that existed prior to all the denominations of man.
Now, the question is "How do I become a part of that church? The one wherein is salvation. How do I become a part of the one church of the New Testament?" And the answer is... the same way they did it in the New Testament.
You've got to obey the Gospel.

You know sometimes people in the religious world will tell you that "There is nothing you have to obey." They will say that "You only need to believe." But I want you to listen to the words of Second Thessalonians, chapter 1, verses 7 and 8. The Bible says, "and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,"
Now listen to this He is describing the day of judgement. He says that some people are going to receive rest, some people are going to receive punishment. He says "when the Lord comes in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God." Now listen. A...and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Your see, we must obey the gospel. Now, obeying the gospel can be summed up in five short words:
Hear,
Believe,
Repent,
Confess,
and Baptism.
Now, somebody says "What does that mean, explain that."
Well first, a man must hear the gospel. He hears that because of his sin he has transgressed the will of God and is destined to die eternally in Hell. (Romans 6:23) "The wages of sin is death." He also hears that Jesus Christ came as God in the flesh to pay the penalty for his sin so that he does not have to. He hears that, salvation is found in Christ. Romans 10:14 indicates if a person does not hear the message of the Gospel he has no hope.
Now, upon hearing it he must also believe it. Now what does that entail? What must a man believe? He must believe. He must understand that Jesus is the Christ the son of God. John 8:24 Jesus said, "If you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins." He must understand that Jesus is deity. (John 1:14) "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." He must of course believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. How it is that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) "Then he arose, defeating death." (1st Corinthians 15:54 55)
Roman 10:9 says, "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Of course, it is crucial, it is crucial that a man believe and understand the body of Christ which is the church of the New Testament. 2nd Timothy, 2:10, says, "salvation is in Christ."

Then a man must repent. Acts, chapter 17, verse 30, says, "Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." Repentance is a change of mind brought about by Godly sorrow that results in a reformation of life. That is important to understand. Sometimes people will say, "Repentance is merely changing your life." That is not a good definition of repentance. Repentance is changing your mind. Of course, that is followed by a change of life.
But then, step number four. A person must confess his faith in Christ. Romans 10, verse 10, clearly tells us, "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." In Acts, chapter 8, as Philip was teaching the gospel to the Ethiopian, he said, "See here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Philip responded to the Ethiopian and said, "If you believe with all of your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God." That is the confession we are talking about.
Not a confession of our sin. A confession of what we have heard and what we believe. It is an acknowledgment. "Yes, we believe these things."
Now finally, involved in obeying the gospel, one must be baptized. In Mark 16, verse 16, Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." You know, baptism as practiced by First Century Christians was total immersion.
In fact that is the meaning of baptism. It is the point at which a person is immersed in water and the point at which he contacts the saving blood of Jesus. It is the point at which he has finally obeyed the gospel. Romans 6:3 and 4 says, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." And so, we are buried in the watery grave of baptism. Jesus shed his blood in his death. In baptism we are buried into his death. We contact that saving blood of Christ and our sins are washed away. That's why we come out of that watery grave of baptism to walk in newness of life.
Once you have done those things, Acts 2:47 says the Lord will add you to the church.
Friends, the church of Christ still exists today just as it did in the First Century.
You know some people misunderstand the church of Christ. They think that it is "just another denomination" along side a string of denominations. But I can assure you that the church of Christ has; no earthly head, no legal hierarchy, it wasn't started by any man, and it follows no man made creeds or practices.
The church of Christ just follows the New Testament pattern found in the Bible. We meet on the first day of the week to take communion. We sing a capella, The way the church did in the first century. We pray, we study the Bible together. We hear preaching together. We give financially according to how God has blessed us. Christ is our only head. The church is composed of elders and deacons and evangelists and members just as it was 2000 years ago. We abide only in the doctrine of Christ. We cast away all man made doctrines and creeds. We are Christians only.
We are not advocating that anyone leave his denomination to join our denomination.

We are advocating that men leave all denominations and simply be a part of the one church of Christ, the one that existed hundreds of years before the churches of today.
The one that we read about in the Bible.

The Worship Of Jesus

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Worship of Jesus

Article in Brief
 
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Jesus is not God,” and thus should not be worshiped by Christians. The Watchtower, a magazine published twice a month by Jehovah’s Witnesses, has repeatedly made such claims through the years. In their September 15, 2005 issue, for example, they stated quite simply that the Scriptures “show that Jesus is not God Almighty.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official Web site (jw.org), which republishes many items from The Watchtower, briefly answers the question “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe in Jesus?,” concluding, “we do not worship Jesus, as we do not believe that he is Almighty God” (2015). After all, allegedly “in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being…. Jesus had a beginning and could never be coequal with God in power or eternity” (“What Does the Bible…?,” 2000, emp. added). The October 15, 2004 issue of The Watchtower concluded a section about Jesus not being the true God with these words: “Jehovah, and no one else, is ‘the true God and life everlasting.’ He alone is worthy to receive exclusive worship from those whom he created.—Revelation 4:11” (p. 31). Since God alone is worthy of worship, and since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is only an angel and not God (see “The Truth About Angels,” 1995), He allegedly should not be worshiped.

God alone is worthy of worship

There is no argument over the fact that God alone is worthy of worship. Jehovah revealed His will to Moses on Mt. Sinai, saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5). Regarding the Gentiles who were sent to live in Samaria after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Bible says:
To this day they continue practicing the former rituals; they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel, with whom the Lord had made a covenant and charged them, saying: “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice” (2 Kings 17:34-36, emp. added).
The Bible reveals time and again that God alone is to be worshiped. Luke recorded that King Herod was eaten with worms because, instead of glorifying God Almighty, he allowed the people to glorify him as a god (Acts 12:21-23). Herod’s arrogant spirit stands in direct contrast to the reaction that Paul and Barnabas had when the citizens of Lystra attempted to worship them (Acts 14:8-18). After Paul healed a man who had been crippled from his birth, the people of Lystra shouted: “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.” They even called Paul and Barnabas by the names of their gods (Hermes and Zeus), and sought to worship them with sacrifice. Had these two preachers had the same arrogant spirit as Herod, they would have accepted worship, and felt as if they deserved such honor. Instead, these Christian men “tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you’” (Acts 14:15). Paul recognized that it is unlawful for humans to worship other humans, and thus sought to turn the people’s attention toward God, and away from himself.
The Bible also reveals that man must refrain from worshiping angels. When the apostle John fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who had revealed to him the message of Revelation, the angel responded, saying, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (Revelation 22:9, emp. added; cf. 19:10). Angels, idols, and humans are all unworthy of the reverent worship that is due only to God. As Jesus reminded Satan: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10, emp. added).

Jesus Accepted Worship

The dilemma in which Jehovah’s Witnesses find themselves is that they believe Jesus was a good man and prophet, yet unlike good men and good angels who have always rejected worship from humanity, Jesus accepted worship. If worship is to be reserved only for God, and Jesus, the One “who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22), accepted worship, then the logical conclusion is that Jesus believed that He was deity. Numerous times the Bible mentions that Jesus accepted worship from mankind. Matthew 14:33 indicates that those who saw Jesus walk on water “worshiped Him.” John 9:38 reveals that the blind man whom Jesus had healed, later confessed his belief in Jesus as the Son of God and “worshiped him.” After Mary Magdalene and the other women visited the empty tomb of Jesus, and the risen Christ appeared to them, “they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:9). When Thomas first witnessed the resurrected Christ, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Later, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in Galilee, “they worshiped Him” on a mountain (Matthew 28:17). A few days after that, his disciples “worshiped Him” in Bethany (Luke 24:52). Time and time again Jesus accepted the kind of praise from men that is due only to God. He never sought to correct His followers and redirect the worship away from Himself as did the angel in Revelation or the apostle Paul in Acts 14. Nor did God strike Jesus with deadly worms for not redirecting the praise He received from men as He did Herod, who, when being hailed as a god, “did not give praise to God” (Acts 12:23).
Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses have attempted to circumvent the obvious references to Jesus accepting worship by changing the word “worship” in their New World Translation to “obeisance” every time the Greek word proskuneo (the most prominent word for worship in the New Testament) is used in reference to Jesus. Over 30 times in the New World Translation (first published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in 1950) proskuneo is correctly translated “worship” when God the Father is the recipient of glory and praise. This Greek word occurs 14 times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus, yet not once do more recent editions of the New World Translation render it “worship;” instead, every time it is translated “obeisance.” Allegedly, Mary Magdalene, the apostles, the blind man whom Jesus healed, etc., never worshiped Jesus; rather, they only paid “obeisance” to Him.
In 21st-century English, people generally make a distinction between the verbs “worship” and “do obeisance.” Most individuals, especially monotheists, use the word worship in a positive sense when talking about God, whereas “obeisance” is used more often in reference to the general respect given to people held in high regard. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines “obeisance” as “1. A gesture or movement of the body, such as a curtsy, that expresses deference or homage. 2. An attitude of deference or homage,” whereas the verb “worship” is defined as “1. To honor and love as a deity. 2. To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion” (2000, emp. added). The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society agrees with the distinction often made between these words in modern English: God should be “worshiped,” while Jesus (we are told) should only receive “obeisance” (i.e., the respect and submission one pays to important dignitaries and superiors).
The Greek word proskuneo, which appears in the New Testament 60 times, literally means “to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence” (Thayer, 1962, p. 548; see also Mounce, 1993, p. 398). According to Greek scholars Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, this word was used in ancient times “to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity or something holy” (1979, p. 723). Admittedly, the word “obeisance” could be used on occasions to translate proskuneo. The problem is that Jehovah’s Witnesses make an arbitrary distinction between obeisance and worship when it comes to the token of reverence that Jesus in particular was given. They translate proskuneo as “obeisance” every time Jesus is the object, yet never when God the Father is the recipient of honor and praise.
As with other words in the Bible that have multiple meanings, the context can help determine the writer’s intended meaning. Consider the circumstances surrounding some of the occasions when Jesus is mentioned as the object of man’s devotion.
  • In John chapter nine, Jesus miraculously healed a man who was “blind from his birth” (vs. 1). When the man upon whom this miracle was performed appeared before various Jews in the synagogue and called Jesus a prophet (vs. 17), he was instructed to “give glory to God,” not Jesus, because allegedly Jesus “is a sinner” (vs. 24). Later, after the man born blind was cast out of the synagogue, Jesus informed him of His true identity—that He was not just a prophet, but also “the Son of God.” At that moment, the gentleman exclaimed, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him (vs. 38). Although the Greek word proskuneo was used in ancient times of paying respect or doing obeisance to people, no such translation is warranted in this passage. In the Gospel of John, this word is found 11 times. In every instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation renders it “worship,” except here in John 9:38 where it is arbitrarily translated “obeisance.”
  • Following a day in which Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men (not including women and children) with only five loaves of bread and two fish, Matthew recorded how Jesus literally walked on the water in the midst of the Sea of Galilee during a violent storm, saved Peter from drowning, and then walked onto a boat where He was met with those who “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33). Jesus’ worshipers did not merely pay Him the same respect (or “obeisance”) that one pays a respected ruler, teacher, or master—people incapable of such feats. On the contrary, they recognized that Jesus had overcome the laws of nature, and that His actions warranted praise and adoration—not as a man, but as the “Son of God.” If Jesus was not worthy of such praise, why did He accept it? If Jesus was not to be adored, why did the angel of the Lord not strike Him with the same deadly worms with which he struck Herod (Acts 12:23)?
  • After defeating death and rising from the grave, a sign which declared Him to be “the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4), Jesus accepted worship (proskuneo) from Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to visit the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:8-9), as well as all of the apostles (Matthew 28:17). Jesus was not the only one ever to be resurrected from the dead, but He was the only resurrected individual the Bible mentions as afterwards receiving praise and adoration (i.e., worship) from man. The widow’s son of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of a Shunammite (2 Kings 4:32-35), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 8:21-24,35-43), the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-16), Lazarus (John 11:1-45), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12) all were raised from the dead, but none received proskuneo. The Bible never reveals any resurrected person other than Jesus who ever received and accepted worship. Jesus’ followers recognized that His resurrection was different. It verified His claims of divinity.
  • The disciples worshiped Jesus again at His ascension. After recording that Jesus was “carried up into heaven,” Luke wrote: “[T]hey worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52). Notice that the word “worshiped” (proskuneo) is used in this passage along with such words as “praising” and “blessing”—words that carry a religious connotation in connection with God. This fact highlights that the use of proskuneo in this context is not merely obeisance. Also, notice that the disciples offered worship to an “absent” Savior. It would make no sense to pay obeisance to a respected individual that has departed, but makes perfect sense if, rather, the individual is God and worthy of worship. The disciples did not just bow before some earthly ruler; they worshiped their Lord Who had defeated death 40 days earlier, and had just ascended up into heaven before their eyes.
Jesus did not receive proskuneo on these occasions because He was a great teacher, or because He was viewed at these moments simply as an earthly king. Rather, all of these instances of worship were surrounded by miraculous events that were done to prove He was Heaven sent, and that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). There is every reason to believe that on such occasions as these, Jesus’ disciples meant to pay divine, religious honor to Him, not mere civil respect or regard that earthly rulers often receive.

Waffling on the Worship of Jesus

To the church at Philippi the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him [Jesus] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, emp. added). The reference to the bowing of the knee is an obvious allusion to worship (cf. Isaiah 45:23; Romans 1:4). Such worship, Paul wrote, would not only come from those on Earth, but also from “those in heaven” (Philippians 2:10). This statement harmonizes well with Hebrews 1:6. In a section in which the writer of Hebrews exalted Jesus above the heavenly hosts, he affirmed that even the angels worship Christ. He wrote: “Let all the angels of God worship (proskuneo) Him.” The KJV, ASV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, RSVand a host of other translations render proskuneo in this verse as “worship.” How does the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation render this passage? Unfortunately, as with all other times in the NWT when Jesus is mentioned as being the object of proskuneo, the word is translated “do obeisance,” not “worship.” Hebrews 1:6 reads: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him” (NWT).
Interestingly, however, the NWT has not always rendered proskuneo in Hebrews 1:6 as “do obeisance.” When Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower Bible and Tract Society first printed the NWT in 1950, the verse actually rendered proskuneo as “worship” instead of “do obeisance.” Even the revised 1961 edition of the NWT translated proskuneo as “worship.” But, by 1971, Jehovah’s Witnesses had changed Hebrews 1:6 to read: “Let all God’s angels do obeisance to him.”
The fact is, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has been very inconsistent in their teachings on whether or not Jesus should be worshiped. In the past few decades Jehovah’s Witnesses’ flagship magazine (November 1964, p. 671) has claimed that “it is unscriptural for worshipers of the living and true God to render worship to the Son of God, Jesus Christ” (as quoted in Rhodes, 2001, p. 26; see also The Watchtower 2004, pp. 30-31). But, “from the beginning it was not so.” Notice what Jehovah’s Witnesses used to teach in The Watchtower (called Zion’s Watch Tower in the early days) regarding whether or not Jesus should be worshiped:
  • “The wise men came at His birth to worship Him. (Matt. 2) The leper worshiped Him. They in the ship worshiped Him, as did also the ruler and woman of Canaan. Yet none were ever rebuked for it…. [T]o worship Christ in any form cannot be wrong” (Allen, 1880, emp. added).
  • “[A]lthough we are nowhere instructed to make petitions to him, it evidently could not be improper to do so; for such a course is nowhere prohibited, and the disciples worshiped him” (Zion’s Watch Tower, 1892, emp. added).
  • “Yes, we believe our Lord Jesus while on earth was really worshiped, and properly so” (Zion’s Watch Tower, 1898).
  • “[W]hosoever should worship Him must also worship and bow down to Jehovah’s Chief One in that capital organization, namely, Christ Jesus…” (The Watchtower, 1945, p. 313).
For more than half a century, Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that it was acceptable to worship Jesus. Now, however, they claim it is unscriptural. Such inconsistency regarding the nature of Christ, which is no small matter, reveals to the honest truth seeker that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is an advocate of serious biblical error.
Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses not only reject the worship of Jesus because of their belief that He is not deity, they also must deny Him such religious devotion because they teach He actually is an angel. The Watchtower has taught such a notion for several years. The November 1, 1995 issue indicated, “The foremost angel, both in power and authority, is the archangel, Jesus Christ, also called Michael” (“The Truth About Angels”). More recently, an article appeared on the Jehovah’s Witnesses official Web site affirming “the Bible indicates that Michael is another name for Jesus Christ, before and after his life on earth…. [I]t is logical to conclude that Michael is none other than Jesus Christ in his heavenly role” (“Who Is Michael…?,” 2015). Since, according to Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9, good angels do not accept worship, but rather preach the worship of God, and no other, Jehovah’s Witnesses must reject paying religious praise and devotion to Jesus. But, notice (again) how inconsistent Jehovah’s Witnesses have been. In only the fifth issue of Zion’s Watch Tower magazine (originally edited by Charles Taze Russell, the founderof The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), regular contributing writer J.H. Paton stated about Jesus: “Hence it is said, ‘let all the angels of God worship him’: (that must include Michael, the chief angel, hence Michael is not the Son of God)…” (1879, p. 4, emp. added). Thus, at one time Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official publication taught that Jesus is not Michael the archangel, and that He should be worshiped. In the 21st century, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is Michael the archangel, and that He should not be worshiped. Clear contradictory statements like these found throughout the years in The Watchtower should compel current and potential members of this religious group to question their teachings in light of the Truth found in God’s Word.

“Worthy is the Lamb”

One additional passage to consider regarding the worship of Jesus is Revelation chapters four and five. In chapter four, the scene in this book of signs (cf. 1:1) is the throne room of God. The “Lord God Almighty” is described as sitting on His throne while “the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him” (4:9). Also, “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created’” (4:10-11). In chapter five, the Lamb that was slain is introduced as standing “in the midst of the throne” (5:6). No one argues the fact that this Lamb is Jesus—the One Whom John the Baptizer twice called “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29,36), and Whom Peter called the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Regarding this Lamb, the apostle John recorded the following in Revelation 5:11-14:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (emp. added).
In this chapter, John revealed that both God the Father and Jesus are worthy to receive worship from all of creation. In fact, Jesus is given the same praise and adoration that the Father is given. Just as God is “worthy…to receive glory and honor and power” (4:11), so Jesus is “worthy…to receive power…and honor and glory…” (5:12).  Indeed, “[b]lessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (5:13, emp. added). Although Jehovah’s Witnesses use Revelation 4:11 as a proof text for worshiping God the Father (see “What Does God…?,” 1996, p. 4), they reject and call unscriptural the worship that Jesus rightly deserves.

Conclusion

Jesus once stated during His earthly ministry, “[A]ll should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). Sadly, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to honor Jesus in the same way they honor God the Father. While on Earth, Jesus was honored on several occasions. His followers worshiped Him. They even worshiped Him after His ascension into heaven (Luke 24:52). Unlike good men and angels in Bible times who rejected worship, Jesus unhesitatingly received glory, honor, and praise from His creation. Truly, such worship is one of the powerful proofs of the deity of Christ.

References

Allen, L.A. (1880), “A Living Christ,” Zion’s Watch Tower, March, https://archive.org/stream/1880ZionsWatchTower/1880_Watch_Tower_djvu.txt.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
Arndt, William, F.W. Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker (1979), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), second edition revised.
“Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe in Jesus?” (2015), http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/believe-in-jesus/.
Mounce, William D. (1993),Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Paton, J.H. (1879), “The Name of Jesus,”Zion’s Watch Tower, November, https://archive.org/stream/1879ZionsWatchTower/1879_Watch_Tower_djvu.txt.
Rhodes, Ron (2001), The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Jehovah’s Witness (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers).
Thayer, Joseph (1962 reprint), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
“The Truth About Angels” (1995), The Watchtower, November 1.
The Watchtower, 1945, October 15.
The Watchtower, 2004, October 15.
The Watchtower, 2005, September 15.
“What Does God Require of Us?” (1996), Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York.
“What Does the Bible Say About God and Jesus?” (2000), Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.
“Who Is Michael the Archangel?” (2015), http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/bible-teach/who-is-michael-the-archangel-jesus/.
Zion’s Watch Tower, 1892, May 15, https://archive.org/stream/1892ZionsWatchTower/1892_Watch_Tower_djvu.txt.
Zion’s Watch Tower, 1898, July 15, hhttps://archive.org/stream/1898ZionsWatchTower/1898_Watch_Tower_djvu.txt.

Was Joseph Smith a Marty?


Was Joseph Smith a Martyr?
Photo credit Ken Lund

Was Joseph Smith a Martyr?

Posted November 17, 2015 by Sean McDowell SeanMcDowell.org
In my recent book The Fate of the Apostles, I make the historical case that the apostles were all willing to suffer and die for their belief that they had seen the risen Jesus. This does not prove the truth of their claims, but that they were sincere. But what about Joseph Smith? Didn’t he die as a martyr for his faith? Does that mean he was equally sincere, and hence Mormonism may be true as well?
The Story of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith (1805-1844) is the founder of Mormonism. At the age of fourteen, he claimed to have seen a vision[1] of God the Father and Jesus who told him not to follow any of the sects of his day but that God would restore the true church through him. He was later directed by the angel Moroni to discover some gold plates, which contained the spiritual history of the Nephites and Lamanites, including a visit by Jesus to the Americas. He claimed to have received revelation from God for the translation of the Book of Mormon, a scripture that is claimed to complete the message of the Bible.
Joseph Smith, the Martyr

In 1839, Smith and his followers moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. Under his leadership, the city of Nauvoo prospered. Five years after moving to Nauvoo, some disaffected Mormons publicly criticized Smith in the Nauvoo Expositor for his unprophetlike behavior. Smith ordered the city marshal to destroy the press, but one of the men responsible for the press filed a complaint. Smith was eventually charged with treason by the state of Illinois and he and his brother Hyrum turned themselves in on June 25. They were placed in a low-security prison in the Carthage Jail, about twenty-two miles outside Nauvoo, along with their companions Willard Richards and John Taylor. Both Joseph and Hyrum possessed smuggled pistols. On June 27, 1844 a group of armed men with painted faces stormed the Carthage Jail, and in a short gun battle, Joseph and Hyrum ended up dead.[2]
Many Mormons have since heralded Joseph Smith as a martyr. Doctrine & Covenants 135:4 says,
When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.”
According to Brigham Young,
He [Joseph Smith] holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation—the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world.[3]
There is no question Smith was morally justified in defending himself. The important question is whether or not Smith qualifies as a martyr who can be compared to the apostles, or Jesus (as Mormons claim). Two important points stand out when analyzing his fate. First, Smith claims he was led “like a lamb to the slaughter.” Jesus willingly gave up his life without a struggle (John 10:18). He had the power to free himself and harm his attackers but he resisted (John 19:11), but Smith accepted a weapon while in jail and used it to shoot at his attackers, two or three of which reportedly died.[4] How can his actions rightly be compared to those of Jesus? Second, it is questionable if Smith was innocent of the charges brought against him. He had been guilty of polygamy, including relationships with teenage girls and married women.[5] He had been accused of abusing power and was responsible for ordering the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor. He certainly deserved a fair trial, but there is no reason to believe these were trumped up charges without merit. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson conclude,
He was considered by many in the community to be a scoundrel, and it was his disgusting behavior that created the conflict when the publishers of the newspaper exposed him. He was sent to jail because he was an assumed lawbreaker—charged with riot—and he died as a result of a brief firefight in which he participated, willingly using deadly force. Mormons are certainly free to insist that their founder perished as a martyr, but the facts lead a dispassionate observer to a different conclusion.[6]
Even though the case for Smith being a martyr has been seriously compromised, outsiders at the Carthage jail unjustly attacked him and he did die as the founding prophet of the LDS faith. While he did attack and reportedly kill some men, he was also acting in self-defense. Should his example not provide evidence for the sincerity of his claims regarding the founding of the Mormon Church just as the deaths of the apostles provide evidence for the sincerity of their claims to have seen the risen Jesus?
The Apostles vs. Joseph Smith

Probing into the lives and motivations of the apostles shows a significant difference between them and Joseph Smith. When initially choosing to follow Jesus, the apostles believed they were going to reign in power with him in Israel, which is why James and John made their requests to Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). They believed Jesus would be a military and political ruler like David, and they would share in his reign. Yet their hopes were dashed at his arrest and crucifixion (Luke 24:21). They went back to their lives as before, hoping the real messiah would eventually come. Even though Jesus had predicted it, they had no expectation of his resurrection. Reports of the empty tomb and risen Jesus were not enough—they needed an actual appearance of Jesus to be persuaded it was true (cf. John 20:24-29). By following the resurrected Jesus, the apostles willingly embraced a religion that would involve sacrifice, service, humility, and likely death. They did it not for personal gain, but because they had seen the risen Jesus and feared disobeying God more than the wrath of men (Acts 5:27-32).
In contrast to the apostles, serious questions can be raised against the motivation of Joseph Smith. He was clearly enamored with power, sex, and money. As for power, Smith built a militia of 5,000 men (which was more than half the size of the US Army). He was also a politician, campaigning for the presidency until the time of his death. As for sex, Smith had at least 33 wives, including four sister-pairs (Huntington, Patridge, Johnson, Lawrence), eleven polyandrous unions with women already married, one mother-daughter pair (Sessions), and some girls as young as fourteen.[7] As for money, Smith claimed to have received a prophecy to start a bank in Kirtland, Ohio. He was the personal cashier for the bank. Even though he promised his followers it would succeed, it eventually failed and some members of the church lost everything they had.
These factors do not necessarily prove Smith was lying, but they raise serious questions about his motivation, character, and the claim he was a martyr. The apostles willingly embraced sacrifice and suffering because they were convinced Jesus had risen from the grave. There is no evidence whatsoever they embraced the faith for material gain. As the first chapters of Acts demonstrate, it cost them considerably to follow Christ. In contrast to the apostles, Smith had much to personally gain by propagating his church.
The First Followers of Mormonism
What about the first followers of Mormonism? The Book of Mormon begins with the three witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) and the eight witnesses (Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith) who testified that they have seen the engravings on the plates. However, in reality it appears that none of these witnesses actually saw the plates with their naked eyes.[8] They all saw the plates “spiritually.” In his review of No Man Knows My History, by Fawn M. Brodie, Mormon historian Marvin S. Hill writes,
What of the prophet's story about gold plates, and what about his witnesses? Given Brodie's assumptions, was there not deception here, if not collusion? Brodie maintains that the Prophet exercised some mysterious influence upon the witnesses which caused them to see the plates, thus making Joseph Smith once more the perpetrator of a religious fraud. The evidence is extremely contradictory in this area, but there is a possibility that the three witnesses saw the plates in vision only, for Stephen Burnett in a letter written in 1838, a few weeks after the event, described Martin Harris' testimony to this effect: “When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David . . . the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations.”[9]
According to Mormon Church history, Joseph Smith was the only one who physically saw the golden plates. Unlike the twelve apostles (and Paul and James the brother of the Lord), there was only one witness to the plates, and as seen, this witness had questionable motivations. Despite popular Mormon claims, there is little reason to consider Joseph Smith a martyr whose death provides evidence for the truth of his religious claims.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.


[1]According to the LDS Church, Smith saw a “heavenly manifestation” of God the Father and Jesus Christ. For a description of the first vision, see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “First Vision Accounts,” accessed April 14, 2014, https://www.lds.org/topics/first-vision-accounts?lang=eng.
[2]Brigham Young University, “History of the Church,” 6:618, accessed April 14, 2014, https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/hcpgs/hc.aspx .
[3]Brigham Young, “Intelligence, Etc.,” Journal of Discourses 7 (October 9, 1859): 289, accessed April 14, 2014, http://jod.mrm.org/7/282.
[4]Brigham Young University, “History of the Church,” 7:103, accessed April 14, 2014, https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/hcpgs/hc.aspx.
[5]See Richard S. van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1989); Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997); Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005); and Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
[6]Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Answering Mormons’ Questions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012), 282.
[7]Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 4-7.
[8]Doctrine and Covenants 17:2-5 says, “And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them [the plates], even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old. And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God; And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work. And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1835). A few troubling questions emerge from this account: Why do they need faith to see the plates in the first place? Smith was already in the process of translation, so why not simply show them the plates? Since faith was necessary to have permission to see the plates, is it not likely that “seeing” the plates also took an act of faith? Why would prayer be necessary to see a physical object?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

HOMO NALEDI

Homo Naledi—Kind of Shady?

 
On September 10th the media began highlighting the latest fossil find which is argued, once again, to be representative of an ancient ancestor of humans—Homo naledi. We are wary about how we respond to brand new discoveries, since always the “jury is still out” when these stories are first splashed in the media and portrayed as conclusive proof of various claims. We have documented their rashness time and again (e.g., Miller, 2015a; Miller, 2015b; Miller, 2015c), and this story is no exception. Fox News highlighted South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s statement that “history books will have to be rewritten” based on this discovery (Tilsley, 2015), a statement very reminiscent of how the media viewed the Homo floresiensis fossils when they were discovered in 2004. In 2014 a new study suggested that the fossils were merely modern humans with Down Syndrome (Miller, 2015b). In keeping with previous trends among naturalists and the media, it seems likely that this newest discovery will again, in the long run, prove not to be what the media is currently claiming it to be, once further study has been done on the fossils—as was the case with Homo floresiensis,Australopithecus sediba (Miller, 2015c), and the Big Bang inflation debacle last year (Miller, 2015a). With these facts in mind, here are some of the details we can gather at this initial stage.
Lee Berger is the evolutionary paleoanthropologist of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa who has been in the media a lot the past few years due to the discovery of the Australopithecus sediba fossils (Miller, 2012a; Miller, 2012b; Miller, 2015c). Once again, his team has been at the heart of the newest discovery. Though the find is only now being broadcast, the discovery took place in 2013 and was kept secret for two years. They discovered ancient bones and teeth in a cave system in Africa that now number over 1,500 in specimens—an unheard of cache of “human-like” fossils from a single site (Callaway, 2015). The bones are thought to be representative of some 15 individuals.
Credit: Lee Roger Berger research team  (http://elifesciences.org/content/4/e09560) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The first thing you will likely notice in many of the articles splashing the find is the paleoartist depiction of what Homo naledi is thought to have looked like (e.g., Shreeve, 2015; Barras, 2015; Watson, 2015). This portrait should immediately cause skepticism, since mere bones do not tell you what a person’s facial expressions, eye color, skin color, facial wrinkles, hair color, or lips would have looked like, even if a complete skull had been found. Yet all of these features are brazenly depicted in the naledi reconstruction (and even emphasized in the case of National Geographic’s home Web page the day after running the story, which featured a close-up of nadeli’s eye region, complete with freckles around the eyes and red blood vessels in the whites of its eyes). When such liberties are taken and brazenly broadcast to the media’s audience as solid science, the effect is powerful. As we reported earlier this year regarding the sediba fossils (Miller, 2015c), paleoartists have been extremely influential in shaping the minds of the masses in whether they view evolution as true or false, in spite of the fact that their artistic depictions are typically created based on meager evidence—what New Scientist calls “part of a face here” or “a jawbone fragment there” (Barras). USA Today described the nadeli discovery as “1,550-plus bits of fossil” (Watson, emp. added). New Scientist highlighted Berger’s contention that the naledi discovery “has implications for how we interpret the other early human fossil finds…. These fossils generally amount to just a few fragments rather than complete skeletons” (Barras, emp. added). As he pointed out after discovering the sediba fossils, Berger now adds, “Both sediba and naledi say you can’t take a mandible [lower jaw], a maxilla [upper jaw] or a collection of teeth and try to predict what the rest of the body looks like” (as quoted in Barras). Based on what happened in the case of the sediba fossils, having more than said evidence still does not guarantee correct depictions (Miller, 2015c). Apparently the paleoartists are still not getting the message from leading paleoanthropologists.
There are other curiosities already being highlighted at this early stage of the discovery: the age of the fossils is unclear—anywhere between 200,000 and 2,800,000 years (Tilsley), based on evolutionary dating schemes, and where the fossils fall in that range is significant from an evolutionary perspective. [NOTE: Creationists would argue that those dates correlate to the post-Flood period a few thousand years ago.] USA Today quoted Berger’s thoughts regarding the fossils:
[T]he bodies may have been deliberately placed in the cave, suggesting that long-ago, human relatives were engaged in ritual disposals of their dead. “It’s enormously surprising to see a very primitive member of the genus, something with this small a brain,” engaged in activity that was thought to be unique to modern humans (as quoted in Watson).
Fox News quoted Berger saying, “‘This is a new species of human that deliberately disposed of bodies in this chamber.’…Up until now, Berger adds, it was thought that Homo sapiens were the first beings to choose to dispose of their dead. ‘Now, with Homo naledi, we have evidence of the world’s first burial site,’ he said” (Tilsley).
This claim is, as Berger notes, completely inconsistent with the paleoanthropology community’s previous claims about Homo sapiens. If Berger is right that the naledi buried their dead, and if the fossils are dated by evolutionists to be over a million years old (using their time scales), then paleoanthropologists have been wrong in their bold claims about Homo sapiens. Previously, the oldest evidence of human burial was dated by evolutionists as 430,000 years ago (Callaway). Since burial of dead bodies is considered a mark of intelligence that distinguishes humans from the animal kingdom, Berger’s find could provide tangible evidence that what we would call “humans” (roughly the genus “Homo”) have always been intelligent, rather than that trait evolving within humans. [NOTE: Creationists argue that there would have been a few thousand “proto-species” (called “kinds” in the Bible—cf. Genesis 7:14), on Noah’s Ark with immense genetic capability for creating the diversity we see on the planet today within those kinds, including the diversity we see within Homo sapiens. Humans, therefore, would not have necessarily looked exactly as we do today, but would have still been humans (just as caucasoid, mongoloid, and negroid physiologies today do not look exactly the same). Legitimate examples of ancient humans are likely representative of the humans flourishing in the centuries immediately following the Flood a few thousand years ago. Dating schemes that expand that time scale to hundreds of thousands or millions of years suffer from flawed assumptions—cf. Houts, 2015; Miller, 2013.]
Another inconsistency in the naledi discovery: the jumble of fossils that were found in the shaft, if they all belong to the same species, seem to represent a species with a strange hodgepodge of characteristics that do not seem plausible. The skull seems to have harbored a smaller, ape-like brain, while the lower limbs, feet, and hands that were discovered, according to paleoanthropologists, seem to be more like that of modern humans. New Scientist reported,
The species the bones belonged to had a unique mix of characteristics. Look at its pelvis or shoulders, says Berger, and you would think it was an apelike Australopithecus which appeared in Africa about 4 million years ago and is thought to be an ancestor of Homo. But look at its foot and you could think it belonged to our species…. Its skull, though, makes clear that the brain was less than half the size of ours, and more like that of some species of Homo that lived about 2 million years ago. “It doesn’t look a lot like us,” says Berger (Barras).
Quoting John Hawks, paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nature reported, “It is a very strange combination of features, some that we’ve never seen before and some that we would have never expected to find together” (Callaway, emp. added). Of course, the reason for that expectation is justified: the combination of such body components does not make sense. It is very possible that in actuality the bones might not actually belong together at all—a contention that was argued by paleoanthropologists against Berger’s sediba fossils last year (Miller, 2015c). As with sediba, they may be merely a jumble of bones from different species. After all, Hawks, who helped coordinate the dig for naledi, admitted that “the team took flak for its unorthodox approach. ‘There’s a lot of the field that really believed we’re just a couple of cowboys who don’t know how things should be done’” (as quoted in Callaway). Of course, when the strange inconsistencies of this find are added to the previously botched assertions of Berger in the sediba find, it provides evidence that the critics may have a point.
Berger argues that “the bodies appear to have been dropped from above down a chute formed by rocks which forms the entrance to the chamber” (Tilsley). Could it, instead, be the case that the bodies of several different people and animals all fell down the chute and were trapped there, rather than having been intentionally dropped down the chute? Science highlighted that possibility (Gibbons, 2015, p. 1150). Such would explain why there’s a hodgepodge of bones from apparently different species. Remains from rodents and an owl were also found (p. 1150). Since the hundreds of bones were found disarticulated (i.e., separated from one another rather than in skeletal frame position), there is no conclusive way to know which bones go with which species—and by implication, no way to know if there are or are not multiple species represented.
No wonder, even at this early stage, paleoanthropologists who are critical of Berger’s claims are not hard to find. USA Today reported reactions by two of them:
Other scientists find the new trove of fossils tantalizing but don’t necessarily agree with Berger and his team on what, exactly, has been found. The fossils are “fabulous and a bit confusing,” says New York University’s Susan Anton via email. “There are some things in this that just don’t look like early Homo,” or at least the fossils of early Homo from east Africa. “The material is spectacular,” says the University of Pittsubrgh’s [sic] Jeffrey Schwartz….” But “the interpretation of it … is doubtful.” He points out varying skull shapes, among other features, among the Naledi specimens and argues the Homo family is so poorly defined that it’s not clear Naledi fits into it (Watson, emp. added).
Apparently the find isn’t as clear as it is being portrayed. Nature quoted Schwartz as well: “However, Jeffrey Schwartz, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, thinks that the material is too varied to represent a single species. ‘I could show those images to my students and they would say that they’re not the same,’ he says. One of the skulls looks more like it comes from an australopithecine, he says, as do certain features of the femurs” (Callaway). Apparently, Schwartz agrees with my first take on the evidence: there’s more than one species represented by the fossils. Fox News admitted that “[n]ot everybody agreed that the discovery revealed a new species. Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley [who is most known for his work on the famous “Lucy” fossils—JM], told The Associated Press the claim is questionable. ‘From what is presented here, (the fossils) belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s,’ he said” (Tilsley, parenthetical statement in orig.). New Scientist included its disclaimers as well:
Inevitably, though, there are dissenting views. “To me, having studied virtually the entire human fossil record, the specimens lumped together as Homo naledi represent two cranial morphs,” says Jeffrey Schwartz at the University of Pittsburgh in Philadelphia. Ian Tattersall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York shares that view. Last month, he and Schwartz wrote an article calling for researchers to think carefully about classifying new fossils as belonging to Homo. As for the Dinaledi finds, Schwartz and Tattersall point out that although the foreheads of some of the new skulls are gently sloped, one skull has a taller forehead with a distinct brow ridge—suggesting two species are present. “Putting these fossils in the genus Homo adds to the lack of clarity in trying to sort out human evolution,” says Schwartz (Barras).
Bottom line: the evolutionary community must continue its search for conclusive evidence of its claims that we evolved from an ape-like creature. On a positive note, it is refreshing that Lee Berger, unlike the bulk of the paleoanthropological community, is insistent about not hoarding his fossil finds where few can examine them to see the evidence for themselves. Noting the change in practice that Berger is creating in the community by being so open, paleoanthropologist of the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, Tracy Kivell, said, “There’s lots of fossils out there no one has ever seen, except for a few select people. Palaeoanthropology is really rotten that way” (Callaway). Is it possible that if the paleoanthropological community was more forthcoming with their alleged evidences for evolution, more scientists would be able to assess the evidence and more quickly discover flaws in claims being made? In so doing, would they not highlight for the world, before the world forgets the previous flawed claims, how unsupported by solid evidence the theory of evolution truly is?

REFERENCES

Barras, Colin (2015), “New Species of Extinct Human Found in Cave May Rewrite History,” NewScientist.com, September 10, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22730383-700-new-species-extinct-human-found-in-cave-may-rewrite-history/.
Callaway, Ewen (2015), “Crowdsourcing Digs Up an Early Human Species,” Nature.com, September 10, http://www.nature.com/news/crowdsourcing-digs-up-an-early-human-species-1.18305.
Gibbons, Ann (2015), “New Human Species Discovered,” Science, 349[6253]:1149-1150, September 11.
Houts, Michael G. (2015), “Assumptions and the Age of the Earth,” Reason & Revelation, 35[3]:26-34, March, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1185.
Miller, Jeff (2012a), “Australopithecus Sediba: Evolutionary Game Changer?” Reason & Revelation, 32[3]:33-35, March, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1024&article=1741#.
Miller, Jeff (2012b), “Sediba Hype Continues,” Reason & Revelation, 32[9]:92-93, September, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1093&article=2039.
Miller, Jeff (2013), “Don’t Assume Too Much: Not All Assumptions in Science Are Bad,” Reason & Revelation, 33[6]:62-70, June, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1122.
Miller, Jeff (2015a), “Big Bang Inflation Officially Bites the Dust,” Reason & Revelation, 35[6]:62-65, June, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1195&article=2516.
Miller, Jeff (2015b), “Hobbit Man: Another Blunder…And an Insult,” Reason & Revelation, 35[4]:46-47, April, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1188&article=2503.
Miller, Jeff (2015c), “Sediba: Yet Another Paleo-Blunder,” Reason & Revelation, 35[6]:66, June, http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1195&article=2516.
Shreeve, Jamie (2015), “This Face Changes the Human Story. But How?” NationalGeographic.com, September 10, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150910-human-evolution-change/.
Tilsley, Paul (2015), “Mass Grave of New Human Relative Discovered in South Africa, Claim Scientists,” FoxNews.com, September 10, http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/09/10/mass-grave-new-human-relative-discovered-in-south-africa-claim-scientists/?intcmp=hpbt1.
Watson, Traci (2015), “Ancient Fossils in African Cave are Tantalizing Glimpse of Early Man,” USAToday.com, September 10, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/09/10/fossils-humans-cave-ancient-bones/71966570/?hootPostID=69a85859aa6fa7ba18f77917410b6df1