Why Bible Study Matters

Bible study

Tom Davis builds a case for why we should study the Bible, drawing on both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures.

Does it matter if we study the Bible?

I recently encountered an article claiming it doesn’t. The author claimed that Christians are not feeding the poor, helping the downtrodden, seeking justice for the persecuted, or evangelizing people, because we are too busy studying our Bibles. (Interestingly, the article has since been removed, but the question remains.)

Is his concern valid? Approximately 16% of people in the United States read their Bible most days during the week.{1} A 2014 article in Christianity Today states, “The average length of time spent studying the Bible was between 10 and 20 minutes per session.”{2} According to Probe’s 2020 religion survey, “Only one out of five Born Again Christians ages 18 through 29 pray daily, attend church at least monthly, and read the Bible at least weekly.”{3} The statistics indicate that the average amount of time Christians spend reading their Bible cannot be what is keeping Christians from sharing their faith, helping those in need, or helping the homeless.

Another issue that the author raised is that the early church did not have an authoritative list of  New Testament books for more than three hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. I am unsure how these historical facts show that anyone today is spending too much time reading their Bible. Are we better off when we have all the books of the Bible? Would these early Christians have preferred having all the books of the Bible? Would they want to stick with having parts of the Old Testament, a Gospel or two, and a few of the epistles? I think they would be confused why this pastor thinks that Christians are spending too much time studying their Bible.

What the Old Testament Says About Reading the Bible

One way we can figure out the role that studying the Bible should play in the life of the Christian is to look at what the Bible says about reading the Scriptures. We should start with the Old Testament. The first passage to examine is:

These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up. You should tie them as a reminder on your forearm and fasten them as symbols on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorframes of your houses and gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NET)

God is preparing to lead the Hebrews into the promised land. He tells the people that they are to remember the covenant, teach the covenant to their children, and place inscriptions from the covenant in prominent places in their homes. Knowing and teaching the commands of God is so important that this charge is repeated in Deuteronomy 11:18-23.

Peter Cousins states, “Not only is it to be upon the heart . . . it must take first place in training children, in conversation (at home and outside) from the beginning to the end of the day; it should govern the senses, control behavior, and direct life in the home and community.”{4} The words of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people are so important that the words have to be known and understood. That requires study. Knowing the covenant is so important that the Hebrew people are commanded to decorate their walls, doorframes, and gates. The people are even commanded to have the words of the covenant on their clothes. All of this indicates that God intends for His people to know and follow His commands, and that this is done by studying them. Even the people who could not read would memorize the law. (Ancient cultures operated from an oral tradition; people were used to hearing, memorizing, and repeating stories and passages from verbal input alone.) To be fair, few Jews would have been able to recite the first five books of the Bible from memory, but they would have been able to recite long passages of Scripture.

The most common passage that was most often recited was the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus said this is God’s greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Jews would pray the Shema several times a day. This is the passage most often found on doorposts and in houses in archaeological digs.

As the people prepare to enter the land promised to them, God makes provisions for a future King. The responsibilities and conduct of the king are:

When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly, and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law
and these statutes and carry them out. (Deuteronomy 17:18-19 NET)

Here we can see that the king does not make the law. God gave the law to Moses. The Levitical priests were to copy the law and teach it to the people. The priests were also tasked with giving the king a copy of the law so that the king could carry out God’s law. The King is under the authority of the priests and of God. The king is not allowed to make his own law, he must be obedient to God.{5}

As Joshua leads the people into the promised land God tells him, “This law scroll must not leave your lips. You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Joshua 1:8 NET). Even before a king was installed over the people, the leaders of Israel were to lead God’s people according to the law so they could be successful in following God.

As Israel moved into the land God had promised them, they became corrupt. The priests did not teach the kings or the people. God sent prophets to the people to call them back to living faithfully to the covenant. The people would not keep the covenant they made with God, and the priests would not teach the law to the people. God, in the book of Hosea, tells the priests:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I will reject you from serving as my priest.
Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I will also forget your sons. (Hosea 4:6 CSB)

Despite all of these warnings, Israel was not faithful in following God.  David Allan Hubbard summarizes the situation, “The collapse of the priests and prophet, key ministers of law and word, leads inevitably to the disastrous destruction.”{6} The priests were not teaching the people or the kings. This led to God sending the people into exile and the destruction of the Temple in Israel. As a result of a lack of faithfulness and a lack of knowledge of God’s law, Israel was separated from God.

What the New Testament Says About Reading the Bible

The Gospels tell us that after his baptism Jesus has a 40-day fast followed by a confrontation with Satan. This involved Satan tempting Jesus by quoting scripture, and Jesus rebukes him by quoting Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). New Testament Scholar Craig Keener gives the following description: “This text also shows that Jesus does not just use Scripture to accommodate contemporary views of its authority; he uses it as his authority and the final word on ethics even when dealing with a supracultural adversary.”{7} While the Bible was written by people living in cultures that existed in real places and real times in the past, the morality taught within scripture is not restricted by those historical and cultural settings. As Jesus’ followers, we need to understand what is expected of us morally. In order to know Christian morality, we must study the Bible.

The Gospels also show that Jesus had debates concerning what was taught in the Scriptures. These debates often included not just morality, but the identity of the Messiah, and the power of God. In one debate Jesus tells the Sadducees, “You are deceived because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 NET). The Sadducees did not know the scriptures because they only studied the first five books of the Bible. They didn’t know the power of God because they rejected the resurrection. Stanley Horton writes, “Those who do not really know what the scriptures teach, nor God’s omnipotent power cannot avoid going astray.”{8}

In another debate with the Pharisees Jesus said, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39, 40 NET). The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they saw him as a threat. Jesus had undermined their authority and threatened their position in the culture, so they were obstinate. Keener states, “They believed that one had eternal life through the scriptures; but Jesus says that the Scriptures witness to him, hence to reject him is to disobey the Scriptures.”{9} By rejecting Jesus, the Pharisees unintentionally rejected the Scriptures. By rejecting Jesus, they could not possess eternal life.

In the book of Acts, we see Jesus’ disciples proclaiming to everyone who will listen that Jesus is the Messiah and was raised from the dead. This led to debates and conflicts with the Jewish authorities. In Acts chapter seven Stephen accuses the Jewish council that they failed to follow the scriptures. In chapter eight Philip leads an Ethiopian eunuch to faith by starting with a passage in Isaiah and telling him about the gospel of Jesus. Later in Acts Paul met repeatedly with a group of Jews. Acts
describes the Bereans as “more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 NET). The reaction of the Bereans is not emotional. They investigated the scriptures intellectually to see what was true.{10}

In his letters Paul addresses why God gave us the scriptures. In Romans Paul writes, “For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope” (Romans 15:4). John Murray comments, “In Paul’s esteem Scripture in all its parts is for our instruction, that the Old Testament was designed to furnish us in these last days with the instruction necessary for the fulfillment of our vocation to the end, and that it is as written it promotes this purpose.”{11} Part of being on fire for Christ is fulfilling our vocation. The primary way we know what our vocation is and how we can fulfill it is through studying our Bible.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul doubles down on the benefits of studying scripture. Paul reminds Timothy that he was taught the scriptures while he was a child. Then Paul writes, “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul is reminding Timothy that scripture has authority because it comes from God. Scripture is good for learning about God and ethics. The Jews have this benefit, but the Christians have a better understanding because Jesus taught the Apostles, which gave them a better understanding of the scriptures that that of the Jews.{12}

The last passage that I would like to examine is in Revelation. “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!” (Revelation 1:3). While this verse is speaking specifically about people who read Revelation, by logical extension we are blessed any time we read any part of the scripture. All scripture is given by God, therefore when you read any part of scripture you will be blessed. What does it mean to be blessed by reading scripture? Earl F. Palmer answers, “It does not express superficial sentiment but instead the rugged and tested assurance that it is a good thing to be walking in the pathway of God’s will.”{13} Our obedience to scripture brings blessing. We cannot be obedient to scripture without studying the Bible.

Conclusion

In one sense the author of the article I mentioned was correct. If we spend so much time studying the Bible that Christians never feed the hungry, help the poor, make disciples for Christ, or work to bring justice to the downtrodden then we are neglecting part of what we were commanded to do. But how can we even know that Christ commands us to do those things if we do not study the Bible?

In the examination of what the Bible says about Bible study, we can see that Bible study is an indispensable part of the Christian life. We can see in Deuteronomy that God commanded the Hebrews to memorize and obey the Law. When they failed to do this, they were ultimately exiled by God. Jesus reprimanded the Sadducees and the Pharisees for not knowing and believing the scriptures. Paul and John taught that Christians would be blessed by studying the scriptures.

The reason we are blessed when we study the Bible is that when we study, we develop and form a Christian worldview. The story shapes our values, our morals, and the way we live. The way we think about the people and the world around us is changed by studying scripture. One other aspect is that when we study the Bible, we enter into the glory of God. When we study the Bible, we are in God’s presence in the same way as when we are praying. Studying the Bible is an act of worship.{14}

Finally, studying the Bible is how we obey the command in Ephesians 5:10 to “find out what pleases the Lord.” Since the greatest commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:37) as noted above, how can we love Him without knowing what pleases Him? And since we find that God’s love language is obedience (John 14:15), how can we discern what to obey without studying His word? How can we avoid sin if we have never studied the Bible to find out what sin is?

How can Christians implement Bible study into a busy 40-hour work week and taking care of kids and spending time with their spouse? You do not have to spend hours a day studying. Spend ten or fifteen minutes in the morning or at night to read the Bible. Take five minutes of your lunch break to read a chapter. If you are so busy that you cannot study during the work week, find fifteen minutes to study on your day off. Whatever amount of time you spend studying the Bible, God will honor and bless you for
that time.

Notes

1. State of the Bible 2021: Five Key Findings – Barna Group
2. Evangelicals admit struggling to find time for daily
Bible reading and prayer (christiantoday.com)

3. Probe 2020 Survey Report 3: Religious Practices & Purpose for Living
4. Cousins, Peter E. 1979. Deuteronomy. In New International Bible Commentary, Ed. F. F. Bruce, 264. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
5. Chianeque, Luciano C., Samuel Ngewa. 2006. Deuteronomy. In Africa Bible Commentary, Ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo, 234. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Shultz, Samuel J. 1996. The Complete Biblical Library: The Old Testament Study Bible Vol. 4, Deuteronomy, 185. Springfield, World Library Press Inc.
6. Hubbard, David Alan. 1989. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Hosea. 101. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
7. Keener, Craig, S. 2014. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament 2nd Edition, 189. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
8. Horton, Stanley M. 1986. The Complete Biblical Library: The New Testament Study Bible Vol. 2 Matthew, 481. Springfield, World Library Press.
9. Keener, op cit, 265.
10. Marshall, I. Howard, 1980. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Acts, 280. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing.
11. Murray, John, 1968. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans Vol 2, 199. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing.
12. Guthrie, Donald, 1957. Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament: The Pastoral Epistles, 163-164, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing.
13. Palmer, Earl F. 1982. The Communicator’s Commentary: 1, 2, 3, John, Revelation, 114, Word Inc.
14. Wright, N. T. 1992. The New Testament and the People of God, 235-237, Minneapolis, Fortress Press.

©2022 Probe Ministries


Biblical Archaeology

ancient coins

Kerby Anderson provides an update on recent archaeological finds that corroborate the historicity of the Bible.

One of the most important proofs for the historical accuracy of the Bible can be found in archaeology. Ancient history and archaeology should confirm the accuracy of this record. That is what we find when comparing these finds with the written record of Scripture.

download-podcastMy focus will be to summarize a few of the past archaeological finds that confirm the Bible and then provide an update on some of the newest archaeological discoveries made in just the last few years that are very significant. On the Probe website, we have an excellent summary done twenty years ago of archaeology and the Old Testament (probe.org/archaeology-and-the-old-testament/) and archaeology and the New Testament (probe.org/archaeology-and-the-new-testament/).

Archaeology not only has confirmed the historical record found in the Bible, but it also provides additional details not found in the original writings of the biblical authors. Archaeology also helps explain Bible passages by providing context of the surrounding culture as well as the social and political circumstances.

We must also admit the limitations of archaeology. Although these archaeological finds can establish the historical accuracy of the record, they cannot prove the divine inspiration of the Bible. Also, we must admit that even when we have an archaeological find, it still must be interpreted. Those interpretations are obviously affected by the worldview perspective and even bias of the historians and archaeologists.

Even granting the skeptical bias that can be found in this field, it is still amazing that many archaeologists acknowledge the biblical confirmation that has come from significant archaeological finds.

Dr. William Albright observed, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”{1}

Archaeologist Nelson Glueck and president of Hebrew Union College concluded, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.”{2}

Millar Burrows, Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, remarked that “On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine.”{3}

Old Testament Archaeology

There are so many significant archaeological finds that confirm the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. Perhaps the most famous and most significant find is the Dead Sea scrolls. A young shepherd boy found the first of them in a cave in 1947. Eventually over 800 fragments were found. This includes a complete scroll of the book of Isaiah.

Many of these scrolls are from before the time of Jesus Christ. That is important because it provided a way to check the accuracy of the transmission of the Old Testament. The earliest copies of the Old Testament that we had before this discovery were a thousand years later. When we compare the Dead Sea scrolls to these later manuscripts, we can see that there were very few variations (mostly due to changes in spelling or grammar). The transmission through the scribe was very accurate.

Another significant find was archaeological documentation of King David. Archaeologists working at one site uncovered an inscription that means “house of David” that dates to the ninth century BC.

Another important archaeological find was the Hittite nation. The Hittites are mentioned nearly 50 times in the Old Testament, but there was no solid archaeological evidence they existed until the 20th century. Some argued that the Bible must be wrong since it mentions this nation but archaeological evidence was lacking.

The Hittites were a major force against the Jews. Israel needed to conquer them in order to enter the Promised Land (Joshua 11:3-4). King David had Uriah the Hittite killed because of his adultery with his wife, Bathsheba (2 Kings 11:3-21). Fortunately, archaeologists did uncover abundant evidence of the Hittites in Turkey. They found a temple, sculptures, a storeroom with 10,000 clay tablets. Later they even uncovered the Hittite capital city of Hattusha.

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority digging at Tel Lachish found an ancient toilet that confirms Old Testament history. To understand its significance, we need to look at the record of King Hezekiah. We read in 2 Kings that he removed the Asherah poles from the high places and smashed the sacred stones that were used in the Canaanite cultic worship.

Archaeologists discovered large rooms that appear to be a shrine where four-horned altars were destroyed. They also found a seat carved in stone with the hole in it that was used as a toilet. It was mostly likely placed there as a form of desecration for the whole room.{4} This correlates with the biblical description in 2 Kings 10:27 that Jehu and his followers “demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.”

New Testament Archaeology

Jesus spent much of his time in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. It is mentioned 16 times in the New Testament. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the fishing industry there (anchors, fishhooks), which would have been used by many of the disciples. The houses were one-story buildings, with roofs of wooden beams or branches. This explains how men carried a man to the roof and let him down in front of Jesus (Mark 2:1-4). Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-22, Luke 4:31-36). The remains of a synagogue built in the 4th century sits atop the black basalt foundations of this synagogue that existed at the time of Jesus.

In Jerusalem are many archaeological discoveries from the time of Jesus. That includes the remains of the temple as well as the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) and the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7).

Archaeology (as well as history) verifies the existence of many political leaders mentioned in the New Testament. A Denarius coin shows a portrait of Tiberius Caesar. This is also significant because Jesus asked the people whose likeness was on the coin (Mark 12:17). The name Pontius Pilate was found in an inscription at Caesarea Maritima.

Sometimes archaeology can shed light on what seems like a sharp disagreement in the Bible. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he recounts what he said to Peter who stopped eating meals with gentile Christians. He argued that Peter lived like a Gentile even though he was a Jew.

The answer lies in the fact that Paul was a devout Pharisee, who took kosher food laws and purity very seriously. Peter, though Jewish, was not a Pharisee and grew up in Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Archaeological excavations uncovered some non-kosher evidence. Some were eating wild boar and catfish, which were considered unclean and not to be eaten by Jew following the Torah.{5}

Archaeological finds at Corinth include the city’s bema seat, where Paul stood trial (Acts 18:12-17) and an inscription with the name Erastus, a city administrator who was an associate of Paul (Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20; Romans 16:23).

Critics have challenged the historical record of Luke because of alleged inaccuracies. Classical scholar Colin Hemer documents that Luke is a very accurate historian.{6} He identifies 84 facts in the Book of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research. This includes nautical details, names of gods, designation of magistrates, and proper names and titles.

These are just a few of the archaeological discoveries in the past that have confirmed the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the next section we will look at some of the most recent archaeological discoveries.

Recent Archaeological Discoveries

Within the last few years, there have been major archaeological discoveries that further confirm biblical history. An article in Christianity Today provides a list of the top ten archaeological discoveries.{7} Here are just a few of these important discoveries.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a limestone column on which the world “Jerusalem” was spelled out in Aramaic. This is the oldest inscription of this nature found so far. You might expect that there would be lots of such inscriptions, but that turn out to be very rare.

The inscription was found in an ancient potter’s village that must have served pilgrims making their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. A potter’s field calls to mind the one bought by the priests (Matthew 27:7) with the money Judas returned.

The Jewish tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were located for a time in Shiloh. Excavation there produced a clay pomegranate. In the Bible, the pomegranate was a common temple decoration (1 Kings 7:18; 2 Kings 25:17). Small pomegranates embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet yarns hung from the hems of the priestly robes (Exodus 28:33). This discovery affirms the sacredness of Shiloh.

Scientists and archaeologists believe they made have found the site of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They found evidence that a “high-heat” explosive event north of the Dead Sea wiped out all civilization in the affected area. It killed all the people within a 25-kilometer circular area. The fertile soil would have been stripped of nutrients by the high heat. Waves of briny salt would have washed over the surrounding area and spread through hot winds.

The scientists suggest that a cosmic airburst event from a meteor was the reason for the disappearance from the site. It apparently took 600 years for the region to recover before it could once again be inhabited. This fits with the description in Genesis 19, which says that burning sulfur rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah and killed all the people and all the vegetation of the land.

Archaeologist Dr. Stephen Collins says that there was a violent conflagration that ended occupation at the site. There is “melted pottery, scorched foundation stones, and several feet of ash and destruction debris churned into a dark gray matrix as if in a Cuisinart.” He and another author in a joint paper conclude that all of this provides “signs of a highly destructive and thermal event that one might expect from what is described in Genesis 19.”{8}

Recent Archaeological Discoveries

Above we looked at a few of the most recent archaeological discoveries that confirm the historical accuracy of the Bible. Most of them were found in an article in Christianity Today. Here are a few more significant discoveries.

An inscribed piece of limestone discovered in a tomb along the west bank of the Nile was revealed to be a Semitic abecedary (alphabet in ABC order). It dates back to the time of Moses and fits with the statement that “Moses wrote down everything the Lord had said” (Exodus 24:4). It turns out he wasn’t the only one writing in a Semitic script in Egypt at that time.

When ISIS terrorists captured Mosul, they blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. This uncovered the remains of a palace of the Assyrian King Esarhaddon. Previous archaeological teams stopped digging in certain sites in Iraq for fear of destroying them. That was a case of the traditional tomb of Jonah, until ISIS started digging beneath it to find artifacts to sell. As one article put it, “ISIS Accidentally Corroborates the Bible.”{9} The tunnels they dug revealed a previously untouched Assyrian palace in the ancient city of Ninevah. Inscriptions found in the old city of Nineveh give an order of Assyrian kings that matches perfectly with the biblical order.

Extra careful processing of dirt from an archaeological dig in the southwest corner of the Temple Mount provided a beka weight. This was used (Exodus 38:6) to measure the silver in the half-shekel temple tax that was collected from each member of the Jewish community.

Another seal impression seems to be (a letter is missing) the name “Isaiah the prophet.” It was found near the Temple Mount near another seal impression that says “King Hezekiah of Judah” that was uncovered two years earlier.  Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah are mentioned in the same verse 17 times. This clay seal gives the impression that Isaiah had access to the king’s palace as his adviser.

A ring with the name “Pontius Pilate” on it was excavated decades ago but only could be read recently due to advanced photographic techniques. Of course, this is not the first time that his name has surfaced in archaeology, but it is still a significant find. The ring is not fancy enough to have been worn by Pilate. It was probably worn by someone authorized to act on his authority and would use it to seal official communications.

This is an exciting time for archaeological investigation. New finds provide even more evidence of the historical accuracy of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Archaeology has provided abundant confirmation of the Bible.

Notes

1. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1956), 176.
2. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
3. Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 1.
4. Richard Gray, “The wrong kind throne: Toilet discovered 2-800-year-old shrine,” Daily Mail, 28 September 2016.
5. Craig A. Evans, “Why Archaeology Matters for Bible Study,” Bible Study Magazine, March/April 2019, 18-19.
6. Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
7. Gordon Govier, “Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2018, Christianity Today, December 27, 2018.
8. Amanda Borschel-Dan, “Evidence of Sodom? Meteor blast cause of biblical destruction, say scientists,” Times of Israel, 22 November 2018.
9. “ISIS Accidentally Corroborates the Bible,” Facts and Trends, March 19, 2018.

©2020 Probe Ministries


Satan

Satan

What does the Bible say about Satan, and what do Christians believe about him? Not only is this an important biblical doctrine, but it has also been used to determine if someone has a biblical worldview. Kerby Anderson explains the basics about Satan, how he catches us in his snares, how to resist his temptations.

The Barna Group has found that a very small percentage of born again Christians have a biblical worldview. They define a “biblical worldview” as having the following six elements: “The Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.”{1}

Various surveys (including the Barna surveys) show that many Christians think that belief in Satan is optional. After all, they argue, if I believe in Jesus that is enough. But if you believe that Jesus was God then you have to believe that Satan exists. Satan is mentioned in the Gospels twenty-nine times. And in twenty-five of those references, Jesus is the one talking about Satan.

Download the PodcastIt is also worth noting that Satan is mentioned many other times in the Bible. Satan is referred to in seven Old Testament books and every New Testament writer talks about Satan. Belief in Satan is not optional.

When Satan is discussed in the New Testament, he is identified by three titles. These three titles describe his power on earth and his influence in the world:

1. Ruler of the world – Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This means that he can use the elements of society, culture, and government to achieve his evil ends in this world. That doesn’t mean that every aspect of society or culture is evil. And it doesn’t mean that Satan has complete control of every politician or governmental bureaucrat. But it does mean that Satan can use and manipulate the world’s system.

2. God of this world – Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan sets himself up as a false god to many. His power over religion and the ability to promote false religions keeps people from know the true gospel.

3. Prince of the air – Paul reminds Christians that they were dead in their trespasses and since in which they “formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air.” Satan is the prince of the air and thus controls the thoughts of those in the world system. The Bible says: “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). So we should not be surprised that we find ourselves in the midst of spiritual warfare.

How Did Satan Fall?

The Bible doesn’t say much about Satan and his fall. There are two passages in Scripture that many believe does describe Satan’s fall but not all theologians are convinced. These passages are Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:12-19.

Ezekiel predicts the coming judgment of the Gentile nations and refers to “the prince (or leader) of Tyre” and then later to “the king of Tyre.” These do not seem to be the same person. The first is obviously the earthly leader of the city Tyre. Ezekiel is predicting his ultimate downfall and the destruction of his kingdom.

The person referred to as the “king of Tyre” seems to be a different person. He has “the seal of perfection” and was “blameless.” He is described as “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” It also says that he was “in Eden, the garden of God.”

It appears that the “king of Tyre” describes Satan who was serving God as an angel. The passage further says that Satan was “lifted up” because of his beauty which many commentators suggest mean that he was the greatest of all of God’s creations. But he sinned. This passage says “you sinned” and “you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.”

Another passage that appears to be talking about Satan is where the prophet Isaiah is predicting that God will bring judgment against Babylon. The first part of chapter 14 (verses 1-11) is directed at the king of Babylon. But many theologians and commentators believe that the subject changes in the next section (verses 12-19) because it focuses on the “star of the morning.”

It worth mentioning that the “star of the morning” in verse 12 could just as easily be translated “the shining one.” That connects with Paul’s statement that Satan is an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The passage also says that he has “fallen from heaven.” It seems like we are not talking about the Babylonian king but actually talking about Satan.

If this passage is talking about Satan, then it tells us more about his motivations that led to his fall. Five times in this passage we see the phrase “I will.” He is prideful and wants to achieve a position “above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13). He also sought to be “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). And he wanted to “sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north” (Isaiah 14:13). Each of these desires tells us more about his motivations.

From this passage we discover three things about Satan. First, Satan wanted to be superior to creation. Second, Satan wanted to be superior to the Creator. Third, Satan wanted a superior place to rule all of creation.{2}

What Do We Know About Satan’s Character?

The Bible tells us a great deal about Satan through the various names that are given to him. Let’s begin by looking at the name “Satan.” In Hebrew the name means “adversary.” He is opposed to God and His plans. And Satan is also opposed to God’s plan in our lives. If we are to be successful in spiritual warfare, we must understand that he is our adversary. This characteristic of Satan is significant. The Old Testament uses this name for him eighteen times, and it is used thirty-four times in the New Testament.

Another common name for Satan is “the devil.” This name in the Greek is diabolos and is derived from the verb meaning “to throw.” The Devil throws accusations and lies at us. This is a significant part of spiritual warfare. He accuses believers while he slanders and defames the name of God. This name occurs thirty-six times in the New Testament.

There is one passage in the New Testament that uses both of these names for Satan. Peter warns believers about Satan who is an “adversary” and “the devil” who is on the prowl like roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). He is a formidable adversary that believing Christians should not take lightly.

Satan is also known as the “tempter.” He tempts us to follow him and his evil ways rather than follow God’s plan for our lives. When he appears to Jesus in the wilderness, he is referred to as the tempter (Matthew 4:3). Also, Paul refers to Satan as “the tempter” (1 Thessalonians 3:5) and thus illustrates one of the key characteristics of Satan: he tempts humans to sin.

A related name is “serpent.” Satan took the form of a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Paul talks about Satan tempting Eve due to his subtle tempting and craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3).

In addition to tempting believers, Satan is referred to as the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10).

Satan is also called “the evil one” both by Jesus (John 17:15) and John (1 John 5:18-19). Satan can control the world system, but believers are given the power to resist his temptations and evil designs. Satan is the source of much of the evil in the world, and that is why believers must reckon with his impact and content with spiritual warfare.

We also see his power in the names that describe his dominion. He is described as “the god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. He is also called “the prince of the world” (John 14:30) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). And he is known as “the ruler of the demons” in Matthew 12:24.

How Are We Caught in the Snares of Satan?

The Bible teaches that Satan can capture our minds and divert us from God’s purpose. This is called a snare. In certain biblical passages (for example, Psalm 124), we read about fowlers and the use of snares. They would capture birds by spreading a net on the ground that was attached to a trap or snare. When the birds landed to eat the seeds spread out, the trap would spring and throw the net over the birds.

A snare could be anything Satan uses that entangles us or impedes our progress. It could be roadblock or it could be a diversion. A wise and discerning Christian should be alert for these snares that can prevent our effectiveness and even ruin our testimony.

The character of Satan gives us some insight into his methods and techniques. James gives us a perspective on this by telling us that when we are tempted we should not blame God. Instead we should understand the nature of temptation and enticement. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

James shows that temptation toward sin in usually a process rather than a single act. We are tempted and then carried away and enticed by our own lust. Like a fisherman who tries to catch a fish using bait, Satan tries to entice us by placing before us something that will cause us to be carried away. Then when lust has conceived, we do it again, and eventually experience death.

Satan is not only the tempter, but he is a subtle deceiver “who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Jesus warned that there will be “false Christs and false prophets” who will “show great signs and wonders.” They will be so convincing that they “shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).

Paul teaches that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light” and his demons transform themselves as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Satan’s main strategy is to lie. Jesus said concerning Satan, “When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Paul prays that Christians would “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).

How Did Jesus Resist the Temptations of Satan?

How can we resist Satan’s temptations? We can learn some valuable lessons about how to deal with spiritual warfare by watching how Jesus was able to resist the temptations of Satan (Matthew 4; Mark 1; Luke 4) in the forty-day Temptation. The Bible records three attempts by Satan to get Jesus to act independently of His Father’s will for Him.

1. Challenged God’s provision – Satan first challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread (Matthew 4:3). The Bible tells us that Jesus was very hungry after fasting for forty days. While Jesus had the power to do so, He resisted because it was His Father’s will that he fast in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.

Instead Jesus quotes a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3 back to Satan. “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

2. Challenged God’s protection – Satan next took Jesus into “the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple” (Ma­tthew 4:5). He then commanded Jesus to throw Himself down in order for the angels to protect Him. In other words, Satan wanted Jesus to take His protection into His own hands and no longer trust in God’s protection. Notice that Satan even quotes Scripture (Psalm 91) to Jesus (Matthew 4:6) in order to tempt Him.

Jesus, however, quotes a portion of Deuteronomy 6:16 back to Satan. “Jesus said to him, ‘On the other hand, it is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test”” (Matthew 4:7).

3. Challenged God’s dominion – Satan then took Jesus “to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8). And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Satan would give Jesus rule and dominion over all that the world could provide if he were turn away from His mission to save mankind and worship Satan.

Notice that Jesus did not challenge Satan’s claim that he had the kingdoms of the world to give to Him. After all, Satan is the “prince of this world” (John 12:31). But instead Jesus said to him, “Go Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10).

As believers we should remind ourselves that Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus tells us that “the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11). But his influence is still felt. Jesus also refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). John tells us that “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And Peter reminds us that “the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The good news is that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Notes

1. “Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years,” March 2009, www.barna.org.
2. You can find more information about Satan, demons, angels, and spiritual warfare in my book A Biblical Point of View on Spiritual Warfare (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009).

© 2011 Probe Ministries

 

See Also
Probe Answers Our Email: Angels and Demons

 


The Inspiration of the Bible

inspiration of the bible

What Jesus said of Scripture and the nature of apostolic teaching are two of the main issues in Rick Wade’s examination of the inspiration of Scripture.

A question we often encounter when talking with non-believers about Christ is, “Why should I believe the Bible?” Or a person might say, “You have your Bible; Muslims have their Koran; different religions have their own holy books. What makes yours special?” How would you answer such questions?

Download the PodcastThese questions fall under the purview of apologetics. They call for a defense. However, before giving a defense we need theological and biblical grounding. To defend the Bible, we have to know what it is.

In this article, then, we’ll deal with the nature of Scripture. Are these writings simply the remembrances of two religious groups? Are they writings consisting of ideas conceived by Jews and early Christians as they sought to establish their religion? Or are they the words of God Himself, given to us for our benefit?

The latter position is the one held by the people of God throughout history. Christians have historically accepted both the Old and New Testaments as God’s word written. But two movements of thought have undermined belief in inspiration. One was the higher critical movement that reduced Scripture to simply the recollections and ideas of a religious group. The more recent movement (although it really isn’t organized enough to call it a “movement”) is religious pluralism, which holds that all religions–or at least the major ones–are equally valid, meaning that none is more true than others. If other religions are equally valid, then other holy books are also. Many Christian young people think this way.

Our evaluation of the Bible and other “holy books” is governed by the recognition that the Bible is the inspired word of God. If God’s final word is found in what we call the Bible, then no other book can be God’s word. To differ with what the Bible says is to differ with God.

What do we mean by inspiration? Following the work of the higher critics, many people–even within the church–have come to see the Bible as inspired in the same way that, say, an artist might be inspired. The artist sees the Grand Canyon and with her imagination now flooded with images and ideas hurries back to her canvas to paint a beautiful picture. A poet, upon viewing the devastation of war, proceeds to pen lines which stir the compassion of readers. Is that what we mean when we say the Bible is inspired?

We use the word inspiration because of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” Inspired is translated from the Greek word theopnuestos which literally means “God-breathed.” Some have said the word could be translated “ex-spired” or “breathed out.” Inspiration, then, in the biblical sense, isn’t the stirring of the imagination of the writer, but rather is the means by which the writers accurately wrote what God wanted written.

This idea finds support in 2 Peter 1: 20-21: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”


What we need before proceeding is a working definition of inspiration. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry writes, “Inspiration is a supernatural influence upon the divinely chosen prophets and apostles whereby the Spirit of God assures the truth and trustworthiness of their oral and written proclamation.”{1} Furthermore, the writers were “divinely superintended by the Holy Spirit in the choice of words they used.”{2} Although some things were dictated to the writers, most of the time the Spirit simply superintended the writing so that the writer, using his own words, wrote what the Spirit wanted.

The Historical View of the Church

The first place to look in establishing any doctrine is, of course, the Bible. Before turning to Scripture to see what it claims for itself, however, it will be worthwhile to be sure this has been the view of the church throughout history. Because of the objections of liberal scholars, we might want to see whose position is in keeping with our predecessors in the faith.

Historically, the church has consistently held to the inspiration of Scripture, at least until the 19th century. One scholar has said that throughout the first eight centuries of the church, “Hardly is there a single point with regard to which there reigned . . . a greater or more cordial unanimity.”{3} The great Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield said, “Christendom has always reposed upon the belief that the utterances of this book are properly oracles of God.”{4} In the 16th century, the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin were explicit in their recognition of the divine source and authority of Scripture.{5} B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, Carl F. H. Henry, J. I. Packer and other very reputable scholars and theologians over the last century and a half have argued forcefully for the inspiration of Scripture. And as Warfield notes, this belief underlies all the creeds of the church as well.{6}

The Witness of the Old Testament

Let’s turn now to the Bible itself, beginning with the Old Testament, to see whether its own claims match the beliefs of the church.

The clear intent of the Old Testament writers was to convey God’s message. Consider first that God was said to speak to the people. “God says” (Deut. 5:27), “Thus says the Lord” (Exod. 4:22), “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9), “The word of the Lord came to him” (Gen. 15:4; 1 Kings 17:8). All these references to God speaking show that He is interested in communicating with us verbally. The Old Testament explicitly states 3,808 times that it is conveying the express words of God.{7}

Furthermore, God was so interested in people preserving and knowing His word that at times He told people to write down what He said. We read in Exodus 17:14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’” (See also 24:3-7, 34:27; Jer. 30:2; 36:2.)

The clear testimony of Old Testament writings is that God spoke to people, and He instructed them to write down the things He said. These writings have been handed down to us.

Of course, we shouldn’t think of all the Old Testament—or the New Testament either—as having been dictated to the writers. In fact, most of the Bible was not. What we want to establish here is that God is a communicating God, and He communicates verbally. The idea that God is somehow unable or unwilling to communicate propositionally to man—which is what a number of scholars of this century continue to hold—is foreign to the Old Testament. God spoke, and the people heard and understood.

We should now shift to the New Testament to see what it says about inspiration. Let’s begin with the testimony of Jesus.

The Witness of Jesus

Did Jesus believe in the doctrine of inspiration?

It is clear that Jesus acknowledged the Old Testament writings as being divine in nature. Consider John 10:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods”? If he called them “gods” to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken–what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?’” Jesus believed it was God’s word that came to the prophets of old, and He referred to it as Scripture that could not be broken. In Matt. 5:17-19, He affirmed the Law as being fixed and above the whims of men.

Jesus drew on the teachings of the Old Testament in His encounter with Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). His responses, “Man shall not live on bread alone” (Deut. 8:3), “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only” (Deut. 6:13), and “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16) are all drawn from Deuteronomy. Each statement was prefaced by “It is written” or “It is said.” Jesus said that he only spoke what the Father wanted Him to (John 12:49). By quoting these passages as authoritative over Satan, He was, in effect, saying these were God’s words. He also honored the words of Moses (Mark 7:10), Isaiah (Mark 7:6), David (Mark 12:36), and Daniel (Matt. 24:15) as authoritative, as carrying the weight of God’s words.{8} Jesus even referred to an Old Testament writing as God’s word when this wasn’t explicitly attributed to God in the Old Testament itself (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4,5).

In our consideration of the position of Jesus on the nature of Scripture, we also need to look at His view of the New Testament. But one might ask, “It hadn’t been written yet, how could Jesus be cited in support of the inspiration of the New Testament?

To get a clear picture of this we need to realize what Jesus was doing with His apostles. His small group of twelve was being trained to carry on the witness and work of Jesus after He was gone. They were given a place of special importance in the furthering of His work (Mark 3:14-15). Thus, He taught them with clarity while often teaching the crowds in parables (Mark 4:34). He sent them as the Father had sent Him (John 20:21) so they would be witnesses of “all these things” (Luke 24:48). Both the Spirit and the apostles would be witnesses for Christ (John 15:26ff; cf. Acts 5:32). He promised to send the Spirit to help them when He left. They would be empowered to bear witness (Acts. 1:4,5,8). The Spirit would give them the right things to say when brought to trial (Matt. 10:19ff). He would remind them of what Jesus had said (John 14:26) and would give them new knowledge (John 16:12ff). As John Wenham said, “The last two promises . . . do not of course refer specifically or exclusively to the inspiration of a New Testament Canon, but they provide in principle all that is required for the formation of such a Canon, should that be God’s purpose.”{9}

Thus, Jesus didn’t identify a specific body of literature as the New Testament or state specifically that one would be written. However, He prepared the apostles as His special agents to hand down the truths He taught, and He promised assistance in doing this. Given God’s work in establishing the Old Testament and Jesus’ references to the written word in His own teaching, it is entirely reasonable that He had plans for His apostles to put in writing the message of good news He brought.

The Witness of the Apostles

Finally, we need to see what the apostles tell us about the nature of Scripture. To understand their position, we’ll need to not only see what they said about Scripture, but also understand what it meant to be an apostle.

The office of apostle grew out of Jewish jurisprudence wherein a sjaliach (“one who is sent out”) could appear in the name of another with the authority of that other person. It was said that “the sjaliach for a person is as this person himself.”{10} As Christ’s representatives the apostles ( apostle also means “sent out”) carried forth the teaching they had received. “This apostolic preaching is the foundation of the Church, to which the Church is bound” (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:20).{11} The apostles had been authorized by Jesus as special ambassadors to teach what he had taught them (cf. John 20:21). Their message was authoritative when spoken; when written it would be authoritative as well.

As the apostles were witnesses of the gospel they also were bearers of tradition. This isn’t “tradition” in the contemporary sense by which we mean that which comes from man and may be changed. Tradition in the Hebrew understanding meant “what has been handed down with authority.”{12} This is what Paul referred to when he praised the Corinthians for holding to the traditions they had been taught and exhorted the Thessalonians to do the same (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15). Contrast this with the tradition of men which drew criticism from Jesus (Mark 7:8).

Paul attributed what he taught directly to Christ (2 Cor. 13:3). He identified his gospel with the preaching of Jesus (Rom. 16:25). And he said his words were taught by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13). What he wrote to the Corinthians was “the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37). Furthermore, Paul, and John as well, considered their writings important enough to call for people to read them (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; John 20:31; Rev. 1:3). Peter put the apostolic message on par with the writings of the Old Testament prophets (2 Pet. 3:2).

What was the nature of Scripture according to the apostles? Many if not most Christians are familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This is the verse most often cited in support of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. Paul was speaking primarily of the Old Testament in this passage. The idea of God “breathing out” or speaking wasn’t new to Paul, however, because he knew the Old Testament well, and there he could read that “the ‘mouth’ of God was regarded as the source from which the Divine message came.”{13}Isaiah 45:23 says, “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back” (see also 55:11). Paul also would have known that Jesus quoted Deuteronomy when He replied to the tempter, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3).

Peter also taught that the Scriptures were, in effect, the speech of God. In 2 Peter 1: 20-21, he noted that prophecy was made by “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God.” It didn’t originate in men.

One further note. The Greek word graphe in the New Testament only refers to sacred Scriptures. This is the word used in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16 to refer to the writings of the apostles.

The apostles thus were the ambassadors of Christ who spoke in His stead and delivered the message which was the standard for belief and practice. They had both their own recollections of what they witnessed and heard and the empowerment of the Spirit. The message they preached was the one they wrote down. The New Testament, like the Old, claims very clearly to be the inspired word of God.

Making a Defense

We now come to a very important part in our discussion of the inspiration of Scripture. It’s one thing to establish the biblical teaching on the nature of the Bible itself. It’s quite another to give a defense to critics.

As I noted earlier, we frequently hear questions such as “Many religions have their own holy books. Why should we believe the Bible is special?”

When this objection comes from someone who holds to religious pluralism, before answering the question about the Bible we will have to question him on the reasonableness of pluralism itself. No amount of evidences or arguments for the Bible will make a bit of difference if the person believes that there is no right or wrong when it comes to religion.{14}

It’s easy for apologists to come to rely primarily on their arguments when responding to critics, which is something even Paul wouldn’t do (1 Cor. 2:3-5). What we learn from Scripture is the power of Scripture itself. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,” Hebrews says (4:12). Isaiah 55:11 says that God’s word will accomplish his will. In Acts 2:37 we see the results of the proclamation of the word of God in changed people.

So, where am I going with this? I wonder how many people who object to our insistence that our “holy book” is the only true word of God have ever read any of it! Before we launch into a lengthy apologetic for Scripture, it might be good to get them to read it and let the Spirit open their minds to see its truth (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

Am I tossing out the entire apologetics enterprise and saying, “Look, just read the Bible and don’t ask so many questions”? No. I’m simply trying to move the conversation to more fruitful ground. Once the person learns what the Bible says, he can ask specific questions about its content, or we can ask him what about it makes him think it might not be God’s word.

The Bible clearly claims to be the authoritative word of God, and as such it makes demands on us. So, at least the tone of Scripture is what we might expect of a book with God as its source. But does it give evidence that it must have God as its source? And does its self-witness find confirmation in our experience?

Regarding the necessity of having God as its source, we can consider prophecy. Who else but God could know what would happen hundreds of years in the future? What mere human could get 300 prophecies correct about one person (Jesus)?{15}

The Bible’s insight into human nature and the solutions it provides to our fallen condition are also evidence of its divine source. In addition, the Bible’s honesty about the weaknesses of even its heroes is evidence that it isn’t just a human book. By contrast, we tend to build ourselves up in our own writing.

As further evidence that the Bible is God’s word, we can note its survival and influence throughout the last two millennia despite repeated attempts to destroy it.

What Scripture proclaims about itself finds confirmation in our experience. For example, the practical changes it brings in individuals and societies are evidence that it is true.

One more note. We have the testimony of Jesus about Scripture whose resurrection is evidence that He knew what He was talking about!

In sum, the testimony of Scripture to its own nature finds confirmation in many areas.{16} Even with all this evidence, however, we aren’t going to be able to prove the inspiration of the Bible to anyone who either isn’t interested enough to give it serious thought or to the critic who only wants to argue. But we can share its message, make attempts at gentle persuasion and answer questions as we wait for the Spirit to open the person’s mind and heart.

Notes

1. Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 4, The God Who Speaks and Shows (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1979), 129.
2. Class notes, Introduction to Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, May 4, 1987. See also Warfield cited in Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:141.
3. L. Gaussen, The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (Chicago: Moody Press, 1949), 145. See the entire section, pp. 145-152.
4. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948), 107.
5. Warfield, 108-09.
6. Ibid., 110-11.
7. René Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 81.
8.John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 24.
9. Wenham, 113.
10. Edward J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 21.
11.Ibid.
12. Herman Ridderbos, “The Canon of the New Testament,” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry ;(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 192, 193.
13.Ibid., 193.
14. For help in dealing with relativism and religious pluralism, see these other Probe articles: Don Closson, How Do You Spell Truth? and Rick Rood, Do All Roads Lead to God? The Christian Attitude Toward Non-Christian Religions.
15. Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev. ed. (San Bernardino, Ca.: Here’s Life Publishers, ;1979), 144.
16. See Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), esp. chaps. 8 and 9.

© 1999 Probe Ministries International


Probe 2020 Survey Report #3: Religious Practices and Purpose for Living

man praying

Steve Cable explores Probe’s 2020 survey, examining the participants’ religious practices, sense of purpose for living, and views on tolerance vs. acceptance.

In our first two reports, we looked primarily at religious affiliations and core religious beliefs. In this report, we examine the level of religious activity of different religious groups and how they relate to people with different religious beliefs.

Some of the key results for Americans ages 18 through 39 on religious practices are as follows:

• Only about a fourth of Born Again Christians prayed multiple times per day and a similar number said they read their Bible daily.

• Only about one in five Born Again Christians give 10% or more of their income to their church and other charities.

• Only about one in twenty Born Again Christians reported a consistent religious life where they attended church at least twice a month, considered their faith as strongly important in their daily life, prayed multiple times per day, and read their Bible daily.

• Less than one in five Born Again Christians reported a nominal religious involvement where they attend church at least once a month, considered their faith as important in their daily life, prayed at least once a day, and read their Bible at least weekly, and gave at least 5% to their church and other charities.

• From 2010 to 2020, the percent of Born Again Christians who reported attending church at least twice a month, considered their faith as strongly important and read their Bible daily dropped by one half from 40% down to 20%.

• When asked about their ultimate purpose for living, slightly more than half of Born Again Christians selected a purpose which included serving God which was a significant drop from the two thirds who selected a similar purpose in 2010.

Some of the key results for Americans ages 18 through 39 on tolerance of other religions are:

• Only about one quarter (27%) of them disagree with the statement “. . . it is important to let people know that I affirm as true (at least for them) their religious beliefs and practices.”

• At the same time, almost two thirds (65%) agree that tolerance is best defined as “Treating with respect people with ideas or actions that you believe to be wrong or misguided.”

• This is another topic where we see somewhat conflicting results. Apparently, many Born Again Christian young adults think that you cannot believe someone is “wrong or misguided” when it comes to religion. Or they believe that “Treating with respect” means “affirming as true (at least for them)”.

Level of Religious Activities

We will begin by looking at two different levels of religious activity: a Nominal Level and a Committed Level as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1 Defining Levels of Religious Activity

Religious Activity

Nominal Level

Committed Level

How often do you attend religious services, not including special events such as a wedding
or funeral?

Monthly

Twice a month or more

My religious faith has a significant impact on my daily life

Agree

Agree strongly

How often do you pray outside of a formal religious service?

Daily

Multiple per day

How often do you read or study your Holy Book in a small group setting or by yourself

Weekly

Daily or more

How much do you give to religious organizations and charities each year?

5% to 10% of
income

At least 10% of income

I think most would agree that someone doing the activities listed at the level required for the Committed Level is serious about their faith. They consider it important enough to make it a priority in their thoughts, time and finances. One can find specific instructions or examples in scripture for the importance of the first four activities listed above in the Committed Level column.  Giving at least 10% of your income is not a clear direction in the New Testament, but it is a good metric for assessing someone’s commitment. The nominal level probably represents someone who considers their faith as important but not important enough to involve a significant amount of time and money.

Committed Level of Religious Activity

Those ages 18 through 39 who practice their religion at a committed level are shown in Figure 1 at right. We have roughly ordered these items from highest probability of adherence to lowest.

As shown in the figure, Born Again Christians lead the way in frequent church attendance and for strongly considering their faith significant. For the next two, prayer and reading your holy book, all four of the religious groups were similar. Finally, for the giving metric, Born Again Christians show about 20% at that level of giving while Other Protestants and Catholics are about half of that level, or 10%.


It is distressing that three of the five metrics show only about one in four of Born Again Christians who practice them. Even the most commonly practiced religious behaviors show fewer than half of Born Again Christians active at those levels.

And when we combine all of these metrics together (as shown in Figure 2) to identify people who show a strong commitment to their religious faith, we find around 3% (1 out of 33) Born Again Christians saying they perform all five activities.  In fact, people of Other Religions have about 4% performing all five metrics. However, for all practical purposes, there is not difference between 3% and 4%. Both numbers represent a tiny portion of the faith group.

Note that if we exclude the question on giving, the percentage of Born Again Christians increases from 3% to 5%. Clearly, money is not the primary issue driving down the number of consistently active believers.

Also note that the entire Unaffiliated group reports less than 8% on each of these practices and less than 1% who claim to do even two of
these practices.

These survey results clearly show that a scant few Americans of any religious persuasion take the time to be actively involved in practices
to help them grow in their faith.

Nominal or Committed Levels of Religious Activity

Now let’s look at those with at least a Nominal level of religious practice (i.e., those who select the nominal level or the committed
level). As shown in the figure, this is a much lower bar with all religious faiths hovering over 60% on those who agree/strongly agree that their faith has a significant impact on their daily lives and around half on those who pray at least daily. The other three activities range between 30% and 50%.

We should not forget that the pastors of these religious groups should be (and probably are) ashamed of these numbers. Particularly so when we consider the percentage of each group that practices all five of these relatively easy levels of commitment. The numbers (not shown on the graph) for those who practice all five are 16% of Born Again Christians, 13% of Other Religions, 9% of Other Protestants and 7% of Catholics. I must believe that pastors of those who answered the two Born Again questions would expect those congregants to be greater than 80% rather than hovering around 15%.

It is interesting that when we combine five different metrics, each of which is greater than 40% for Born Again Christians, that it drops down to 16%. Note both the metrics for reading the Bible at least weekly and giving at least 5% of your income to charities come in at Almost half (44%). When we combine the two metrics to see how many Born Again Christians affirm that they engage in both of these activities, the number drops to about one in four (26%).


So let’s look and see how many said they did all the activities, three of the activities, two of the activities, etc. Almost 40% of Born Again Christians did at least three of the activities. Only 5% of the Unaffiliated could say the same. In fact, over 75% of the Unaffiliated did none of these activities.

It is worth noting that Other Protestants and Catholics do not lag far behind Born Again Christians in the percentage doing at least three
of the activities. This difference is a significant contrast to the Basic Biblical Worldview questions and the “who is Jesus” questions where these other religious groups lagged far behind Born Again Christians.

If I were to say to a Born Again believer, “to consistently grow in your faith and represent the good news of Christ to the world, I recommend that you pray to God daily, attend church at least one a month, read your Bible at least one a week, and give at least 5% of your income to religious charities including your church.” I would not expect to get much blowback. After all, it takes less than one hour a week and no real financial hardship. Of course, what I really say is we should all try to live at a Committed level. Not because it is necessary for salvation, rather this level of activity will help us live a life honoring God and making a difference beyond the temporal into eternity.


Variations by Age among Born Again Christians

How do these religious activities vary by age among Born Again Christians? The results are plotted in the graph on the right for a
Committed Level of Activity. As shown, the percentage of the youngest adults is significantly less than for the two older groups. However, as the graph moves to the right adding more aspects to the cumulative total, the difference becomes small. In general, the youngest adults are less likely to practice key components of an active faith, but regardless of age the numbers are small.


The results are shown on the left for a Nominal or Committed Level of Activity. We have more Born Again Christians who participate across these levels. The lines still trail down sharply as we move to the right, adding more practices to the cumulative total. The fact that only one out of five Born Again Christians ages 18 through 29 pray daily, attend church at least monthly, and read the Bible at least weekly presents a major challenge to our young adult ministries. I would suggest that these activities are essential to a consistently grow sanctification in our lives.

Religious Practice from 2010 to 2020

How has the commitment to religious practices fared over the last 10 years or so? Our survey from 2010 asked the same questions regarding attendance, Bible reading, and the importance of faith. The questions on prayer and giving were different. However, we can get some good comparison data looking at the three common questions.

In the figure at right we use two terms, 2010 Nominal and 2010 Committed, which are defined below. The 2010 Nominal attend monthly plus, read the Bible weekly plus, and agree that their faith is significant in their daily lives. The 2010 Committed attend more than monthly, read the Bible weekly plus, and strongly agree that their faith is significant in their daily lives.

The first category shown does not include church attendance. One unknown with the attendance question taken during the Covid-19 pandemic is that some respondents may have replied taking the pandemic into consideration and while other respondents considered normal times. We see a slightly greater drop-off between the first category and the 2010 Nominal category which could be associated with this issue. However, the difference is not large enough to impact the overall conclusions.

What we see is that the drop-off in the 2010 Nominal category is from 44% to 28% and the drop-off in the 2010 Committed category is down one half from 40% to 20%. These numbers reflect an astounding drop in the importance that Born Again Christians place on these simple religious activities.

Combining Worldview and Church Attendance (a key metric from our earlier book{1})

In our prior study of Born-Again Christians, one of the key divisions we used in looking at religious practices, religious beliefs and cultural practices was a combination of Biblical Worldview and Church Attendance. We found that those Born-Again Christians with a Biblical Worldview and regular church attendance (twice a month or more), were much more likely to demonstrate biblical religious practices, beliefs, and cultural practices. So, we wanted to compare those results with the findings from our new survey.

The figure on the left compares the findings from 2010 with those from 2020 using the more stringent Expanded Biblical Worldview. The values shown are the percent of Born-Again Christians (so all columns add up to 100% even though the percentage of Born Again Christians is less in 2020). Two age ranges are used in 2020; the first one is basically the same age range used in 2010 (18 – 39) and the second age range (30 – 55) is very close to the age range of the 2010 survey aged by the ten years that have gone by.

Looking at those with regular attendance and an Expanded Biblical Worldview we see a significant reduction among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2020 (27% down to 13%) with a lesser reduction among 30- to 55-year-olds down to 17%. The percentage of regular attenders without an Expanded Biblical Worldview has remained relatively constant. But of course, that does not mean that the people who stopped attending were those with an Expanded Biblical Worldview. It could be that many without it stopped attending while some decided that they did not believe all of the positions in the worldview but kept attending on a regular basis.

The area showing a startling high level of growth are those attending monthly or less who do not hold to an Expanded Biblical Worldview. This is the square that ten years ago we wanted to drive down to a smaller number. Instead, it has grown by about 18% (from 32% to 50%).

Now let’s examine the same chart using a Basic Biblical Worldview. We see nearly the same features as discussed above. A significant drop is shown in those with regular attendance and a Basic Biblical Worldview coupled with a significant increase in those with irregular attendance and no Basic Biblical Worldview.

Ultimate Purpose for Living

We wanted to explore what American young adults thought they were living their lives for. So we asked, “Which statement comes closest to
describing your ultimate primary purpose for living?” The choices to select from were:

1. To be a good person and make others happy.

2. To serve God by living a life which proclaims Christ’s grace.

3. To make it through each day with integrity.

4. To live at peace with all.

5. To enjoy the best life has to offer, e.g. success, money, travel.

6. To love my family and raise loving, productive children.

Most of these answers sound like good purposes for life. But only one of them extends into eternity and recognizes our Creator and his “desire for all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”{2} The answers to this question help identify those who are living their life as eternal beings rather than as temporal beings.

The results are charted in the graph to the left. As shown, just over half of Born Again Christians profess an eternal perspective. This means almost half do not, with most of those selecting a purpose that focuses on good behaviors in their personal life.

Every other religious group has very few that selected an eternal perspective as their ultimate purpose for living. Around forty to fifty percent of the other groups selects a purpose reflecting good behaviors.

It is interesting that only a small percentage of each group selected the family focused purpose for living. I would like to know if that would have been a larger number say fifty years ago.


Finally, note this is another question that highlights the stark difference between the Unaffiliated and Born Again Protestants.  We see that 57% of Born Again Protestants selected the eternal answer while only 2% of the Unaffiliated did the same. This result is a clear indicator that the Unaffiliated do not include a lot of Christians who do not want to affiliate with a particular Christian group.

For Born Again Christians, we can compare data from our 2010 survey with the 2020 survey as shown in the figure. The 2010 survey had the
same question as the 2020 survey, but it had more answers to choose from. For example, there were three answers that had an eternal perspective: to serve God and live out His will for my life, to lead others to salvation in Jesus Christ, to praise and glorify God. These three answers were grouped together to align with the 2020 answer: To serve God by living a life which proclaims Christ’s grace.

As you can see the percentage of Born Again Christians who included God in their ultimate purpose for living dropped from 66% in 2010 to 51% in 2020, a significant drop. It appears that in 2020 people who did not name God in their answer opted to pick an admirable answer focused on themselves.

Relationship to a Basic Biblical Worldview

Consider the question of how many Born Again Christians accept a Basic Biblical Worldview and an eternal perspective on their ultimate purpose. We find that 88% of those with a Basic Biblical Worldview selected an ultimate purpose proclaiming God’s grace. Conversely, 43% of those selecting an ultimate purpose proclaiming God’s grace affirmed a Basic Biblical Worldview for their life (as compared with 25% for Born Again Christians as a whole). Thus, we find a fairly strong correlation between a biblical worldview and an eternal ultimate purpose for life.

Acceptance or Tolerance

Some of the key findings on this topic summarized at the beginning of this report are repeated below prior to going into the details.

Looking at Born Again Christians ages 18 through 39, we find:

• Only about one quarter (27%) of them disagree with the statement “. . . it is important to let people know that I affirm as true (at least for them) their religious beliefs and practices.”

• At the same time, almost two thirds (65%) agree that tolerance is best defined as “Treating with respect people with ideas or actions that you believe to be wrong or misguided.”

• This is another topic where we see somewhat conflicting results. Apparently, many Born Again Christian young adults think that you cannot believe someone is “wrong or misguided” when it comes to religion. Or they believe that “Treating with respect” means “affirming as true (at least for them)”.

According to the Collins Dictionary, “Tolerance is the quality of allowing other people to say and do what they like, even if you do not agree with or approve of it.”{3} In today’s culture, we find two conflicting understandings of the meaning of tolerance. One, following the idea of the dictionary meaning is, “treating with respect people with ideas or actions that you believe to be wrong or misguided.” The second one influenced by postmodern philosophy and popularized by the secular media, is “valuing human beings equally and affirming their ideas as right for them.” The second definition basically assumes that there are no absolute truths in our existence and therefore we have no basis to disagree with what someone else believes.

Which of these definitions holds sway among our population today?

To explore this question, we asked two different questions dealing with how to treat those who have a different religious viewpoint. The first question we asked on this topic is “What does Tolerance mean to you?” The respondents chose from four possible answers:

1. Treating with respect people with ideas or actions that you believe to be wrong or misguided.

2. Not questioning another person’s moral decisions.

3. Valuing human beings equally and affirming their ideas as right for them.

4. Don’t know.

This question gives us information on how people interpret the word, not whether they apply tolerance in their dealings with others.


In figure 1, we see how the definitions are distributed. Almost two thirds (65%) of young adult, Born Again Christians selected a classic definition of tolerance. As shown, over 50% of the other religious groups also selected a classic definition. But as one can see from the graph, a significant number of young adult Americans were selecting a different definition with the portions ranging from one third to almost one half of each religious group. So, it appears that a majority of the population is hanging onto the classic definition, but definitions which question the reality of absolute truths have a strong following.

Now let’s look at how people apply tolerance in the area of religious beliefs. Are they quick to say, “I will respect you and your beliefs even though I believe them to be wrong”? Or are they going to follow the trend saying, “They may well be true for you.”


To find out, we asked another question: “When discussing religious matters, I feel that it is important to let people know that I affirm as true (at least for them) their religious beliefs and practices,” with the answer ranging from Agree Strongly to Disagree Strongly. As an evangelical Christian, I would answer that I Disagree Strongly with that statement. I want them to know that I respect them as a person, but I believe I have been shown the absolutely true answer as to how man can be reconciled to our creator God. But somehow, when asked in this manner, Born Again Christians just don’t seem to get the importance of disagreeing as shown in Figure 1.

As shown in the figure, only about one in four (27%) Born Again Christians disagree with the statement. This level tracks closely with the rest of the population. If one is agreeing with the statement, one is
either saying in religion what’s not true for me can be true for you, or there are multiple religions that are the truth, or we should lie to others about the absolute truth of Christianity when discussing religion with them. All three of those options are clearly countered by the Bible which tells us that Jesus Christ is the source of absolute truth, that there is only one way to heaven, and that lying about the truth is against the nature of God.

The disconnect between the definition of tolerance and applying tolerance in our interactions with other religions is striking. As noted in the initial summary, apparently many Born Again Christian young adults think that you cannot believe someone is “wrong or misguided” when it comes to religion. Or they believe that “Treating with respect” means “affirming as true (at least for them).” We don’t have data to distinguish between these two options, but I suspect that both of them contribute to the current reluctance to lift up Jesus as God’s one true answer to the fundamental problem of mankind.

Notes
1. Stephen Cable, Cultural Captives: The Beliefs and Behaviors of American Young Adults, 2012
2. 1 Timothy 2:4
3. Collins English Dictionary, Tolerance definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary (collinsdictionary.com)

©2021 Probe Ministries


Historical Criticism and the Bible

The Bible

Historical criticism of the Bible often threatens believers’ faith. Dr. Michael Gleghorn explains that it is often grounded in false assumptions.

What Is Historical Criticism?

Throughout the history of Christianity, students of the Bible have used many different methods of interpreting the text. But since the Enlightenment, one particular method (or rather, family of methods) has been quite influential, especially in the academy.{1} I’m speaking of what is often called historical criticism, or the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.

Download the PodcastSo what is historical criticism, you ask? Although the term gets used in different ways, I will here be using it to refer to a method of biblical interpretation which attempts to read the Bible as a purely human document from the distant past. In other words, the historical-critical method does not typically regard the Bible as divinely inspired. It is merely a human book, like any other, and should thus be read like any other book.”{2}

In the past (and to some extent even today) scholars liked to portray this method as “scientific” in character, able to obtain “assured” and “objective” interpretive results. But critics tell a different story. For example, Eta Linnemann, who before her conversion to Christianity was a well-respected scholarly advocate of historical-criticism, claims that in practice the so-called “scientific” character of this method is grounded in a prior assumption of naturalism, perhaps even atheism. As Linnemann observes, “Research is conducted . . . if there were no God.’”{3}

Another critic of this method is the renowned Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. After rehearsing certain principles of historical investigation, which many historical critics would endorse, Plantinga notes that these principles are understood “to preclude” God’s direct involvement in the world.{4} Because of this, he notes, such principles “imply that God has not in fact specially inspired any human authors in such a way that what they write is really divine speech addressed to us; nor has he . . . performed miracles of any other sorts.”{5}

As I’m sure you can see, at least some of the results of this method come about simply because of assumptions the interpreter brings to the text. The problem, however, is that the assumptions are biased against Christianity in favor of naturalism. We must thus think rather critically about the historical-critical method. But first, we need a bit of background on how and when this method originated.

The Origins of Historical Criticism

Although many scholars helped develop the historical-critical method, Johann Salomo Semler, an eighteenth-century theologian, is widely regarded as its “father.”{6} Semler was primarily interested in “critical work” on the canon of biblical writings.{7} For our purposes, the “canon” can simply be thought of as the books of the Old and New Testaments. The Church regards these books as the divinely inspired Word of God and, hence, completely authoritative for Christian faith and practice.

Semler, however, considered these books (especially those of the Old Testament) to be largely of merely historical interest. They might give us some interesting information about the religion of ancient Israel or (in the case of the New Testament) the beliefs of the early church, but they could not be regarded, at least in their entirety, as the divinely inspired Word of God.{8} Hence, Semler was led to make a distinction between “the Scriptures and the Word of God.”{9} Although the Church had always considered the Scriptures to be the Word of God, Semler made a distinction between them. In his opinion, “some books belong in the Bible through historical decisions of past ages, but do not make wise unto salvation.”{10} Books of this sort, he reasoned, can still be called “Scripture” (for they are part of the biblical canon), but they are not the Word of God (for in his view, they are not divinely inspired).

Although historical criticism continued to be developed after Semler, it’s easy to see why many consider him to be this method’s “father.” In his own study of the Bible, Semler generally disregarded any claims that either it or the Church might make regarding its divine inspiration and authority and attempted instead to read the Bible like any other book. In the opinion of theologian Gerhard Maier, it’s “the general acceptance” of Semler’s view which “has plunged theology into an endless chain of perplexities and inner contradictions.”{11} Before we examine such difficulties, however, we must first consider why so many scholars see value in the historical-critical method.

Some Proposed Benefits of Historical Criticism

To begin, virtually everyone agrees that when you’re attempting to understand a book of the Bible, it can be helpful to know something about the origin of the book. Who was the author? When did he live? What sorts of things were happening at the time the book was written? Was the author influenced by any of these things, or attempting to respond to them in some way? Who was he writing for? How might they have understood him? Answering such questions can often clarify what the author may have been trying to communicate in his book. Historical critics are right to see this as an important part of understanding the books of the Bible. And most everyone agrees on this point.{12}

More controversial would be the principles of historical investigation originally proposed by Ernst Troeltsch in an essay written in 1898.{13} These principles are still generally embraced (though with some modifications) by historical critics today.{14} Briefly stated, Troeltsch proposed three principles that can simply be called the principles of criticism, analogy, and correlation.{15} Although there’s no universal agreement about how these principles should be used in actually doing historical research, historical-critical scholars have generally regarded these principles as helpful guides in critically evaluating what is written in the Bible in their effort to determine what really happened. This is considered a great benefit of historical criticism. For, rather than simply accepting the claims of a biblical author uncritically, Troeltsch’s principles provide some help in critically evaluating such reports in order to assess their believability.{16}

Now in one sense this is commendable, for it is good to search for truth about what the Bible is trying to teach us. But there’s a problem with how these principles are typically understood by historical-critical scholars. As the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga reminds us, such scholars generally take these principles to exclude any “direct divine action in the world.”{17} That is, such principles forbid us to believe that God has ever directly intervened in the world which He has made. And for Christians, this presents a real difficulty with historical criticism.

Some Problems with Historical Criticism

According to Christian scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix, a fundamental problem with historical criticism is that “it is based on an unjustified antisupernatural bias which it superimposes on the biblical documents.”{18} This can easily be seen by examining some of the things which have been written by proponents and advocates of this method.

For example, Rudolf Bultmann, who was interested in “demythologizing” the New Testament, famously wrote, “It is impossible to use electric light . . . and to avail ourselves of modern medical . . . discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”{19} Similarly, another theologian has written that whatever the biblical authors may have believed about such things, “we believe that the biblical people lived in the same” world we do, that is “one in which no divine wonders transpired and no divine voices were heard.”{20}

Now if we ask such scholars why it is that we’re to think that miracles are either unbelievable or impossible, we’ll usually notice rather quickly that the responses are generally short on arguments and long on assumptions. That is, such scholars typically just assume that God is not directly involved in the world and that miracles never occur. But if a personal Creator of the universe exists (and there are good reasons to think that one does), then why should we simply assume that He would never directly intervene in the world which He has made? Such intervention would hardly seem impossible. And if it produced an effect which would not have come about had nature been left to itself, then this could quite properly be regarded as a miracle.

So it seems to me that if a personal God exists, then miracles are possible. And if miracles are possible, then it is nothing more than “an unjustified antisupernatural bias” (as Geisler and Nix assert) to simply assume that the Bible’s reports of miracles are all false and unbelievable. And since historical criticism of the Bible often begins with just such an assumption, it appears to offer us an inadequate method for correctly reading the Bible.

An Alternative to Historical Criticism

Having looked at some problems with historical criticism, we can now consider a preferable alternative, namely, theological interpretation.{21}

So what is theological interpretation? As I’m using the terminology here, it’s a method of reading the Bible like a Christian, with the aim “of knowing God and of being formed unto godliness.”{22} Theological interpretation takes a sober and serious account of what Christianity is, believes, and teaches. It then attempts to read and interpret the Bible as “a word from God about God.”{23}

It’s a radically different way of reading the Bible from that practiced by historical critics. Of course, as theologian Russell Reno reminds us, “There is obviously a historical dimension” to the truth found in the Bible. “Nevertheless,” he continues, “to be a Christian is to believe that the truth found in the Bible is the very same truth we enter into by way of baptism, the same truth we confess in our creeds, the same truth we receive in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.”{24}

But historical criticism attempts to read the Bible in the same way one would read any other book from the ancient world. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human book. The only way to really understand a book of the Bible, then, is to try to understand how it originated and what the original author was trying to say.

Theological interpretation, on the other hand, does not view the Bible as a merely human book. Of course, it realizes that each of the biblical books has a human author. But it also insists, along with the consensual teaching of the Christian community, that each of these books also has a Divine author.{25} It thus views the Bible as a divinely-inspired document.

Is this a legitimate way to read the Bible? Alvin Plantinga has written extensively on the theory of knowledge.{26} According to him, the biblical scholar who is also a Christian “has a perfect right to assume Christian belief in pursuing her inquiries.” Doing so, he says, is just as legitimate as assuming the principles of historical criticism.{27} Indeed, for the Christian it is arguably better—for it allows us to read the Bible in continuity with the tradition and faith we profess and believe.

Notes

1. Gregory Dawes, for example, notes that both form criticism and redaction criticism would fall under the umbrella of historical criticism. See Gregory Dawes, “‘A Certain Similarity to the Devil’: Historical Criticism and Christian Faith,” in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture: Historical, Biblical, and Theoretical Perspectives, ed. Carlos R. Bovell (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2011), 354.
2. Benjamin Jowett, “On the Interpretation of Scripture,” in Josephine M. Guy, The Victorian Age: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. n.p.: Routledge, 1998. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 9, 2013), 295.
3. See Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? trans., Robert Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001), 84.
4. Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, edited by Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephan Evans, Mary Healy and Murray Rae (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 33.
5. Ibid.
6. James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 29.
7. Ibid.
8. Peter Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Toward a Hermeneutics of Consent (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 38-40.
9. Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2002), 19.
10. Ibid.
11. The first sentence of Maier’s book declares, “The general acceptance of Semler’s basic concept that the Bible must be treated like any other book has plunged theology into an endless chain of perplexities and inner contradictions.” See Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method, trans., Edwin W. Leverenz and Rudolph F. Norden (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 11.
12. Plantinga, echoing the language of Robert Gordon, grants that we might refer to the attempt to answer such questions as a “warranted” form of historical biblical criticism. See Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Scripture Scholarship: A Response to Robert Gordon and Craig Bartholomew,” in “Behind” the Text, 94.
13. For those interested in this essay, see Ernst Troeltsch, “Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology (1898),” trans. E. Fischoff, rev. W. Bense in Religion in History-Ernst Troeltsch: Essays, trans. J. L. Adams and W. F. Bense (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991).
14. Edgar Krentz states, “Contemporary historians use Troeltsch’s three principles, but with significant modifications” (The Historical-Critical Method, 56). However, it does not seem necessary to qualify the modifications of Troeltsch’s principles by practicing historical-critical scholars with the adjective “significant,” for (in my opinion, at any rate) they are generally more severe in critically evaluating the sources with which they are dealing than the average historian is with his.
15. For two very helpful discussions of Troeltsch’s principles, see Alvin Plantinga’s discussion of “Troeltschian HBC” in “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 31-35, as well as Gregory Dawes discussion in “‘A Certain Similarity to the Devil’: Historical Criticism and Christian Faith,” in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture, 358-70. Although Plantinga and Dawes reach different conclusions about if and how Troeltsch’s principles can be legitimately employed, both discussions are well worth reading.
16. Stuhlmacher, Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture, 45.
17. Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 33.
18. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 440.
19. Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth, edited by Hans Werner Bartsch (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 5.
20. Langdon Gilkey, “Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language,” reprinted in Owen C. Thomas, ed., God’s Activity in the World: the Contemporary Problem (Chico, CA: Scholar’s Press, 1983), 31; cited in Alvin Plantinga, “Two (or More) Kinds of Scripture Scholarship,” in “Behind” the Text, 34.
21. Kevin Vanhoozer defines “theological interpretation” as “the process of keeping the canonical practices alive and well in the believing community.” A bit later he describes a “canonical practice” as “divinely authorized use of language and literature, which, when learned, presents and forms Christ.” As examples of “canonical practice,” he discusses, first, the typological, or Christological, interpretation of the Old Testament in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ and, second, prayer. He concludes his discussion by noting, “Christians learn to speak about, to think about, and to live for God by indwelling the diverse canonical practices that comprise the Scriptures. By participating in such practices-interpreting figurally, praying to the Father, and the like-Christians grow in faith toward understanding.” This, it seems to me, is a helpful way of fleshing out, in greater detail, all that is involved in the concept and practice of the “theological interpretation” of Scripture. See Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 219-226. The citations in this note are from pp. 219 and 226.
22. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Introduction,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, Daniel J. Treier, and N. T. Wright (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 25.
23. Ibid., 23.
24. R. R. Reno, “A Richer Bible,” First Things (August/September, 2010), 44.
25. I adopt this language from Thomas Oden who, in his book on Classic Christianity, states as his intention the setting forth of the “classic consensual ecumenical teaching” of the church throughout history. See Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), xiii.
26. See, for example, Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993), Warrant: The Current Debate (Oxford, 1993), and Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000).
27. Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Scripture Scholarship: A Response to Robert Gordon and Craig Bartholomew,” in “Behind” the Text, 99.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


The Old Testament and Other Ancient Religious Literature

Ancient Literature

Do similarities in the Old Testament with other ancient Near Eastern literature prove that it is all the same kind of thing? Rick Wade shows why it’s not.

The Challenge

In the 1870s a scholar named George Smith revealed the discovery of both creation and flood stories in ancient Babylonian literature.{1} Bible scholars were soon claiming that the writer of Genesis was merely borrowing from Babylonian mythology. Although competent scholars have since shown that the similarities between these accounts are largely superficial, the idea remains today in certain areas of academia and pop culture that the Bible is just another work of ancient mythology.

Download the PodcastAlthough there are good reasons to see the Bible as very different from other religious literature, the problem for conservative Christians is in how similar it is to other ancient literature; it’s because there are significant affinities that scholars made that leap in the first place. On the one hand, liberal scholars and a lot of ordinary lay people take the similarities to indicate that the Old Testament isn’t any more divine than other ancient literature. On the other hand, conservatives, fearful of seeing the Bible lose its status, tend to shy away from the similarities. Most of us wouldn’t say it, but we don’t like to think there’s much overlap between the worldview of the ancient Israelites and that of their neighbors. Where we run into problems is when we assume that God revealed Himself in ways that are always satisfactory to modern people, especially with regard to scientific and historical accuracy. Neither the giving-away-the-store approach nor the approach of turning a blind eye to genuine similarities will do. We must let the Bible be what it is and determine for us how we should understand and use it.

For all the similarities, there are fundamental differences that set the Bible apart. In this article I will spend more time on the differences. Before turning to those, however, it would be good to mention a few similarities.

For one thing, there is similarity in the form that religious practice took. Temples, priests, prophets, and sacrifices were a part of the practices of other religions as they were of the Israelites’. Old Testament scholar John Oswalt notes, for example, that “the layout of the tabernacle and of the temple following it is essentially the same as the layout of contemporary Canaanite sanctuaries. Furthermore, the decoration of the temple seems to have been similar to that of Canaanite sanctuaries.”{2}

There were similarities in law as well. For example, the “eye for an eye” injunctions in Exodus 21:23-25 are similar to some found in the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. Both include punishments for striking a pregnant woman and causing her to miscarry.{3}

Even here, though, there are differences, specifically in the purposes of these two. Old Testament scholar John Walton points out that the ancient codes, or treatises as he calls them, were not rules legislated by authorities. Rather, they were collections of principles, learned over time, assembled to show the worthiness and wisdom of the king in his role of maintaining order in society.{4} “This,” Walton writes, “was the most fundamental expectation of the gods.”{5}

By contrast, the Old Testament law was an important part of the covenant between God and His people; the laws were, as Walton says, the “stipulations of the covenant.”{6}

More could be said about similarities, but we’ll turn now to the differences between the Old Testament and other literature of the ancient Near East.

The One True God

Two fundamental differences between the Old Testament and ancient myths are the biblical claims that there is only one true God and that this God is not to be worshipped by means of idols.{7}

Israel’s neighbors were polytheists or henotheists, meaning they believed there were multiple gods but they worshipped only one, or one primarily. This is why the steward of Joseph’s house could speak to Joseph’s brothers of “your God and the God of your father” (Gen. 43:23) and why Pharaoh could say to Moses and Aaron, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land” (Ex. 8:25). The Egyptians had their gods, the Hebrews had theirs. The cultural “atmosphere” of belief in many gods was as normal in that day as the modern secular mentality is in ours.

By contrast, Yahweh declared that there was only one God and it was Him. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God,” Yahweh said. “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it” (Isa. 44:6b-7a; see also 45:5,6).

Further, the true God was not to be worshipped through idols. That was a new idea. Idols were very important to the ancients. They were the actualized presence of deities. The idol received worship on behalf of the god. An example of that worship was providing food for the god by presenting it to the idol. John Walton says that through such expressions, “in this way the image mediated the worship from the people to the deity.”{8}

This entire understanding was declared false by Yahweh. Through Isaiah and Jeremiah God declared that idols were wood or stone, silver or gold, and nothing more (Isa. 44; Jer. 10). “Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,” God said through Jeremiah, “for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. They are worthless, a work of delusion” (Jer. 10:14-15a). Through the Psalmist, God asked rhetorically, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” (Ps. 50:12-13).

Transcendence vs. Continuity

One of the ways we distinguish the Old Testament from other literature of the ancient Near East is to note the difference between actual history and myth. The stories of the gods in other literature we call mythological. The word myth is often used today to mean false, but it has a much richer meaning than that.

In his book The Bible Among the Myths, John Oswalt gives several definitions of myth which have to do with such things as the definition of the word and sociological and theological factors and more.{9} A central feature of all of them is what Oswalt calls “continuity.” By continuity he means an actual metaphysical connection between all things. A simple illustration of this principle is the claim, “I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually. The tree is me; I am the tree.”{10} In the ancient world, this continuity included the gods. The differences between nature and the gods were more of degree than of kind.

This connection is more than a matter of mere resemblance. Because the pagan gods were understood to be continuous with nature, what happened in nature was thought to be a direct result of the activities of the gods. If the crops didn’t grow or the animals didn’t reproduce, it must have had something to do with the gods. Moving in the other direction, people hoped to manipulate the gods by engaging in some ritualistic act on the level of nature. So, by retelling and acting out the mythical stories of the divine, ideal world, a connection was made between humanity and the gods. It was hoped that the outcomes of the mythical accounts would apply to the natural world.{11} This direct continuity between earth and “heaven” sheds light on such things as temple prostitution and fertility rituals. Through re-enactments of the mythological origins of the world, which involved the sexual activities of the gods, people hoped they could inspire the gods to make their crops grow and their animals fertile.

By contrast, the God of the Old Testament is not continuous with the created world. Yahweh is transcendent, above and separated in His very nature from the created order. This distinction marks a fundamental difference between the teachings of the Old Testament and those of the ancient myths.

This has several very important implications. I’ll run through a few.

Being transcendent meant God could not be manipulated through rituals the way pagan gods could. Fertility rituals, for example, were meaningless because they had no relation whatsoever to how God created or governed the world. The Israelites engaged in certain ritualistic acts, but they were not for the purpose of making God do what they wanted. In fact, when they became substitutes for godly living, God told them to stop doing them. We read in Isaiah chapter 1 about how abhorrent the sacrifices and the rituals of the Israelites had become to God.

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood (Isa. 1:11-17).

The pagan gods demanded the appeasement of sacrifices. Yahweh looked for a change of heart and behavior.

Here’s another difference. Because the various acts of the pagan deities recounted in myths were thought to be eternally recurring, time and space lost their significance. The acts of the gods were timeless. They couldn’t be connected to particular moments in history.{12} Thus, the mythological view reduced the significance of the historical.

By contrast, in Scripture we see the transcendent God acting in history through specific events and persons. The people of Israel were called not to re-enact but to remember particular events in history, for it was in these things that the transcendent God of the Bible revealed Himself.

The transcendence/continuity distinction helps explain why idol worship was so strongly condemned in Scripture. It was more than just a matter of worshipping the wrong God. It showed a basic misunderstanding of the nature of God. To engage in idol worship was to give in to the idea of continuity between nature and the divine. This mentality was likely behind the creation of the golden calf by Aaron when Moses was on the mountain. The people had lived in a world where gods could be seen through physical idols. It was natural for them, when wondering where Moses and Yahweh were, to find reassurance in a physical representation of deity. But it was condemned by God.

A Few More Differences

Here are three more differences between the worldview and religion prescribed in the Old Testament and that seen in other ancient Near Eastern literature.

First, the biblical worldview regards humanity highly. In the Old Testament, we read that man and woman were created in God’s image. They were the pinnacle of God’s creative work. In the pagan myths, mankind was created merely to serve the needs of the lazy and conceited gods. Humans were only good for “food and adulation,” as John Oswalt says.{13}

Second, Yahweh was concerned with people’s moral lives. Among other ancient Near Eastern peoples, Oswalt writes, religion was “about sacrifice, ritual, ritual purity, prayer, offerings, and the like.” Things like this were part of the covenant between Israel and Yahweh, but not the only things, and not even the most important, as we saw in the Isaiah 1 passage quoted earlier. Ethical obedience was and is an important part of our response to God. His people are to tell the truth, to respect other people and their possessions, to keep the marriage bed pure, etc. Similar laws can be found in some other religious codes, but for Israel they weren’t just the laws of the land; they were aspects of a relationship with God that were grounded in the character of God.{14}

Third, the people of Israel could know if they were pleasing or displeasing Yahweh and why. They knew what they were required to do and not do, and they got feedback, typically through the prophets.

By contrast, other gods didn’t seem so concerned to communicate their thoughts or motives to people. When hardships came for no apparent reason, people thought they must have offended the gods, but they couldn’t know for sure what they had done or not done. Walton writes that “the minds of the gods were not easily penetrated.”{15} By contrast, he says, “nothing in the ancient Near East compares to the extent of revelation that Yahweh gives to his people and the depth of relationship that he desires with them.”{16}

By countering the idea that the Bible is just another example of ancient literature, I have not proved that the Bible’s message is true. The point is to clear away an objection that gets in the way of understanding. It provides a space for people to give more thought to the teachings of the Bible. The Bible is then able to speak for itself.

Notes

1. Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,” Evangelical Quarterly, 46 (1974) 81-102; accessed online at www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/1974-2_081.pdf.
2. John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2009), 91-92.
3. Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005), 31-32.
4. John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 290-91.
5. Ibid., 295.
6. Ibid., 299.
7. Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 57-58.
8. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 114-115.
9. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, chaps. 3 and 4.
10. Ibid., 43.
11. Ibid., 42.
12. Ibid., 43.
13. Ibid., 70.
14. Ibid., 77.
15. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 307.
16. Ibid., 298.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


Did Adam Really Exist?

Did Adam really exist?

Were Adam and Eve really the first pair of humans? Rick Wade responds to theistic evolution and OT scholar Peter Enns’ belief the human race did not begin with Adam.

Paul and Adam

In 2011, Christianity Today reported on the growing acceptance of theistic evolution in the evangelical community and one possible implication of it. If humans did evolve along with other species, was there a real historical first couple? Did Adam and Eve really exist?

Download the PodcastIn this article I’ll address a couple of theological problems this claim raises and a question of interpretation. I’ll look at the views of evangelical Old Testament scholar Peter Enns who denies a historical Adam; not, however, to single him out as a target, but rather because he raises the important issues in his writings.

Enns denies a historical Adam for two main reasons. One is that, as far as he is concerned, the matter of evolution is settled. There was no first human couple.{1} The other is his belief that Genesis 1 describes the origins of the world in the mythological framework of the ancient Near East, and thus isn’t historical, and that Genesis 2 describes the origins of Israel, not human origins.{2} So Genesis doesn’t intend to teach a historical Adam and Eve, and evolutionary science has proved that they couldn’t have existed.

Let’s begin with the question of how sin entered the world if there were no Adam.

In Romans chapter 5, the apostle Paul says sin, condemnation, and death came through the act of a man, Adam. This is contrasted with the act of another man, Jesus, which brought grace and righteousness.

However, if there were no historical Adam, where did sin come from? Enns says the Bible doesn’t tell us.{3} The Old Testament gives no indication, he says, “that Adam’s disobedience is the cause of universal sin, death, and condemnation, as Paul seems to argue.”{4} Paul was a man of his time who drew from a common understanding of human beginnings to explain the universality of sin. Enns acknowledges universal sin and the need for a Savior.{5} He just doesn’t know how this situation came about. The fact that Adam didn’t exist, Enns believes, does nothing to take away from Paul’s main point, namely, that salvation comes only through Christ for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. Is this true?

Paul and Adam: A Response

There are a few problems with this interpretation. First, there is a logical problem. Theologian Richard Gaffin points out that, in Rom. 5:12, 17, and 18, a connection is made between the “one man” through whom sin came and the “all” to whom it was spread. If sin really didn’t come in through the “one”—Adam—and spread to the “all”—you and me—how do we take seriously Paul’s further declaration that “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all”?

Second, there is a piling on of error in Paul’s claim. One of Enns’ foundational beliefs is that God used human understanding to convey His truths in Scripture. God spoke through the myths of the ancient world when He inspired the writing of Genesis.{6} If Enns is correct, one would expect that God was using the Genesis myth to reveal something true in Paul’s claim about Adam. In other words, the Old Testament story would be opened up so a truth would be revealed. However, Paul’s first point, that sin came through Adam to the race (Rom. 5:12), is in fact false, according to Enns. The following truth, about righteousness coming through Christ, is beside the point here. Paul’s assertion about Adam isn’t simply a historical one; it is a doctrinal one, too. The traditional teaching of the church regarding the source of sin, death, and condemnation is therefore false. Paul delivered a false teaching based upon a non-historical myth. He should have left Adam out of his discussion. It does nothing to buttress his claim about Christ.

Enns says that this matter of the origin of sin is “a vital issue to work through, . . . one of the more pressing and inevitable philosophical and theological issues before us.”{7} One has to wonder, though: if Paul didn’t have the answer, and he was taught by Christ directly, and if the rest of Scripture is silent about such an important matter, can we really think we can ferret out the solution ourselves?

Paul’s Use of the Old Testament

The use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is of great significance in this matter. How does Paul get the point he made out of Genesis if it isn’t true?

Peter Enns believes the problem is related to the way Paul interpreted and used the Old Testament. Paul lived in an era which is now called Second Temple Judaism. Writers in this era, Enns says, “were not motivated to reproduce the intention of the original human author” in the text under consideration.{8} Thus, we see Old Testament texts used in seemingly strange ways in the New Testament, strange if what we expect is a direct reproduction or a further development or deeper explanation of the Old Testament writer’s original intent. Texts could be taken completely out of context or words could be changed to make the text say something the New Testament writer wanted to say. In this way, Enns believes, Paul used the Old Testament creatively to explain the universality of sin and of the cross work of Christ.

Some scholars speak of “christocentric” interpretation of the Old Testament. Enns prefers the term “christotelic” which refers to the idea that Christ is the completion of the Old Testament or the end toward which the Old Testament story was headed. Regarding Adam, Enns writes, “Paul’s Adam is a vehicle by which he articulates the gospel message, but his Adam is still the product of a creative handling of the story.”{9} Paul presents Adam as a historical person, and then makes the further creative claim that Adam’s sin is the reason we all sin. Neither of these are true, but this does no harm to the most important part of the text where Paul claims that salvation for all people came through Christ.

None of this should be problematic for us, in Enns’ opinion, for he believes this view of the Bible is similar to our view of the Incarnation of Christ. In Jesus there are both humanity and divinity. Likewise, the Bible is a coming together of the divine and the human. God used the methods of Paul’s day to convey the gospel message.

Paul’s Use of Old Testament: A Response

How can we respond to this view of Paul’s use of the Adam story?

Enns believes “that the NT authors [subsumed] the OT under the authority of the crucified and risen Christ.”{10} However, Jesus never referred to the Old Testament in a way that showed the Old Testament incorrect as it stood. Even His “but I say to you” in the Sermon on the Mount appears to be more a matter of teaching the depths of the laws than a correction of the Old Testament text. He upheld the authority of the Old Testament such as when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17).”{11}

Bruce Waltke is an evangelical Old Testament scholar who accepts theistic evolution but who disagrees with Enns on this matter. He wonders why Jesus rebuked the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27) for not understanding the plain language of Scripture if the plain historical sense isn’t sufficient.{12} He argues that Enns’ method of interpretation can’t be supported by Scripture.

Paul said the gospel he preached was “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4) by which he meant the Old Testament.{13} Elsewhere he said that the Old Testament Scriptures are “profitable for teaching” in 2 Tim. 3:16-17.{14}

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham disagrees with the belief that Paul followed the interpretive methods of his day. The apostles weren’t guilty of reading into the Old Testament ideas held independently of it. He says, “They brought the Old Testament text into relationship with the history of Jesus in a process of mutual interpretation from which some of their profoundest theological insights sprang.”{15}

In fact, it was the apostles’ high esteem for the Old Testament that forced them to come to grips with the Trinitarian nature of God given the claims of Jesus.{16}

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s always easy to understand how the apostles used the Old Testament. However, what the apostles taught was understood to be in continuity with what they had received before, not as a correction of it.

The Matter of Inspiration

It is inevitable that a discussion of the denial of the historical Adam will turn to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. Old Testament scholar Peter Enns believes that Paul’s incorrect use of Adam “has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the gospel.”{17} That’s true, but it has a lot to do with how we understand inspiration and its bearing on Paul’s writings.

The apostle Paul said that “all Scripture is inspired” or “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter explains further that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. . . . but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).

Paul, who claimed in 1 Thess. 2 that his teachings were the word of God (v. 13), intended to explain how sin and condemnation came into the world in Romans 5. Elsewhere, Peter spoke of Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16). If Paul’s explanation of this “vital issue,” in Enns’ words, was wrong, was it, then, of Paul’s own interpretation? Either it came from the Holy Spirit and was inspired Scripture, or it was merely Paul’s interpretation and was not. Which is it?

Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke writes this: “A theory that entails notions that holy Scripture contains flat out contradictions, ludicrous harmonization, earlier revelations that are misleading and/or less than truthful, and doctrines that are represented as based on historical fact, but in fact are based on fabricated history, in my judgment, is inconsistent with the doctrine that God inspired every word of holy Scripture.”{18}

It might be objected here that I am confusing inspiration with interpretation. These are different things. However, if it is understood that all of Scripture comes from God who cannot lie, then we have to let that set limits on how we interpret Scripture. Interpretations that include false doctrines cannot be correct.

It seems to me that Enns has put himself into a difficult position. His conviction of the truth of human evolution isn’t his only reason for denying the historical Adam, but it puts the traditional understanding of Adam and his place in Paul’s theology out of bounds for him. It would be better to hold to what the church has taught for centuries rather than to the tentative conclusions of modern scientists.

Notes

1. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), ix, xiv, 122-23.
2. Ibid., 52.
3. Ibid., 124-26.
4. Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapid: Baker, 2005), 82.
5. Enns, Evolution of Adam, 91. See also 124-25.
6. See for example Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 55-56.
7. Enns, Evolution of Adam, 126.
8. Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, 131.
9. Enns, The Evolution of Adam, 102.
10. Peter Enns, “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal: A Christotelic Approach to the New Testament Use of the Old
in Its First-Century Interpretive Environment,” in Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed.
Stanley N. Gundry et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) 208; quoted in Don Collett, “Trinitarian Hermeneutics and the Unity of Scripture,” p. 10, n.26; accessed on the web site of Trinity School for Ministry, bit.ly/1iBGLYT.
11. See Collett, “Trinitarian Hermeneutics and the Unity of Scripture,” 10-11.
12. Bruce K. Waltke, “Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation,” Westminster Theological Journal 71 (2009), 90.
13. See Collett, “Trinitarian Hermeneutics and the Unity of Scripture,” 11; referencing Christopher Seitz, “Creed, Scripture, and ‘Historical Jesus’: ‘in accordance with the Scriptures,’” in The Rule of Faith: Scripture, Canon, and Creed in a Critical Age, ed. Ephraim Radner & George Sumner (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1998), 126-35.
14. Christopher Seitz, “Canon, Narrative, and the Old Testament’s Literal Sense,” Tyndale Bulletin 59.1 (2008), 31-32.
15. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 33.
16. See Collett, “Trinitarian Hermeneutics,” 11-12. Cf. Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 54.
17. Enns, The Evolution of Adam, 102.
18. Waltke, “Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation,” 95.

©2014 Probe Ministries


The Bible: Intentionally Misunderstood (Radio Transcript)

Steve Cable examines the faulty reasoning and interpretation of the Bible in Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”

Dissecting the Bible by Focusing on Nits

Recently, New Testament scholar, Dr. Daniel Wallace, addressing our strong confidence in our modern translations, mentioned others presenting a false view of this situation. One example, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin by Kurt Eichenwald{1}, appeared in Newsweek. This article presents arguments intended to undermine the New Testament. Let’s evaluate some of these arguments to be better equipped in sharing the truth.{2}

download-podcastEichenwald begins by parroting negative stereotypes about American evangelicals. Adding rigor to his rant, he states, “A Pew Research poll in 2010{2} found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings.”{4}

He referred to a table showing the average number of questions out of twelve answered correctly. However, only two of the twelve related to the New Testament and none to Jesus’s teachings.{5} Two questions are not enough to evaluate someone’s knowledge of the New Testament, But, for the record, the two questions were “Name the four gospels” and “Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?” 53% of those professing to be born again answered these correctly versus 20% of atheists. Apparently to Eichenwald, a “smidgen higher” must mean almost three times as many.

Eichenwald spends two pages bemoaning the translation problems in the New Testament. But as pointed out by Dr. Wallace and others, his critique really serves to highlight the excellence of today’s translations. The areas he points out as having questionable additions in the text are clearly marked in all of today’s popular translations{6} and if removed make no difference in the overall message of the New Testament (i.e. the woman caught in adultery in John and snake handling in Mark).

He also lists three short passages, claiming they did not appear in earlier Greek copies. Upon examination, we find that one of those passages does not appear in modern translations. The other two do appear in the translations. Why? Because they appear in numerous early Greek manuscripts.{7} Once again his scholarship is found wanting.

All scholars agree there are variations between ancient manuscripts from different areas but they do not change the message. As Wallace points out, “We are getting closer and closer to the text of the original. . . . The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world. If we have to be skeptical . . . , that skepticism . . . should be multiplied one thousand times for other
Greco-Roman literature.”{8}

Supposed Biblical Contradictions

Eichenwald continues attacking the Bible with nine different topics he claims reveal contradictions in the biblical record.  Let’s examine three of them to see if his arguments have substance.

First, he claims there are three different creation models, stating that “careful readers have long known that the two stories of Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other.”{9}

However, a clear-headed examination sees chapter 1 describing the overall creation while chapter 2 talks about the creation of Adam and Eve. As commentators explain, “what follows Genesis 2:4 is not another account of creation but a tracing of events from creation through the fall and judgment.”{10}

In his third creation model “the world is created in the aftermath of a great battle between God and . . . a dragon . . . called Rahab.”{11}

Reading the relevant verses shows no creation story but rather the creature Rahab representing Egypt. Job 9:13 says “under (God) the helpers of Rahab lie crushed.” Some speculate this could relate to the Babylonian Creation Epic. Even if this speculation were true, rather than a third creation story one would say this reference tells us God destroys all idols raised up by others.

Eichenwald’s claim of three different creation models is an illusion.

His second claim states the Gospel of John was written “when gentiles in Rome were gaining dramatically more influence over Christianity; that explains why the Romans are largely absolved from responsibility for Jesus’s death and blame instead is pointed toward the Jews,”{12} implying the other gospels put much of the blame on the Romans.

Examining his claim, in Luke we read, “The chief priests . . . were trying to find some way to execute Jesus.” While
the Roman governor did not find Jesus guilty of anything worthy of death.{13} In Acts, Peter squarely places the responsibility onto the Jewish leaders and nation.{14} We find similar verses in Matthew{15} and Mark{16}. All the gospels place the blame on the Jewish nation. There is no shift in perspective in John.

In a third supposed contradiction Eichenwald writes, “As told in Matthew, the disciples go to Galilee after the Crucifixion and see Jesus ascend to heaven; in Acts, written by Luke, the disciples stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus ascend from there.”{17}

The gospel of Matthew ends saying nothing about Jesus ascending to heaven. In Acts, Luke says the Lord was with His disciples over a forty-day period and could have easily traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee and back.

Not surprisingly, his other six so-called “contradictions” all fail to hold up when one examines the Scriptures.

Faulty Interpretation Part 1

Eichenwald wants to show that what we think the Bible teaches about homosexuality is not what God intended. He begins by pointing out “the word homosexual didn’t even exist until . . . 1,800 years after the New Testament was written . . . these modern Bibles just made it up.”{18}

But this could be said of many English words used today. A respected dictionary of New Testament words{19} defines the Greek word he questions as “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite. . .

He then tells us not to trust 1 Timothy when it lists homosexuality as a sin because “Most biblical scholars agree that Paul did not write 1 Timothy.”{20}

The early church fathers from the second century on and many contemporary scholars{21} do not agree it is a forgery.{22} Regardless, the same prohibition appears in other epistles and not just in Timothy.

Eichenwald points out Romans, Corinthians and Timothy discuss other sins in more detail than homosexual behavior. He writes, “So yes, there is one verse in Romans about homosexuality . . . and there are eight verses
condemning those who criticize the government.”

Most people understand that explaining our relationship to the government is more complex than forbidding homosexuality which is clearly understood.

He claims people are not banished for other sins such as adultery, greed, and lying.

But if you proclaimed you practice those actions regularly and teach them as truth, your church is going to remove you from any leadership position. They should still encourage you to attend worship services out of a desire to see God change your heart.{23} Mr. Eichenwald would be surprised to learn that most evangelical churches handle issues with homosexuality in the same way.

Then he declares, “plenty of fundamentalist Christians who have no idea where references to homosexuality are in the New Testament . . . always fall back on Leviticus.”{24}

Personally, I have never run into another church member who was unfamiliar with the New Testament, but knew the details of Leviticus.

In summary, Eichenwald believes we should declare homosexuality is not a sin and those who practice it should be honored as leaders within the church. He does not suggest that we treat any other sins that way. He does not
present a cogent argument that the New Testament agrees with his position. He is saying that we should ignore biblical teaching. But, we really do love those struggling with homosexual behavior and we want to help them gain freedom from those lusts just as much as someone struggling with opposite sex issues.

Faulty Interpretation Part 2

To strengthen his position on homosexuality, Eichenwald calls out “a fundamental conflict in the New Testament – arguably the most important one in the Bible.”{25} As Christians, are we to obey the Mosaic Law or ignore it?

He claims, “The author of Matthew made it clear that Christians must keep Mosaic Law like the most religious Jews, . . . to achieve salvation.”{26} He says this is contrary to Paul’s message of salvation through grace not works.

What a mistaken understanding. In Matthew, Jesus explains that to enter God’s kingdom “our righteousness must surpass that of (the most religious Jews){27}.” We must not get angry, call people names, or lust even once. In fact, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”{28} Jesus clearly taught we cannot be good enough. Only through His sacrifice can we be made righteous.

In Acts 15, some believers with Pharisaical backgrounds brought the Mosaic Law up to the apostles. Peter told them, “Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? . . . we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as (the Gentiles) also are.”{29} The apostles and the whole church agreed to send the Gentiles word that they were not required to
follow the Law.

Eichenwald is right: we are not required to follow the Law. The New Testament is very careful to identify actions and attitudes which are sin so may try to avoid them. This truth is why sexual sins are specifically mentioned in the New Testament.{30} Even in Acts 15, the apostles tell Gentile Christians to abstain from fornication{31}, a term covering all sexual activity outside of marriage.

Eichenwald also castigates us for disobeying the biblical teaching about government. He says Romans has “eight verses condemning those who criticize the government.”{32} Pat Robertson sinned by stating, “We need . . . to pray to be delivered from this president.”

Actually, Romans says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. . . . the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God.”{33} We are not required to say good things about the government, but rather to obey the law. Our Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”{34} So, if we do not voice our opinions about our government, we are not availing ourselves of the law established by our governing authorities.

Faulty Interpretation Part 3

As we examine popular arguments against the Bible, we will conclude by looking at prayer. In his Newsweek article, Kurt Eichenwald castigates a Houston prayer rally{35} saying, “(Rick) Perry . . . boomed out a long prayer asking God to make America a better place . . . babbling on . . .  about faith and country and the blessings of America.” He claimed Perry “heaped up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.”

In reality, Perry prayed succinctly for about two minutes with no empty phrases.

Eichenwald explains, Perry is just an example of our error. Most Christians are disobeying by praying in front of people. Jesus told us, “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray . . . so that they may be seen by others.”

But someone can speak a prayer before others without being a hypocrite. Jesus does tell us to make our prayers a personal conversation with our God. But Jesus prayed often before synagogue attenders, in front of His disciples,{36} and before over 5,000 people.{37} Those times, although numerous, were less than the time He spent praying alone as should be true for us.

Eichenwald states we should repeat the Lord’s prayer verbatim.

But in Matthew, Jesus gave an example of how to pray, not a set of words to repeat meaninglessly. The New Testament contains many prayers offered by the apostles and none repeat the words from the Lord’s prayer. If Eichenwald were there to instruct them, the apostles would not have sinned so grievously.

Eichenwald claims the only reason anyone could pray in front of a large crowd, or on television, is “to be seen.” This claim does not make sense; the people he is judging can build themselves up without having to resort to prayer.

In this article we have seen that critics use an incomplete, shallow examination of Scripture to claim it is not accurate and our application is faulty. In every case, we have seen that these claims leak like a sieve.

Dan Wallace concludes, “But his numerous factual errors and misleading statements, his lack of concern for any semblance of objectivity, his apparent disdain for . . . genuine evangelical scholarship, and his uber-confidence about more than a few suspect viewpoints, make me wonder. . . . Eichenwald’s . . . grasp of genuine biblical scholarship (is), at best, subpar.”{38}

If Eichenwald’s article represents the best arguments discrediting the Bible, one rejoices in our firm foundation.
However, realizing many readers of such pieces don’t know their flimsy nature, one is saddened by the potential impact on a society inclined to ignore the Bible.

Notes

1. Eichenwald, Kurt, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek Magazine, December 2014.
2. There are numerous web postings placed after release of Eichenwald’s article. Two you may find interesting that deal with areas of the article not addressed herein are as follows: Daniel B. Wallace, “Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible,” blogpost December 2014; and Darrell Bock, “Darrell Bock Responds to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek Article on the Bible,” blogpost December 2014.
3. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, September 2010, pages 17-23.
4. Eichenwald, paragraph 4.
5. The 12 questions are as follows:

  1. What is the first book of the Bible? (Open-ended)
  2. What are the names of the first four books of the New Testament, that is, the four Gospels?
  3. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born? Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth or Jericho?
  4. Which of these is NOT in the Ten Commandments? Do unto others . . ., no adultery, no stealing, keep Sabbath?
  5. Which figure is associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering? Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham?
  6. Which figure is associated with leading the exodus from Egypt? Moses, Job, Elijah or Abraham?
  7. Which figure is associated with willingness to sacrifice his son for God? Abraham, Job, Moses or Elijah?
  8. What is Catholic teaching about bread and wine in Communion? They become body and blood, or are symbols?
  9. Which group traditionally teaches that salvation is through faith alone? Protestants, Catholics, both or neither?
  10. Was Mother Teresa Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon?
  11. What is the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Reformation? Luther, Aquinas or Wesley?
  12. Who was a preacher during the First Great Awakening? Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney or Billy Graham?

6. Check your footnotes and the italics applied to the story of the woman caught in adultery and the last few verses of the Gospel of Mark.
7. Insert summary on 1 John 5:7, Luke 22:20, and Luke 24:51.
8. Wallace.
9. Ibid, paragraph .
10. New English Translation, Genesis 59 Chapter 2, Notes 9 and 11.
11. Ibid, paragraph 66.
12. Eichenwald, paragraph 51.
13. See Luke 23:4,14,22.
14. See Acts 2:23,23,3:14-15,4:10,5:30.
15. Matthew 26:4,27:23-24.
16. Mark 14:1, 15:14-15.
17. Eichenwald, paragraph 52.
18. Ibid, paragraph 68.
19. William Mounce, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Zondervan, 2006.
20. Eichenwald, paragraph 70.
21. Among those disagreeing with Eichenwald’s assertion are Daniel Wallace, John MacArthur, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, and Craig Keener.
22. In Daniel Wallace, Intro to 1st Timothy, Dr. Wallace writes, “In sum, although the evidence against the authenticity of the pastorals is as strong as any evidence against the authenticity of any NT book, it still cannot overthrow the traditional view. The traditional view, however, must be modified by the substantial linguistic evidence against authenticity: an amanuensis (possibly Luke) had great freedom in writing these letters for the apostle Paul.”
23. See the Watermark Community Church story: www.watermark.org/statement.
24. Eichenwald, paragraph 80.
25. Eichenwald, paragraph 81.
26. Eichenwald, paragraph 82.
27. Matthew 5:20.
28. Matthew 5:48.
29. Acts 15:10-11.
30. For example in Mt 5:xx, Luke x;xx, John x:xx, Romans x:xx, Ephesians x:xx, Phil x:xx, 1 Peter x:xx, 1 John x:xx.
31. Acts 15:20,29.
32. Eichenwald, paragraph 77.
33. Romans 13:1,2.
34. Amendment 1 to the Constitution of the United States of America.
35. Houston 2011.
36. John chapter 17.
37. Luke chapter 9.
38. Wallace, paragraph ??.

©2017 Probe Ministries


The Bible: Intentionally Misunderstood

Bible

Dissecting the Bible by Focusing on Nits

Recently, New Testament scholar and expert on ancient New Testament documents, Dr. Daniel Wallace, spoke on the work being done to ensure we have the most accurate version of the Greek New Testament. He also mentioned several documents presenting a false view of this level of accuracy. One of these documents, The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin by Kurt Eichenwald, appeared in Newsweek in December 2014.{1} His article presents arguments intended to undermine the New Testament. Let’s evaluate some of these arguments to be better equipped in sharing the truth.

The article contains at least 125 errors and/or half-truths in 14 pages. Of course, I am not the first to respond to this article. Dr. Wallace and Dr. Darrel Bock both wrote responses shortly after the document was published addressing specific areas of interest to them. I commend their posts to you as excellent resources.{2}. I will address some areas that are not addressed or only partially addressed by these seminary professors.

Using Survey Data Without Understanding It

Eichenwald begins his article by parroting the negative stereotypes put forth by those who cannot be bothered with trying to understand the vast majority of evangelicals. Attempting to add some rigor to his rant, he refers to two surveys on religious beliefs. Unfortunately for Eichenwald, rather than adding rigor, his comments showed that he did not take the time to examine the survey results he was spouting.

He first states, “[Evangelicals’] lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010{3} found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings.”{4} He referred to a table showing the average number of questions out of twelve that each faith group answered correctly. However, only two of the twelve questions had anything to do with the New Testament and none of them related to Jesus’s teachings. The remaining questions were divided equally between the Old Testament and on latter day religious figures/beliefs. {5} Two questions are not enough to evaluate someone’s knowledge of the New Testament. But, for the record, the questions were “Name the four gospels” and “Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?” Fifty three percent of those
professing to be born again answered these correctly versus twenty percent of atheists. Apparently to Eichenwald, a “smidgen higher” must mean almost three times as many. Perhaps, Newsweek cannot afford a fact checker?

The second poll he referenced was a 2012 effort by the Barna Group{6}. He said, “[It found] that evangelicals accepted the attitudes and beliefs of the Pharisees . . . more than they accepted the teachings of Jesus.” The study actually showed that 63% of evangelicals accepted the attitudes and actions of Jesus at least as much, if not more, than the attitudes and actions the Barna Group associated with the Pharisees.

Accuracy of English Translations Not Effectively Addressed

Eichenwald spends two pages bemoaning the translation problems in the New Testament. But as pointed out by Wallace and Bock, his critique really serves to highlight the excellence of today’s translations. The areas he points out as having questionable additions in the text are clearly marked in all of today’s popular translations and if removed make no difference in the overall message of the New Testament (i.e. the woman caught in adultery in John and snake handling at the end of Mark).

He goes on to say, “The same is true for other critical portions of the Bible, such as . . .”{7} and then lists three short passages which he claims did not appear in earlier Greek copies. One passage is 1 John 5:7 which was expanded in the original King James Version but (as Eichenwald is apparently unaware of) was removed in modern translations, e.g. NASU, NET, ESV, NIV. Another passage is Luke 22:20 which does appear in almost all modern translations as well as the KJV. As Metzger{8} points out, the longer version with Luke 22:20 appears in “all Greek manuscripts except for D and in most of the ancient versions and Fathers.” So this passage does appear in most earlier Greek copies, contrary to what Eichenwald claims. He finally refers to Luke 24:51 as a passage not found in the earlier Greek versions. Once again, he is wrong. This passage appears in many older manuscripts{9} including the Bodmer Papyrii written in about 200 AD.

When Eichenwald attempts to strengthen his argument, he draws from limited sources that contain questionable data. Even if they were correct, they and all the other areas where ancient manuscripts vary do not change the message of the New Testament in any significant way. As Wallace points out, “The reality is that we are getting closer and closer to the text of the original New Testament as more and more manuscripts are being discovered and catalogued. . . . The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. If we must be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.”{10}

Supposed Biblical Contradictions

After attacking the accuracy of the New Testaments available to most American Christians, Eichenwald attacks the consistency of the biblical record to undermine our confidence in what we read and the message we take from it. He presents nine different topics where he sees obvious contradictions in the text.  We will examine four of them here, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament.

Number One: Creation

First, he claims there are three different creation models in the Bible, one in Genesis chapter 1, one in Genesis chapter 2, and “one referenced in the Books of Isaiah, Psalms and Job”{11} in which “the world is created in the aftermath of a great battle between God and . . . a dragon . . . called Rahab.”{12}

Liberal theologians claim that chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis describe different accounts. If they were describing the same events in the same way, that might be so. However, whether Exodus was written by Moses or whether it was put together later, a human author would not contradict himself on the same page. A clear-headed look at the two passages shows that chapter 1 describes the overall creation as observed from earth while chapter 2 talks about what God did on the sixth day in creating Adam and Eve. As pointed out in the NET Bible, “for what follows (verse 2:4) is not another account of creation but a tracing of events from creation through the fall and judgment (the
section extends from 2:4 through 4:26.”{13}

Eichenwald adds in the so-called third creation story of God and Rahab stating, “In fact, the Bible has three creation models”{14} as if this were a clear and well-known fact. If you read all the verses in Isaiah, Psalms and Job that reference Rahab, you will scratch your head and wonder how could anyone relate those few verses to a creation story. Rahab is a Hebrew word meaning “strong one and it is not necessarily a name. It is clear in Isaiah and Psalms that Rahab is a reference to Egypt, not some mythical dragon. In Job, it could be referring to the forces of chaos. He probably gets his idea from some articles that suggest that since Job 9:13 says “God does not restrain His anger; under Him the helpers of Rahab lie crushed” that the helpers of Rahab could refer to the helpers of Tiamat from the Babylonian Creation Epic. Even if this were true, rather than a third creation story one would say this verse tells us

  1. God destroys all idols and false gods raised up by others, and
  2. This is what Job said and Job was forced to retract what he said when he was confronted by Yahweh as seen in Job 42:1-6.

Eichenwald’s claim of three different creation models is an illusion.

Number Two: The Flood

Eichenwald reports another set of clear contradictions in the Genesis story of Noah and the flood. He points to three areas of supposed contradiction.

The first one has to do with how many animals are on the ark. In Genesis 6:19, God tells Noah that he shall “bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you.” Years later after Noah has completed the ark, God tells him in Genesis 7:2 to take seven pairs of every clean animal and two of every unclean animal. Eichenwald claims this is a contradiction that the author/editor was so incompetent as to include only five verses apart. He does not consider the option that after completing the ark, God gave Noah more complete instructions because more
clean animals would be needed to provide for the sacrifices to the Lord in Genesis 8:20. Noah did not need this detail before starting to build the ark.

The second contradiction is that the Bible has Noah and his family boarding the ark and the flood
beginning in two different sections. What Eichenwald sees as a contradiction, most readers take as a common literary technique, i.e. summarize the situation and then describe it again with more details. This was a seminal event in human history and deserved repeating.

The third contradiction according to Eichenwald is, “The water flooded the earth for 40 days (Genesis 7:17), or 150 days (Genesis 7:24). But Noah and his family stayed on the ark for a year (Genesis 8:13).”  Upon reading the account, it is clear that Noah was on the ark for 12 months and 11 days during which it rained for forty days, the earth was totally inundated for 150 days as the waters slowly receded, but Noah waited to leave the ark until the land had become dry. You may choose not to believe in a universal flood, but to say the Bible has contractions in its description is ludicrous.

Number Three: The Trial and Crucifixion

In this claim, he states that John was written “at a time when gentiles in Rome were gaining dramatically more influence over Christianity; that explains why the Romans are largely absolved from responsibility for Jesus’s death and blame instead is pointed toward the Jews.”{15} Thus, he implies that the other gospels put much of the blame on the Romans. Let us see if this is true.

Luke is very clear that the instigators of the death of Jesus were the Jewish leaders and those who followed them. In Luke 22:2 we read, “The chief priests and the experts in the law were trying to find some way to execute Jesus.” When Pilate is brought in to the process, Luke records that Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of anything worthy of death and stated so three different times{16}. At least five times in the book of Acts, Luke records Paul as squarely placing the responsibility for Jesus’ death onto the Jewish leaders and nation.{17} We find similar verses in Matthew{18} and Mark.{19}

All of the gospels squarely place the blame on the Jewish leaders and those that followed them. Either Eichenwald has never read the gospels and just assumed the other gospels blamed the Romans, or he assumes his readers have never read the gospels.

Number Four: Ascension of Jesus

The fourth supposed contradiction deals with the ascension of Jesus. Eichenwald writes, “As told in Matthew, the disciples go to Galilee after the Crucifixion and see Jesus ascend to heaven; in Acts, written by Luke, the disciples stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus ascend from there.”{20}

As most of you know, the gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus meeting his disciples in Galilee and giving them the Great Commission. Matthew says nothing about Jesus ascending to heaven in Galilee or anywhere else. Because the Gospel of Luke does not discuss the time intervals, one might interpret it as saying that Jesus ascended into heaven on the day He was resurrected. But in Acts, Luke tells us that the resurrected Lord was with His disciples over a 40-day period. During which time, it would have been easy to travel to Galilee, as recorded in Matthew and John, and then travel back to Jerusalem.

Not surprisingly, his other five so-called “contradictions” all fail to hold up when one examines the Scriptures.

Faulty Interpretation of Scripture Passages Passages on Homosexuality

Eichenwald wants to convince us that what we think the Bible teaches about homosexuality is not what God intended.

He begins by pointing out, “The word homosexual didn’t even exist until more than 1,800 years after the New Testament was written. . . . The editors of these modern Bibles just made it up.”{21} But this could be said of many English words we use today. The ancient Greek word used in the text is a compound word clearly meaning male-with-male sexual activity. A respected dictionary of New Testament words defines it this way, “a male engaging in same-gender sexual activity, a sodomite.”{22}

He then tells us, “Most biblical scholars agree that Paul did not write 1 Timothy”{23} and, presumably, should not be trusted when addressing behaviors we should avoid, such as homosexuality. The early church fathers from the second century on and many contemporary scholars{24} do not agree it is a forgery. Regardless, the same prohibition appears in other epistles and not just in Timothy.

Eichenwald points out Romans, Corinthians and Timothy discuss other sins in more detail than homosexual behavior. He writes, “So yes, there is one verse in Romans about homosexuality . . . and there are eight verses condemning those who criticize the government.”{25}

Most people understand that explaining our relationship to the government is more complex than forbidding homosexuality which is clearly understood. Romans talks about not resisting government authority. It says nothing about criticizing people in the government. In fact, that expression is protected by the laws of our land. In other words, to obey those laws you should feel free to criticize the government.

He then claims that people engage in other sins such as adultery, greed, drunkenness and lying and are not banished for those behaviors. But if you proclaimed you practice those actions regularly and teach them as truth, your church is going to remove you from any leadership position. They should still encourage you to attend worship services out of a desire to see God change your heart.{26} Mr. Eichenwald would be surprised to learn that most evangelical churches handle issues with homosexuality in the same way.

Then he declares, “Plenty of fundamentalist Christians who have no idea where references to homosexuality are in the New Testament . . . always fall back on Leviticus.”{27} Personally, I have never run into another church member who was unfamiliar with the New Testament, but knew “by memory” the details of Leviticus.

Christianity and the Law

Eichenwald claims homosexuality is not a sin or if it is, it is the same as all the other sins that he believes we ignore so that we can throw all our venom at homosexuals. To strengthen his position, he brings out “a fundamental conflict in the New Testament—arguably the most important one in the Bible.”{28} This conflict is whether as Christians we are to obey the Mosaic Law or whether we are to ignore it.

He claims, “The author of Matthew made it clear that Christians must keep Mosaic Law like the most religious Jews, in order to achieve salvation.”{29}

Wow, what a mistaken understanding of the message. In Matthew, Jesus explains if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven “our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees (the most religious Jews).”{30} We must not get angry, call people names, or lust after others in our minds. He caps it off by saying, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”{31} He is clearly not teaching them to be like Orthodox Jews and they will be okay. He is teaching they cannot be good enough. It is only through Hissacrifice that we can be made righteous.

In Acts 15, we see that some believers who were Pharisees by background brought this question up to the apostles and elders. Peter responded by telling them, “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our father nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (the Gentiles) also are.”{32} And the apostles, the elders, and the whole church agreed to send directions to the Gentiles that they were not required to follow the Mosaic Law.

So as Gentiles, we are not required to follow the Law of Moses as laid out in Leviticus. But the New Testament is very careful to identify those actions and attitudes which are sin so that we Gentiles know to avoid them. Which is why sexual sins are specifically mentioned in the New Testament.{33} Even in Acts 15 where the church is Jerusalem is deciding what to tell Gentile Christians about the Law, they decide to tell them to abstain from fornication, a term generally covering all sexual activity outside of marriage.{34}

In summary, Eichenwald believes we should declare homosexuality is not a sin and those who practice it should be honored as leaders within the church. He does not suggest that we treat any other sins that way. He does not present a cogent argument that the New Testament agrees with his position. He is saying that we should ignore biblical teaching. But, we really do love those struggling with homosexual behavior and we want to help them gain freedom from those lusts just as much as someone struggling with opposite sex issues.

Obeying the Law vs. Criticizing the Government

Eichenwald also castigates us for disobeying the New Testament teaching about government. He says Romans has “eight verses condemning those who criticize the government. . . . In other words, all fundamentalist Christians who decry Obama have sinned as much as they believe gay people have.”{35} He points to Pat Robertson as sinning when Pat stated, “We need to do something, to pray to be delivered from this president.” Does Romans condemn those who criticize the government?

Actually, Romans says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. . . . the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God.”{36} It doesn’t say that we are required to say good things about the government, but rather that we should obey the laws of our government. Our Bill
of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”{37} So, if we do not voice our opinions about those running our government, we are in fact, not availing ourselves of the law established by our governing authorities.

Judging Our Motives for Prayer

Eichenwald casts aspersion on people of faith for gathering together to pray. He begins by castigating a prayer rally in Houston in 2011. He says, “[Then-governor Rick] Perry stepped to a podium, his face projected on a giant screen . . . and boomed out a long prayer asking God to make America a better place . . . babbling on . . .  about faith and country and the blessings of America.” He further claimed that Perry “heaped up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.”

In reality, during the daylong event, Rick Perry spoke about 12 minutes and prayed for slightly more than two minutes. In his short prayer, Perry prayed in a cogent manner, praying for among others our president and his family.

Eichenwald explains that Perry is just an example of our misguided ways. The problem is that most Christians in American are disobeying the teaching of Jesus by praying in front of people and praying words other than the Lord’s Prayer. As Jesus told us, “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray . . . so that they may be seen by others.”

Yes, Jesus is very clear that we are not to be hypocrites, but it is possible for someone to speak a prayer
in the presence of others without being a hypocrite. Jesus does tell us to make our prayers a personal conversation with our heavenly Father. But Jesus prayed often before synagogue attenders, in front of his disciples, and before over 5,000 people. But clearly those times, although numerous, were much less than the time He spent communing with His Father alone. That ratio should be true of our lives as well.

Even stranger is Eichenwald’s belief that we should only pray the Lord’s Prayer just as Jesus stated it. But, the passage in Matthew 6 tells us that Jesus was giving us a model, an example, of how to pray, not giving us a set of words to repeat in a meaningless fashion. In the gospels and the other New Testaments books, we are privy to many of the prayers offered by the apostles. None of them use the words from the Lord’s prayer. If only Eichenwald had been there to instruct them, they would not have sinned so grievously.

Eichenwald claims the only reason anyone could be praying in front of a large crowd, or on television, or
by extension in a small congregation is “to be seen.” This claim does not make sense. The people he is judging can build themselves up without having to resort to prayer.

Conclusion

In this article, we have seen that critics use an incomplete, shallow examination of Scripture to claim it is not accurate and our application is faulty. In every case, we have seen that these claims leak like a sieve.

Dan Wallace sums up Eichenwald’s arguments this way:

Time and time again the author presents his arguments as though they were facts. Any serious disagreements with his reasoning are quietly ignored as though they did not exist. The most charitable thing I can say is that Eichenwald is in need of a healthy dose of epistemic humility as well as a good research assistant who can do some fact-checking before the author embarrasses himself further in print. . .. But his numerous factual errors and misleading statements, his lack of concern for any semblance of objectivity, his apparent disdain for and lack of interaction with genuine evangelical scholarship, and his uber-confidence about more than a few suspect viewpoints, make me wonder. . . . Eichenwald’s grasp of conservative Christianity in America as well as his grasp of genuine biblical scholarship are, at best, subpar. And this article is an embarrassment to Newsweek—or should be!”{38}

If Eichenwald’s article represents the best scholarship discrediting the Bible, one rejoices in our firm foundation. On the other hand, realizing how many readers of such pieces don’t know their flimsy nature, one is saddened by the potential impact on a society inclined to ignore the Bible.

Notes

1. Eichenwald, Kurt, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek Magazine, December 2014.
2. Daniel B. Wallace, “Predictable Christmas Fare: Newsweek‘s Tirade against the Bible,” blogpost December 2014 and Bock, Darrell, “Darrell Bock Responds to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek Article on the Bible,” blogpost December 2014.
3. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, September 2010, pages 17-23.
4. Eichenwald, paragraph 4.
5. The 12 questions are as follows:

  1. What is the first book of the Bible? (Open-ended)
  2. What are the names of the first four books of the New Testament, that is, the four Gospels?
  3. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born? Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth or Jericho?
  4. Which of these is NOT in the Ten Commandments? Do unto others . . ., no adultery, no stealing, keep Sabbath?
  5. Which figure is associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering? Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham?
  6. Which figure is associated with leading the exodus from Egypt? Moses, Job, Elijah or Abraham?
  7. Which figure is associated with willingness to sacrifice his son for God? Abraham, Job, Moses or Elijah?
  8. What is Catholic teaching about bread and wine in Communion? They become body and blood, or are symbols?
  9. Which group traditionally teaches that salvation is through faith alone? Protestants, Catholics, both or neither?
  10. Was Mother Teresa Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon?
  11. What is the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Reformation? Luther, Aquinas or Wesley?
  12. Who was a preacher during the First Great Awakening? Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney or Billy Graham?

6. The Barna Group, Christians: More Like Jesus or Pharisees?, 2012.
7. Eichenwald, paragraph 19.
8. Metzger, Bruce, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, German Bible Society, Stuttgart, pages 148-150.
9. Ibid, pages 162-163.
10. Wallace.
11. Eichenwald, paragraph 66.
12. Ibid, paragraph 66.
13. New English Translation, Genesis Chapter 2 Notes 9 and 11.
14. Eichenwald, paragraph 66.
15. Eichenwald, paragraph 51.
16. See Luke 23:4,14,22.
17. See Acts 2:23,23,3:14-15,4:10,5:30.
18. Matthew 26:4,27:23-24.
19. Mark 14:1, 15:14-15.
20. Eichenwald, paragraph 52.
21. Ibid, paragraph 68.
22. William Mounce, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Zondervan, 2006.
23. Eichenwald, paragraph 70.
24. Among those disagreeing with Eichenwald’s assertion are Daniel Wallace, John MacArthur, Charles Swindoll, John Stott, and Craig Keener.
25. Eichenwald, paragraph 77.
26. See the Watermark Community Church story: www.watermark.org/statement
27. Eichenwald, paragraph 80.
28. Eichenwald, paragraph 81.
29. Eichenwald, paragraph 82.
30. Matthew 5:20.
31. Matthew 5:48.
32. Acts 15:10-11.
33. For example in Mt 5:27-28, Romans 13:13-14, 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Ephesians 4:19, Col 3:5, 1 Peter 4:3.
34. Acts 15:20,29.
35. Eichenwald, paragraph 77.
36. Romans 13:1,2.
37. Amendment 1 to the Constitution of the United States of America.
38. Wallace.

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