New Series: Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages

Mistake

From Christianity’s earliest days, the Scriptures have had their critics. Porphyry, a third-century neoplatonic philosopher, was particularly aggressive in his attacks on the historical veracity of the Gospels, often pointing out what he deemed to be their inconsistencies, contradictions, and historical problems.

For example, he pointed out how Mark 1:2 is not really quoting (just) Isaiah as the passage seems to indicate (frag. 9).  Instead, it is actually a composite quote of Isaiah 40:3 and Mal 3:1 (with a little Ex 23:20 thrown in). Porphyry also attacked the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, claiming they contradict one another (frag. 11).

Feeling the weight of Porphyry’s attacks, Christian thinkers began to respond.  Most notable is a (later) response by Augustine, who spends much time defending the consistency of the Gospels in his On the Harmony of the Gospels.  Elsewhere, Augustine was quite clear about why the truth and consistency of the Scripture mattered:

For it seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books. . . For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made in the way of duty, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away (Letters 28.3)

Augustine’s response paved the way for Christians in the subsequent centuries, and even in the modern day.  He showed that the historical consistency of the Scriptures really mattered.

Of course, not all agree with Augustine. In fact, Peter Enns has recently invited a number of Christian scholars to blog on his website who have come to believe that the Scriptures contain historical mistakes or errors.  The series is called “Aha Moments: Biblical Scholars Tell Their Stories” and is (largely) written by scholars whose beliefs about the Bible had changed after they realized that, at least at some points, the Scriptures were simply mistaken.

No doubt Enns’ new blog series has resonated with many folks who have qualms about the difficult passages in Scripture.  But, I think it is important for these same folks to know that there are other Christian scholars who think there are reasonable answers to some of these difficult historical issues.  These scholars have studied at major universities, have been introduced to the same critical problems, but have reached different conclusions about the truthfulness of Scripture.

Thus, I am beginning a new series here at Canon Fodder where I invite evangelical scholars to respond to some of the critical issues raised in Pete Enns’ “Aha moments” series.  Scholars who have agreed to participate include Craig Blomberg, Greg Beale, Darrell Bock, Andreas Köstenberger, and Don Carson. Other names will be added as we go along.

Of course, this series will not be able to respond to every single issue raised by Enns’ series (last I checked it is up to 15 installments!).  But, it will at least provide some other perspectives on the types of issues raised.

No doubt there are some out there who will look at this new series and dismiss it as typical naive, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, Enlightenment-driven, apologetic maneuvering.  To deny errors in the Bible, some might think, is equivalent to believing in a geocentric universe.

But, the scholars in this series are certainly not anti-intellectual fundamentalists. They are reputable scholars who have made substantial contributions to their field.  They simply disagree with the insistence that there are no reasonable solutions to these problematic passages in the Bible.  Surely there can be honest scholarly disagreement about such things without the use of pejorative labels.

Moreover, the belief that the historical veracity of the Scriptures really matters is not a new one in the history of Christianity–it is not an American invention nor simply the product of the Enlightenment (as is so often claimed).  Robert Wilken points out how such concerns predated the Enlightenment:

The central issue, as stated by Porphyry and reiterated by Augustine in his defense of the Scriptures, was whether the Gospels provided a reliable account of the history of Jesus…The question of faith and history, so much a part of modern theological discourse since the Enlightenment, was also a significant part of the debate between pagans and Christians in the ancient world (The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, 147).

Thus, this new series is simply trying to do what Christians have always done throughout the history of Christianity, namely to offer an explanation for why we believe the Bible is true in all that affirms.

As a final thought, it is my hope that those who have contributed to Enns’ series will receive this new  series on my website as it is intended, namely as a charitable and collegial engagement over these issues.  Sure, there will be disagreements–even vigorous disagreements.  But, I personally know a number of the scholars in Enns’ series and consider them friends.  I trust that such friendships can endure some healthy dialogue and difference of opinion.

Comments

New Series: Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages — 12 Comments

  1. Enns named his old blog “a time to tear down/build up,” yet it’s revealing that he spends all his time tearing down rather than building up. He never presents a constructive, positive alternative to conservative Christianity. Obviously, that’s because he doesn’t have any. He named his new blog “rethinking Christianity,” but he simply rehashes old liberal positions.

  2. Michael, I look forward to hearing what your series has to offer to the dialogue. The scholars you mention are all men that I have read and benefited from over the years. I even studied with Darrell. Even if there are disagreements–and we know there are–I hope this series will be delivered and received in the same irenic spirit as the aha posts we have generated over at Pete Enns’ blog. Looking forward to the conversation. Best, Chris Skinner

    • Thank you, Chris. I appreciate you posting a comment. Yes, my desire (as I noted in my introductory post) is that this series be done with courtesy and collegiality on both sides. As you noted, many of us know each other and consider one another friends. Best wishes, Mike.

  3. I am neither a scholar, nor the son of a scholar but I had a number of “aha” moments, as I made the transition from Mormonism back to my Evangelical faith. In the late 70s I re-entered the Christian world thinking the Bible was wrecked, but I was okay with that – “it contained the word of God” I thought, and is generally reliable on “the big idea.” As time went on and I had to confront the issue with my Mormon friends (as well as some inerrantists from Brooklyn constantly knocking at my door), I found time and time again that the Bible stood up to scrutiny. By taking on the Mormon assaults on the Bible and checking on the Watchtower/Adventist/Baha’i/Muslim citations and use of sources, I was reading all kinds of good undergrad level books on the text of the OT, the NT, Apocrypha and even the spurious / gnostic texts. As time went on, I was reading critical commentaries, as well as “issue books.” My view of the Bible, the canon as we have it in the west, was enhanced. The Bible really grew by leaps and bounds in my estimation by comparison to the sacred texts and ancient writings of other religions. The upshot is that I’ve heard/read Ehrman and a few of the “Aha” series on his site and I’m not “aha-ed” by the things that were so “eye-opening” to them. Did they, like Ehrman, feel they were burned or set up by their fundamentalist upbringing? Are they the kind of guys that, well, you know them, always need to be the contrarian or the discoverer of new things: the neo-gnostics and sophisticated among us? Were they actually surprised or shocked? I don’t think I can really put my finger on it and they are all unique individuals. But, perhaps I just find their testimonies unconvincing and the testimony of the witnesses in Scripture overwhelmingly solid, because of my perspective – having begun my quest from where they are today and without an axe to grind. I found the whole process of rediscovering the Bible to be very pleasant and eye-opening. Rather than corner me in some sort of fundamentalist, obscurantist box, it tended to open me up to all sorts of discovery and exploration. I know they are really well educated and intelligent folks, but I encountered plenty of “experts” in Mormonism, Adventism, the Baha’i Faith and Islam. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I may have encountered scholars that are their superiors, academically, in those other sects or religions.

  4. Good morning, Mr. Kruger:

    I would like to ask your permission to translate this series into Spanish and publish it at VerdadesEternas [dot] com (that would be “Eternal Truths”) in order to make it available to the Hispanic community that does not speaks English.

    If possible, as time goes on, I would like to translate other articles too.

    This is a sample article I translated from Westminster Seminary California:
    http://verdadeseternas [dot] com/wscal/no-me-quiero-unir-a-la-iglesia/
    (I Don’t Want To Join The Church)

    Thanks in advance, best regards.

    • That is fine, as long as you link back to my website and indicate that it was originally published there. Thanks. Look forward to having it published in Spanish!

      • Excellent. Thank you very much.
        I’ll keep you informed about each published article.

        By the way, your email address as provided in the “About Me” section was not working. You might want to tell some of the tech guys there to check that.

        Regards,

  5. I’m glad to announce you that the first article has been translated into Spanish and it’s available here: http://verdadeseternas.com/canon-fodder/la-biblia-nunca-se-equivoca-enfrentando-pasajes-dificiles-de-las-escrituras/

    I have tried to be careful and focus on correctness. Any change or clarification that you might consider relevant, just let me know.

    I’ll let you know when other articles of the series have been translated.

    Thanks again for allowing me to translate these important resources.

    Best regards,

    P.D. I posted this announcement here cause your email is still having problems. You can delete this comment after reading it.

  6. Michael, As you know, the

    Michael, As you know. the question of “Did God really say …?” has some pretty early origins, and the progenitor of that question has a long and enduring lineage. Until the end, that question will always need addressing, and, fortunately, God continues to raise up men, such as yourself and the others who will be contributing to your website, men whom He has equipped, to address that question faithfully and effectively. May His blessing be upon you and on your efforts in that regard.