Last week I did a live “TV” interview with Ratio Christi on the topic, “Can We Trust the New Testament?” The interview covered a wide range of topics from textual criticism to bible contradictions to the development of the NT Canon. Here it is:
One of the most common misconceptions about the New Testament canon is that the authors of these writings had no idea that they were writing Scripture-like books. I dealt with this misconception on a general level here, showing that there was a clear apostolic self-awareness amongst the New Testament authors.
While this apostolic self-awareness may be easy to show for authors like Paul, what about the gospels which, technically speaking, are formally anonymous? Do their authors exhibit awareness that they were writing something like Scripture? To explore this further, let us just consider just one of our gospels, namely the Gospel of Matthew.
The first step is to get our expectations clear. We should not expect that Matthew would say something like, “I, Matthew, am writing Scripture as I write this book.” Gospels are a very different genre than epistles, and we would not expect the authors to provide the same type of direct and explicit statements about their own authority as Paul does in his letters. Indeed, the gospel authors are decidedly behind the scenes and only rarely make appearances within the flow of the story. [Read more…]
One of the most common objections made to the absolute claims of Christianity is that Christians are arrogant. Christians are arrogant to claim that they are right; arrogant to claim others are wrong; arrogant to claim that truth can be known.
Unfortunately, in the midst of such accusations, no one bothers to ask which definition of humility is being used.
Over the years, the definition of humility has undergone a gradual but nonetheless profound change. Especially in the intellectual community. In the modern day, humility has basically become synonymous with another word: uncertainty.
To be uncertain is to be humble. To be certain is to be arrogant. Thus, the cardinal sin in the intellectual world is to claim to know anything for sure.
Of course, this shift presents a real problem for Christianity. Christians believe that God has revealed himself clearly in his Word. Thus, when it comes to key historical questions (Who was Jesus? What did he say? What did he do?) or key theological questions (Who is God? What is Heaven? How does one get there?), Christians believe they have a basis on which they can claim certainty: God’s revelation. [Read more…]
I just learned here that the well-known evangelical scholar Thomas Oden has passed away. Oden was known for starting out as a classic liberal scholar and later becoming orthodox–a rare feat in today’s world.
A number of years ago, I had the joy of meeting Tom when he came to RTS Charlotte to speak at our Harold O.J. Brown Lecture series. He was a delight. In honor of his passing, I republish below an article I did in 2015 on his book, A Change of Heart.
I think that book (and the summary below) captures the essence of his life’s story. And it has a number of things to teach evangelical scholars in the academy today. If you have a scholar in your life, and are looking for a good Christmas gift, buy them Oden’s book.
When I originally published the article (see here), I received a kind email from Tom saying how much he appreciated it. That was encouraging to me. So, I publish the article again here and hope it is encouraging to you: [Read more…]
One of the most common questions I get from people when I travel and speak is “Does the Bible have mistakes?” People are concerned about contradictions, problems, and inconsistencies.
I can’t address that issue fully in one blog post, but here is a brief video I did for the RTS “Wisdom Wednesdays” series that at least offers an overview of the issue:
For the many other excellent “Wisdom Wednesday” videos from RTS faculty, see here.
When we think about what might help the church engage with an ever-more-hostile world, the issue isn’t that we don’t have enough apologetic books (we have tons of them). The issue is that we don’t have the right kind of apologetic books.
There is a trend in apologetics today towards what I might call a “minimalistic” approach to defending the faith. Basically this is where someone tries to prove the least amount possible about Christianity in order to get the non-Christian to take one step in our direction. And this is typically done with an evidentialist methodology using the so-called consensus of modern scholars as the main authority.
There are a number of challenges to this sort of approach which I cannot take up here. But, what is needed is an apologetic approach that is more full-orbed, holistic, and worldview-oriented. Such an approach doesn’t simply try to placate the non-Christian by meeting his requirements, but it challenges the non-Christian’s worldview from the inside out.
Such an approach is embodied in James Anderson’s new book, Why Should I Believe Christianity? (Christian Focus, 2016). Anderson, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at RTS Charlotte, has written one of the most compelling cases for the truth of Christianity that I’ve ever read.
There are several features about Anderson’s new volume that are worth noting:
One of the most profound challenges for Christians as we live in an ever-more-hostile world is how to properly defend the faith against the incessant attacks against it. And these attacks have taken their toll. We have seen far too many casualties over the years as people leave the church because they had doubts or questions that were never answered.
It is precisely this issue that is behind Andy Stanley’s recent sermon, “The Bible Told Me So” (preached Aug 28, 2016). Stanley, son of well-known Atlanta pastor, Charles Stanley, is the senior pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA.
Stanley’s concern in this sermon is for those who have experienced what he calls “deconversions”—people who went to church as a child but have drifted away from the faith as they have reached adulthood. They drifted away because they went to a church that refused to answer their difficult questions and insisted that they were “just supposed to have faith.”
There is little doubt that Stanley has put his finger on a critical issue for the church today, and he should be commended for it. We need to find a compelling way to address the questions and doubts people have about their faith without ducking the hard questions.
But while Stanley has correctly diagnosed the disease, serious questions remain about whether he has offered an adequate cure. Indeed, in many ways, his suggested cure becomes problematic enough that one begins to wonder whether it just might be more troubling than the disease itself.
So what is the cure that Stanley has offered? In brief, Christians need to stop basing their faith on the Bible. [Read more…]
Here at RTS Charlotte, we are very excited about the recent arrival of Dr. Jim Newheiser, our new Associate Professor of Christian Counseling and Practical Theology, and the Director of the Counseling Program.
As many of you know, just a short time ago we launched a new Masters degree program in biblical counseling. This has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm and we believe it will meet a real need in the body of Christ.
Our program has assembled some of the finest faculty in biblical counseling today, as we have drawn upon leading figures all over the country. Visiting professors have included David Powlison, Ed Welch, Rod Mays, Heath Lambert, Deepak Reju, Todd Stryd, Tim Lane, Jeff Forrey, and others.
But, every program needs a director, and we are thrilled Dr. Newheiser has joined our faculty.
Recently (Aug, 30, 2016), Dr. Newheiser offered the opening lecture of the year at our kick-off convocation event entitled, “The Relationship Between Biblical Counseling and Preaching in the Local Church.” Here is the video (starts with my welcome and then moves to Dr. Newheiser’s lecture): [Read more…]
Next week, Aug 1-5, I will teach an elective at RTS Charlotte entitled, “The Origin and Authority of the New Testament Canon.”
In this class, we will be covering not just the history and development of the canon, but also its theological meaning, and its epistemological foundation. In other words, we will not only discuss when these books were recognized, but we will explore how we know which books belong and which do not.
So, the class will cover the various canonical models present in theological circles today, as well as responding to modern historical-critical scholars who attack its integrity.
One other interesting part of the course is that we will do in-class reading from high resolution photos of the Greek manuscript P66, an almost complete copy of John’s gospel dated c.200. This is one of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament that we possess and provides a wonderful introduction to the world of ancient manuscripts. We will discuss not only the Greek text, but scribal habits, inscriptional features, nomina sacra, and more.
As one might guess, the base textbook for this class will my Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012). But, I will also be using other texts and articles along the way.
Probably too late for many of you to consider taking this course, but if you are in the area, and have some free time, come and join us. You can read more about it here.
And, as an additional note, the class is being recorded by our Global Campus and should be available online in the year to come.
Last year I posted an article entitled “What Is The Earliest Complete List of the Canon of the New Testament?” In that post I argued, contrary to common opinion, that the earliest (nearly complete) list is not Athanasius’ Festal Letter in 367. Instead, the earliest complete list occurs more than a century earlier in the writings of Origen (see picture).
My blog post was based off a fuller academic piece I wrote for the recent festschrift for Larry Hurtado, Mark Manuscripts and Monotheism (edited by Chris Keith and Dieter Roth; T&T Clark, 2015), entitled, “Origen’s List of New Testament Books in Homiliae on Josuam 7.1: A Fresh Look.”
Around 250 A.D., in his typical allegorical fashion, Origen used the story of Joshua to describe what seems to be the complete New Testament canon:
If one accepts the dating of some modern scholars, the earliest canonical gospel–the Gospel of Mark–was not written until 70 AD or later.
This means there was a gap of time of about 40 years between the life of Jesus and our earliest Gospel that records his words and deeds.
What happened to the stories of Jesus during this period of time? Since such stories were largely passed down orally, can this process be trusted? Did Christians change the stories along the way? Is it reasonable to think that Christians could have even remembered the details accurately?
These are the questions raised in Jesus Before the Gospels, Bart Ehrman’s latest Easter-timed book attacking the reliability and historical integrity of the New Testament.
Prior installments in Ehrman’s “you can’t trust the Bible” series include Forged in 2011, Jesus, Interrupted in 2009, God’s Problem in 2007, and Misquoting Jesus in 2005.
Each of these books, though different in the specific topic, tells the same overall story: Ehrman, once an evangelical who attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, has now discovered, along with the consensus of modern scholarship, that the New Testament, and the Gospels in particular, do not provide a trustworthy account of the historical Jesus.
Instead, what we have (according to Ehrman) are books that are forgeries, contain contradictions, have morally-questionable teachings, and have been edited and changed throughout the centuries.
My full-length review of Ehrman’s new volume has just been published over at the Gospel Coalition website. See here.
As many of you know, just a short time ago RTS Charlotte launched a new Masters degree program in biblical counseling. This has been a very exciting venture for us and we believe it will meet a real need in the body of Christ.
We have already seen a tremendous outpouring of support and interest in the new program, and a number of our alumni are even coming back to take advantage of the new MACC degree.
Our program has assembled some of the finest faculty in biblical counseling today, as we have drawn upon leading figures all over the country. Visiting professors have included David Powlison, Ed Welch, Rod Mays, Heath Lambert, Deepak Reju, Todd Stryd, Tim Lane, Jeff Forrey, and others.
But, even in the midst of this fine collection of professors, we had not been able to find the full-time person to lead the program.
Today a press release will go out announcing that Dr. Jim Newheiser will be the new Director of the Christian Counseling Program at RTS Charlotte, as well as Associate Professor of Christian Counseling and Practical Theology (starting June 1st).
Jim is a board member of both the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC) and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).
He is the author of a number of books and articles, including Parenting is More than a Formula (P&R, 2015); When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, with Elyse Fitzpatrick (Harvest House, 2005); You Never Stop Being a Parent, with Elyse Fitzpatrick (P&R, 2010); and a chapter contributor (with Rod Mays) in Biblical Counseling and the Church, ed. Bob Kellemen (Zondervan, 2015).
David Powlison, executive director of CCEF, commented on Dr. Newheiser’s appointment, “I was very glad to hear that Jim Newheiser has accepted the call to come to RTS Charlotte in biblical counseling. He brings wide experience, abiding fidelity to Scripture, and a humble heart.”
For the past 25 years, Jim has served as the Preaching Pastor at Grace Bible Church in Escondido, California. He is also the Director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (formerly CCEF West) and an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Master’s College.
Jim will oversee all the counseling degree options, including the 66 credit-hour MA in Christian Counseling (MACC). A distinctive feature of this degree is that it requires, in addition to counseling courses, a significant number of courses in biblical studies, systematic theology and apologetics. This well-rounded curriculum allows students to engage the counseling task on the solid foundation of a Scriptural worldview.
The counseling program also includes an MDiv and MACC dual degree, an MATS/BS and MACC dual degree, and an MDiv with a counseling emphasis.
On a personal note, I am particularly excited about Jim because he is a personal friend whom I have known for more than 20 years. I look forward to how God will bless his new ministry here at RTS Charlotte.
To learn more about RTS Charlotte’s counseling program, see here.
I have just finished reading Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (HarperOne, 2016), and Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ (Image, 2016).
And I can’t imagine two books about Jesus more different from one another.
Not surprisingly, in his new volume (released again right before Easter!) Ehrman continues his life-long campaign to attack the reliability of the canonical gospels and to raise doubts about their authorship and origins. Time and time again he asserts that the gospels were late, anonymous productions, written by authors with no connections to the historical Jesus. I will be offer a full review of Ehrman’s book at a later point.
In contrast to Ehrman, Pitre’s book is a breath of fresh air. The goal of his book is to defend the notion that Jesus claimed to be God. And he accomplishes this goal by laying a strong foundation for the reliability and trustworthiness of the Gospels as eyewitness sources for the life of Jesus.
Pitre tackles the authorship of the canonical gospels by making two simple observations: (a) The Gospel titles support the traditional authorship of the canonical gospels, and (b) the testimony of the church fathers supports the traditional authorship of the canonical gospels.
These are not new observations, but Pitre presents them in a manner that reminds the reader how important (and compelling) they are.
As for the titles, Pitre points out the obvious (but for Ehrman, problematic) fact that “there is a striking absence of any anonymous Gospel manuscripts. That is because they don’t exist. Not even one” (17). On the contrary, our earliest gospel manuscripts contain the titles that attribute these books to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Moreover, if the Gospels had circulated anonymously for more than a century (as Ehrman argues), then we would expect them to have a variety of different titles. Surely, we couldn’t expect them to circulate anonymously for this length of time and then suddenly all early Christians use precisely the same title.
Pitre comments on Erhman’s suggestion the titles were added later:
This scenario is completely incredible. Even if one anonymous Gospel could have been written and circulated and then somehow miraculously attributed to the same person by Christians living in Rome, Africa, Italy, and Syria, am I really supposed to believe that the same thing happened not once, not twice, but with four different books, over and over again, throughout the world? (19)
And, when it comes to the testimony of the early church fathers, the same type of consistent testimony emerges. Pitre writes:
When the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament are taken into account, there is not the slightest trace of external evidence to support the now popular claim that the four Gospels were originally anonymous. As far as we know, for almost four hundred years after the lifetime of Jesus, no one–orthodox or heretic, pagan or Christian–seems to have raised any serious doubts about who wrote the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (53).
In sum, Pitre provides a wonderful contrast to Ehrman and highlights the reasons that Christians for thousands of years have always understood these gospels to have been written by the names attached to them.
I have a few minor quibbles with Pitre here and there (at one point, p.18, he seems to confuse P52 and P66), but he has written a very helpful book that is accessible to a lay audience interested in these critical questions.
I encourage you to read the book and then give it to your skeptical friend.
The issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage just won’t go away these days. Thus, Christians need to make sure they are well-equipped to meet the challenges of the post-Christian world we find ourselves in.
There have been many good books written to address this subject, but one of the most original I have seen is the recent volume by Don Fortson and Rollin Grams, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition (B&H Academic, 2016).
What makes this book unique is simple. This book responds to those who claim homosexuality is compatible with Christianity by considering both the evidence from church history and the evidence from the Bible.
In other words, it considers not only what the Bible says, but what Christians have said the Bible says throughout the ages. I know of no other recent volume that does this.
And I can tell you, the result is absolutely devastating for the claim that Christianity and homosexuality go together. A person might be able to convince themselves that the Bible allows it (by reinterpreting even the plainest of passages), but it is a bit hard to explain away 2000 years of absolutely consistent church history.
And that is exactly what we find in the historical record. From the very beginning of the church, all the way to the modern day, Christians have uniformly declared homosexuality to be incompatible with the Christian faith.
This consistency is particularly noteworthy in the earliest centuries because the church was quite diverse and represented a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and pagan backgrounds. Yet, with one voice, the church was unified it its opposition to homosexual behavior.
In essence, this forces the pro-homosexuality camp to argue that only in the modern day, really only in the last few years, have Christians, for the first time, finally understood what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality. And, every other Christian generation, for two-thousand years, has been bigoted, discriminatory, and oppressive.
The arrogance and audacity of a claim is stunning. But, that is precisely what the pro-homosexual camp is forced to believe.
Of course, some who are committed to the superiority of the modern will no doubt respond by saying, “Just because the church believes something doesn’t make it right.” True. But, the key issue in this case is that the church believes something that is also clearly the plain teaching of Scripture. Thus, we have both the testimony of Scripture and the church on the same side.
And if the Bible and the history of the church both seem to be saying the same thing, then that is a compelling reason to think it is true.
For those who are intellectually honest, this just becomes too much to bear. After reading Fortson’s and Rollin’s book, they may not agree with what Christians have always believed. But, they would have to admit that Christians have always believed it.
“God has spoken to me.”
There are few statements that will shut down debate more quickly than this one. If Christians disagree over a doctrine, a practice, or an idea, then the trump card is always “God has spoken to me” about that. End of discussion.
But, the history of the church (not to mention the Scriptures themselves) demonstrates that such claims of private, direct revelation are highly problematic. Of course, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people. The Scripture is packed with examples of this. But, these were typically individuals with a unique calling (e.g., prophet or apostle), or who functioned at unique times in redemptive history (e.g., the early church in Acts).
After the first century was over, and the apostles had died, the church largely rejected the idea that any ol’ person could step forward and claim to have direct revelation from God. This reality is probably best exemplified in the early Christian debate over Montanism.
Montanism was a second-century movement whose leader Montanus claimed to receive direct revelation from God. In addition, two of his “prophetesses,” Priscilla and Maximilla also claimed to receive such revelation. Such revelations were often accompanied by strange behavior. When Montanus had these revelations, “[He] became obsessed, and suddenly fell into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and to speak and to talk strangely” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.7).
Needless to say, this sort of activity caused great concern for the orthodox leaders of the second century. Part of their concern was the manner in which this prophetic activity was taking place. They condemned it on the grounds that it was “contrary to the custom which belongs to the tradition and succession of the church from the beginning” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.7).
But, the other concern (and perhaps the larger one) was that this new revelation was inconsistent with the church’s beliefs about the apostles. The second-century leaders understood the apostles to be a unique mouthpiece for God; so much so that they would accept no revelation that wasn’t understood to be apostolic.
As an example of this commitment, the early church rejected the Shepherd of Hermas–a book supposedly containing revelations from heaven–on the grounds that it was written “very recently, in our own times” (Muratorian fragment). In other words, it was rejected because it wasn’t apostolic.
This issue reached a head when the Montanists began to write down their new prophecies, forming their own collection of sacred books. The orthodox leaders viewed such an activity as illegitimate because, on their understanding, God had already spoken in his apostles, and the words of the apostles were recorded in the New Testament writings.
A few examples of how the orthodox leaders rejected these books of “new revelation”:
1. Gaius of Rome, in his dialogue with the Montanist Proclus, rebuked “the recklessness and audacity of his opponents in composing new Scriptures” (Hist. eccl. 6.20.3).
2. Apollonius objected on the grounds that Montanist prophets were putting their “empty sounding words” on the same level as Christ and the apostles (Hist. eccl. 5.18.5).
3. Hippolytus complained that the Montanists “allege that they have learned something more through these [Montanist writings], than from law, and prophets, and the Gospels” (Haer. 8.12).
4. The anonymous critic of Montanism recorded by Eusebius registers his hesitancy to write a response to the Montantists lest he be seen as making the same mistake as them and “seem to some to be adding to the writings or injunctions of the word of the new covenant of the Gospel” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.3)
When you look at these responses, a couple of key facts become clear. First, and this is critical, it is clear that these authors already knew and had received a number of New Testament writings as authoritative Scripture. Thus, they already had a NT canon of sorts (even if some books were still under discussion). Indeed, it is the existence of these books that forms the basis for their major complaint against the Montanists.
Second, and equally critical, the response of these writers shows that they did not accept new revelation in their time period. For them, the kind of revelation that could be considered “God’s word,” and thus written down in books, had ceased with the apostolic time period.
In terms of the modern church, there are great lessons to be learned here. For one, we ought to be equally cautious about extravagant claims that people have received new revelation from heaven. And, even more than this, the Montanist debate is a great reminder to always go back to Scripture as the ultimate standard and guide for truth. It is on the written word of God that the church should stand.
Now that 2015 is coming to a close, everyone is starting to talk about cranking up the yearly Bible reading for 2016.
But, if you are looking for more than just a link to a good Bible reading program, you will want to check out the great 4-part series my wife Melissa did over at TGC on her blog Wit’s End. She provides the bigger picture reasons and motivations for why Bible reading in a year makes sense.
One of her key reasons is that yearly Bible reading allows us to see the big sweep of redemptive history, something piece-meal reading can never do. Put differently, Bible reading in one year allows us to see (more clearly) that the Bible is really one story, not just a bunch of little ones.
Standing up close to an impressionist painting gives you one view of the master’s work – the intricacies of design, the vibrant colors, and the individual brush marks. However, backing away from the painting allows you to see the picture in its entirety. Just as we need both perspectives to be able to appreciate a painting to its fullest, we need both types of views as we read our Bibles.
Taking a year to read the Bible in its entirety allows us the opportunity to back up and observe the full picture. We see the larger story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration in the midst of all the individual stories. All scripture contains the same DNA – Jesus is on every page, present in every story. The Gospel is repeated in shadows-like accounts, preparing us for the ultimate rescue. Reading the Bible through in a shorter amount of time also allows us a better opportunity to connect what we learned in Deuteronomy with the message of Galatians. You will glean insights that you might have missed (or forgotten) if you read it over a longer time span.
Here is her 4-part series:
As the title suggests, this is yet another book (in a long list of predecessors) that insists that the idea of an authoritative Scripture is a late invention of Christians.
According to Satlow, the Bible was not originally holy. It became holy. And that didn’t even happen until well into the third century or later.
Although Satlow’s volume covers both OT and NT issues, my review addressed some weaknesses on the NT side of things:
As for the development of the New Testament canon, Satlow provides a brief overview of some of the major players in the second century, including Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus (pp. 241–56). Although there is substantial evidence that these individuals held a high view of New Testament writings, one gets the impression that Satlow is trying to minimize this evidence at every turn. For example, when it comes to Justin Martyr, he argues that the Gospels “play a relatively minor role for him” and “didn’t play much of a role in the lives of most ordinary Christians” (p. 250). But, then Satlow just glosses over the major text that shows otherwise, namely Justin’s description of how the Gospels are read in early Christian worship services as Scripture on par with the Old Testament writings (1 Apol. 67.3). Surely this suggests that the Gospels not only possessed a high authority, but that they did play an important role in the life of ordinary Christians.
In order to downplay further the authority of New Testament writings during this time period, Satlow then argues that early Christian scribal cultural was problematic. He makes three claims: (a) Christian manuscripts were “utilitarian” and lack evidence of being written by professional scribes; (b) manuscripts were not written for public recitation; and (c) physical features of manuscripts had no (or very little) importance (pp. 255–256). However, each of these claims is in serious doubt. Graham Stanton has observed, along with many others, that the scribal hand of many early NT manuscripts is quite professional, suggesting the scribes were more well-trained than many suppose. Stanton reaches the opposite conclusion of Satlow when he states, “The oft-repeated claim that the gospels were considered at first to be utilitarian handbooks needs to be modified” (Jesus and Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press], 206). The argument that the Gospels were not written for public recitation has been taken up by a number of scholars, including Scott Charlesworth who (again) reaches the opposite conclusion of Satlow, arguing that the line spacing and reader’s aids in many gospel manuscripts suggest they were intended for public reading (“Public and Private: Second-and Third-Century Gospel Manuscripts,” in Jewish and Christian Scripture as Artifact and Canon, ed. C. A. Evans and H. D. Zacharias [London: T&T Clark, 2009], 148–175). And as for the physical features of New Testament manuscripts, Satlow is correct that they did not exhibit the elite, high-culture artistic features of some literary texts in the Greco-Roman world. But, that doesn’t mean their visual/physical characteristics played no role. Larry Hurtado has shown that early Christians valued more than the text, but also the visual and material appearance of their manuscripts, particularly as exemplified by the use of the codex, nomina sacra, and the staurogram (The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Origins [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006]).
And here is my conclusion:
In conclusion, Satlow has written an interesting, provocative and wide-ranging volume on the origins of the Old and New Testaments that provides much helpful information on the history of biblical texts. However, Satlow’s aggressive (and sometime speculative) reconstruction often presses the evidence beyond what it can bear. In addition, one gets the impression that Satlow is intent on minimizing the role of Scripture in both Israel and the early church, even when the evidence could be naturally read in the other direction. The broad, narrative style of the book allows him to lay out the standard higher-critical view of biblical origins, but does not provide the sort of documentation of his claims that might persuade those who don’t already share his starting point. Regardless, those in the field of biblical studies, especially those interested in the origins of the canon, will want to read and interact with this volume.
You can read the whole review here.
We certainly have no shortage of books defending and upholding the authority of Scripture. In fact, I recently posted my list of top ten books on this subject.
And the reason we have so many of these books is not hard to find. The world continues to attack the Bible. And many Christians continue to doubt the Bible.
But one thing we do have a shortage of is certain kinds of books on the authority of Scripture. Most books on the authority of Scripture are either providing a theological explanation of our doctrine of Scripture, or are providing historical evidence for how the Bible was put together. Or maybe both.
But, what tends to be lacking in most discussions is how the Bible witnesses to its own divine authority. Or, put another way, how the internal characteristics of Scripture point toward its divine origins. I’ve tried to address this important issue myself in various ways (for instance, see my book Canon Revisited, and my recent post: What Do We Mean When We Say the Bible is ‘Self-Authenticating’?), but more on the subject is needed.
For this reason, I was thankful to see John Piper’s new book, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness on the cover of Crossway’s 2016 catalog. Piper argues for what is essentially a self-authenticating view of the Bible.
Building on the work of Jonathan Edwards (no surprise there), Piper makes the case that we know the Scriptures are true because in them we behold the wonder and the glory of Christ himself. He states in the introduction: “Thus, at the end of all human means, the simplest pre-literate person and the most educated scholar come to a saving knowledge of the truth of Scripture in the same way: by a sight of its glory.”
With such a thesis at the core of his book, Piper stands in a long line of Reformed thinkers who’ve made essentially the same argument. I think particularly of John Owen, The Divine Original: Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, in vol. 16 of Owen’s Collected Works (Banner of Truth, 1988).
Here is my endorsement below, along with Tom Schreiner’s:
“There are few questions more important than ‘How Do I know the Bible is God’s Word?’ And there are few people who could address it as well as John Piper. Drawing from the deep theological well of Jonathan Edwards, and with a practical eye for the average believer in the pew, Piper has helped us recover the foundational importance of a self-authenticating Bible. This book will revolutionize the way you think about God’s Word.”
–Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC
“Here we find compelling arguments for the truthfulness of the Scriptures and profound meditations on the stunning glory of God.”
–Tom R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
One of the most enjoyable aspects of speaking to different groups on the reliability of the Bible is the Q&A time. It is an exciting (and risky) affair because you never know what you are going to get.
Then again, sometimes you do know what you are going to get. Over the years, one question has been asked more than all others combined: “What are the best books to read on the authority of the Bible?”
Due to the popularity of that question, I have compiled an annotated list of the 10 best books on this topic. It goes without saying that such a list is highly selective (and debatable). So many good books deserve to be included.
But my list is guided by these main criteria: (a) books that focus on the theological side of biblical authority and not as much on the historical evidences for the Bible’s history (though some overlap is inevitable); (b) books that are “modern,” meaning they have been written sometime between the Reformation and the present (otherwise, many patristic works would make the list); and (c) books that are rigorously orthodox (for this reason, Karl Barth’s Dogmatics is not on the list despite the fact that it has been influential on the modern church’s view of Scripture).
With these criteria in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10:
Even though this first entry technically includes two books, I am regarding them together since the same authors edited both of them. I appreciate that these books gather together some of the best evangelical scholars who cover a wide variety of contemporary issues related to biblical authority. There are essays from theological, philosophical, historical, hermeneutical, and exegetical perspectives. Although some of the essays need to be updated (some are 30 years old), they constitute an indispensable treasure trove of material on the authority of the Bible.
9. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena (vol. 1): Part IV: Revelation (Baker Academic, 2003).
I don’t prefer to use systematic theologies in this list, but Bavinck’s work is too important to pass up. Bavinck originally published his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek from 1895 to 1901, and we are blessed to have it translated into English. It provides the quintessential introduction to a Reformed view of Revelation and Scripture, and one can hear echoes of Bavinck for generations to come in major scholars such as Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, Herman Ridderbos, and Louis Berkhof. If you find these Dutch theologians difficult to understand then go back and read the one on whose shoulders they are standing: Bavinck.
8. E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Banner of Truth, 1963).
Young was a vigorous defender of the authority of Scripture, and this book embodies the ethos of his scholarship. It focuses primarily on the extent of inspiration (against those who try to limit it), and the doctrine of inerrancy (against those who suggest the Bible makes mistakes). This book lays out the foundational truths about the authority of the Bible in a clear and compelling manner. Young even covers a number of alleged contradictions and offers helpful solutions. All pastors should read this book.
7. Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley, eds., The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary (P&R, 1946).
This fine collection of essays by the faculty of Westminster is too frequently overlooked. With articles from Murray, Young, Stonehouse, and Van Til, and a foreword from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, it is difficult to know how it has been forgotten. The most important article is the first, by John Murray, where he lays out the self-attesting nature of Scripture and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit that helps God’s people identify Scripture. In a world where most defend the authority of Scripture purely on the basis of historical evidence, Murray brings a refreshing and welcome perspective. Our doctrine of Scripture needs to include serious reflection on the issue of Scripture’s self-authentication, and this volume is the place to start.
6. J.I. Packer, ’Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Eerdmans, 1958).
This little book is one of my all-time favorites. It is small, but it packs a punch. The book is written in the context of the early 20th-century controversies over “fundamentalism” and whether we can (or should) still embrace traditional beliefs about the authority of the Bible. Carefully, patiently, and methodically, Packer walks through all the key issues related to these debates and impressively defends the traditional view. This is a great book to give to a fellow Christian struggling with these issues.
5. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Soli Deo Gloria, 2000).
Don’t let the date of this book fool you. Whitaker lived from 1547 to 1595, during the height of the Protestant Reformation, and dedicated the book to William Cecil, chancellor of Cambridge University. This book is a masterful defense of the Protestant view of the Bible. Whitaker spends considerable time defending the self-authenticating nature of Scripture and contrasts it effectively with the Roman Catholic approach. This book is also overlooked in many discussions and deserves a much wider reading. Thanks to Soli Deo Gloria publishers, we don’t have to try to read it in Latin.
4. John Owen, The Divine Original: Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, vol. 16 of Owen’s Collected Works (Banner of Truth, 1988).
Moving forward one century from Whitaker, Owen provides one of the finest articulations of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture from the Puritan era. He too focuses on the self-authenticating nature of Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit, contrasting it with alternative models, particular Roman Catholic. This is vintage Owen: thorough, meticulous, verbose, and utterly profound. Be warned: this is no light beach reading. It is a heavy slog to get through anything Owen writes. But the reward is worth it.
3. Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (1971).
Kline is one of the most original Christian thinkers in the last century, and this book is no exception. He approaches the issue of biblical authority from a distinctive angle, namely the covenantal structure of the Old Testament. Kline argues that the idea of an authoritative text derives directly from God’s covenant-making activities. You can’t understand the authority of the Bible if you don’t understand the nature of the covenant. This is a no-frills book (I still have my original copy from when I had Kline as a professor; pea-green cover and all), but it is truly ground-breaking.
2. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010).
If you are looking for a comprehensive, profound, and utterly biblical treatment of the authority of Scripture from a Reformed perspective, then this is the book. This is the fourth installment in Frame’s series, A Theology of Lordship, but is really the most foundational volume (although The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is right up there). There is hardly an issue Frame doesn’t cover, or a question he doesn’t answer. And his answers are so clear and balanced that it makes you wonder why you ever had that question in the first place. No one is better than Frame at making complex ideas simple (some scholars seem to have the opposite gift). This book is a treasure trove of wisdom that every pastor needs to have on the shelf ready at hand.
1. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, with intro by Van Til (P&R, 1948).
Classics are classics for a reason. Warfield’s work still stands out today as one of the most cogent, insightful, and helpful works on the authority of Scripture. It aptly represents the ethos of Old Princeton and is the gold standard for a distinctively Reformed view of the Bible’s inspiration. Warfield’s insights are so applicable to modern-day issues that it is easy to forget the content is more than 100 years old. In addition, Van Til’s introduction (68 pages long) is immensely helpful. It provides a presuppositional context for Warfield’s work, and reminds the reader that Van Til and Warfield had more in common than some people assume (though there are still differences).
Honorable mentions: Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (P&R, 1963); Cornelius Van Til, The Doctrine of Scripture (P&R, 1967); Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word (Crossway, 2014); J.W. Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974); Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4 vols. (Word, 1979); Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (IVP Academic, 2009); R.L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); J.W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downer’s Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1972); Greg Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008); Paul Wells, Taking the Bible at Its Word (Christian Focus, 2013).
Note: An edited version of this article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition Website.
If we learn anything from church history, its that the church fights the same battles over and over again. Until Christ returns and redeems His church, this reality is, to some degree, inevitable. And one of those reoccurring battles is the issue of biblical authority. For a variety of reasons, this topic continues to pop up again and again.
In the last 50 years, one of the key issues related to biblical authority is the issue of inerrancy. Is inerrancy a recent, post-enlightenment, rationalistic (and largely American) invention as so many maintain? While one most always be careful to explain and nuance the meaning of the term, I don’t think it should be kicked to the curb as some suggest. Rather, I have argued elsewhere (see here) that it is one of the most natural words for expressing the core belief that Christian’s have always had about the Bible, namely that it is true.
Because of the importance of inerrancy, I was pleased to participate in the forthcoming volume, The Inerrant Word: Biblical, Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives, ed. John MacArthur (Crossway, 2016). This volume pulls together a fine collection of pastors and scholars including Ligon Duncan, John Frame, Carl Trueman, Stephen Nichols, Al Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, Sinclair Ferguson, Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, and others.
My own chapter was entitled, “Inerrancy, Canonicity, Preservation, and Textual Criticism.” As the title suggests, I deal with two major challenges two inerrancy: Do we have the right books? And do we have the right text?
The volume is set for release on March 31, 2016.
On the heels of the TGC video I did on surviving a university religion class, I have had an influx of inquiries into this topic. People have been asking all sorts of questions about how to prepare their high school student for what’s to come, or how to encourage their college student in the midst of struggles.
Last Thursday, I was invited to a radio interview with Chris Fabry Live on Moody radio in Chicago (which is nationally syndicated). We had a fascinating discussion on this topic, and had folks call in from all over the country with their questions. Here is what appeared on the moody radio website, along with a link to listen. Enjoy!
September 03, 2015
Surviving World Religions Class
Your freshman is off to college to study. Can your new college student hang onto his or her faith in Jesus? Michael Kruger went to the University of North Carolina a committed believer, ready for any challenge the academic world could present. His New Testament professor was Bart Ehrman. Hear his story.
To read Michael’s blogpost or see his video about “How to Survive a University Religion Class,” please visit his website.
It is a story that everyone has heard. Evangelical high school student, who is involved in the youth group and committed to Christ, heads off to the local university. As a freshman, he takes an introductory religion class–probably intro to the OT or NT.
The professor is a critical scholar, deeply skeptical about the historicity of the Bible, and antagonistic to evangelicals. After seeing the Bible take a pounding for an entire semester, and with no one around with any answers, our freshman decides Christianity probably isn’t true after all.
The question isn’t whether this scenario plays out every year all over the country (it does). The question is what can be done about it. Most church youth groups don’t have this scenario on their radar screen when they are preparing students for college. Most of the attention is designed to help students survive morally or ethically, not intellectually.
So, for the student in this situation, I offer some advice in the video below. Thanks to TGC for putting this together and making it available.
Even though most Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, very few can give an articulate answer for how Christians know this to be true. We believe it, but we are not sure why we believe it.
Of course, the average non-Christian critic out there is quick to pounce on this problem. “Christians have no reliable basis for knowing whether the Bible is God’s Word,” they might say. “You Christians can believe it if you want to, but you have no grounds for believing it. You are believing it without a reason.”
In order to address precisely this issue, I gave a lecture this past Spring at The Gospel Coalition National Conference entitled, “How Do We Know the Bible is God’s Word: Recovering the Doctrine of a Self-Authenticating Scripture.”
This lecture was designed to explain one way (and, arguably, the primary way) that believers know that the Bible is God’s Word, namely from the attributes and characteristics present in the Bible itself. Put simply, I argue (along with many others throughout church history) that the Bible bears evidence within itself of its own divine origins.
This is what we mean when we say that the Bible is self-authenticating.
Such a claim raises a number of questions in people’s minds: What exactly are these attributes present in Scripture? If they are really there, then why don’t more people acknowledge them? Isn’t this sort of claim just a form of subjectivism? And, has anyone else in church history taken this approach?
Last December (2014), I had the privilege of participating in a podcast interview with Darrell Bock and the Dallas Theological Seminary program The Table. I was joined by my friend Andreas Köstenberger (co-author of The Heresy of Orthodoxy).
The interview covered a wide range of topics related to inspiration and inerrancy, particularly last year’s popular blog series by Peter Enns entitled “Aha Moments.” That series highlighted evangelical scholars who have discovered things in their biblical research that have caused them to change their views about inerrancy.
In response, I offered a brief series on my own website entitled “Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages.” I invited a number of prominent evangelical scholars wrote brief posts to deal with some of the issues raised by Enns. While I was hoping to include a few more installments in that series, time has slipped away and a few folks were not able to get to their contribution as planned. Regardless, I include the final installments here:
Here is a shot from the video roundtable with Darrell Bock, Andreas Köstenberger and myself. To watch, go here.
Later this year, Zondervan will release the “NIV Zondervan Study Bible” which seems to be quite an impressive volume. D.A. Carson is the editor, and there are over 60 different contributors.
Dr. Currid is the author of numerous other works, including Against the Gods, Crossway ESV Bible Atlas, and commentaries on every book of the Pentateuch (see description at EV Press). In addition, he is a favorite in the classroom amongst the students at RTS Charlotte.
Here is the description of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible:
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, featuring Dr. D. A. Carson as general editor, is built on the truth of Scripture and centered on the gospel message. An ambitious and comprehensive undertaking, Dr. Carson, with committee members Dr. T. Desmond Alexander, Dr. Richard S. Hess, Dr. Douglas J. Moo, and Dr. Andrew David Naselli, along with a team of over 60 contributors from a wide range of evangelical denominations and perspectives, crafted all-new study notes and other study tools to present a biblical theology of God’s special revelation in the Scriptures. To further aid the readers’ understanding of the Bible, also included are full-color maps, charts, photos and diagrams. In addition, a single-column setting of the Bible text provides maximum readability.
I recently saw this interesting interview at TGC with my friend Peter Williams. Peter is a biblical scholar and the CEO of Tyndale House in Cambridge, England–a study center for evangelical scholars. I spent my sabbatical at Tyndale House in 2009 and had a delightful time.
Here are the various questions he answers:
- How should preachers and teachers handle Mark 16:9–20, which isn’t included in the earliest manuscripts?
- How do you encourage Christians to trust their English Bibles are sufficient to equip them for every good work?
- Are churches teaching people enough about humanity’s role in the transmission of the biblical texts?
Here is the full interview:
Unrelated to this TGC interview, here is a helpful talk by Peter on the reliability of the Gospels:
Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word.
David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word: commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc. These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch).
Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture. It is the Word about the Word.
And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers:
1. Trusting the Word of God. Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v.151). He believes in them (v.66). He trusts in their reliability (v.42). He states: “The sum of your word is truth” (v.160).
This first step is key. If a believer doesn’t really regard the Word of God as being fully and entirely trustworthy, then none of the other steps below will follow. This is why the church needs to be quick to deal with the repeated criticisms of the Bible that so often permeate our culture.
2. Studying the Word of God. David doesn’t just believe the Word, he is a student of the Word. He learns it (v.73), he seeks it (v.155), he has memorized it (v.153), and regularly meditates on it.
This step ought to naturally for the follow the first one. If God’s Word really is true, then we ought to commit ourselves to being diligent studiers of the Word. We need to embrace it with our minds, as well as our hearts.
3. Using the Word of God. It’s one thing to believe and know the Word. It is another thing to rely on it. To look to it as a guide during the difficulties and challenges of life. To lean on it for encouragement and hope.
David repeatedly affirms that he uses the Word of God as a “counselor” (v.24), to give “strength” (v.28), and to bring “comfort in affliction” (v.50). He states, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v.105). In short, the Word of God is the very source of life for David (v.156).
This reminds us a very important attribute of God’s Word: it is alive. It is powerful and active. When we talk about the attributes of Scripture we must remember that it is more than just a true book (encyclopedias can be true). It is also a living book. It is the place where the God of the universe meets us and manifests himself.
4. Delighting in the Word of God. What is amazing is that David takes things one step further than we might expect. It’s not just that he trusts, studies, and uses the Word of God. He actually has affection for it. He has a deep emotional affinity towards it.
He “loves” God’s Word (v.159), he “rejoices” at his Word (v.162), the Word is “wondrous” (v.18), it is “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v.72), and “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v.103).
I am convinced that this is the missing piece for most believers today. For many, the Bible is viewed almost in a utilitarian fashion–it is a mechanical, sterile tool that Christians are supposed to use. It’s like taking your medicine.
In contrast, David has passion, zeal, and excitement for the law and commandments of God. And the reason for this is not hard to find. David loves God’s law not because he is a closet legalist. He loves God’s law because the law reflects God’s own nature and character. He loves God’s law because he loves God–and who God is and what he is like.
Any Christian who says they love God but then despises God’s law is living a life of contradiction. Indeed, they are living a life that is the opposite of Psalm 119. To love God is to love his law.
5. Obeying the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the prior four characteristics naturally lead to this last one. David repeatedly expresses his desire to actually obey God’s law. He wants to follow it, keep it, and fulfill it.
In our world today, the concept of “obeying the law” is not a popular one. Many see this as contrary to grace. However, two things should be kept in mind. One, David is not keeping the law in order to earn salvation–he is obeying out of love for God. He is obeying out of a heart of faith.
Second, we should remember that Jesus himself was very much about “obeying the law.” Before we too quickly despise the concept of law-keeping, we should remember that Jesus delighted in keeping his Father’s law. And he kept it absolutely perfectly–for us. He obeyed on our behalf, and his righteous status is imputed to us by faith.
Indeed, Jesus embodies all five of these characteristics. He trusted, studied, used, delighted in, and obeyed God’s Word. In fact, he did all these things even more than the first David. While David certainly serves as an example of what to do with God’s word, Jesus is the ultimate example. One greater than David has come. And he loved God’s Word.
One of the standard challenges for New Testament textual criticism is whether we can work our way back to the original text. Some scholars are notoriously skeptical in this regard. Since we only have later copies, it is argued, we cannot be sure that the text was not substantially changed in the time period that pre-dates those copies.
Helmut Koester and Bart Ehrman are examples of this skeptical approach. Koester has argued that the text of the New Testament in the earliest stages was notoriously unstable. Most major changes, he argues, would have taken place in the first couple centuries.
Ehrman makes a similar case. Since we don’t have the originals, and only copies of copies of copies, then who knows what the text was really like before our extant copies were made.
But is it really true that we only possess copies of copies of copies? Is there really an enormous gap, as Koester and Ehrman maintain, between the autographs and our earliest copies?
A recent article by Craig Evans of Acadia University suggests otherwise. In the most recent issue of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, Evans explores the question of how long manuscripts would have lasted in the ancient world, and whether that might provide some guidance of how long the autographs might have lasted–and therefore how long they would have been copied.
Evans culls together an insightful and intriguing amount of evidence to suggest that literary manuscripts in the ancient world would last hundreds of years, on average. Appealing to the recent study of G.W. Houston, he argues that manuscripts could last anywhere from 75 to 500 years, with the average being about 150 years.
The implications of this research on the textual stability of the New Testament are not difficult to see. Evans says:
Autographs and first copies may well have remained in circulation until the end of the second century, even the beginning of the third century…The longevity of these manuscripts in effect forms a bridge linking the first-century autographs and first copies to the great codices, via the early papyrus copies we possess (35).
In other words, it is possible (and perhaps even likely) that some of the earliest copies of the New Testament we posses may have been copied directly from one of the autographs. And, if not the autographs, they may have been copied from a manuscript that was directly copied from the autographs. Either way, this makes the gap between our copies and the autographs shrink down to a rather negligible size.
In the end, we do not possess merely copies of copies of copies (etc.) as some skeptics maintain. The early date of our copies, combined with the likely longevity of the autographs, can give us a high degree of confidence that have access to the New Testament text at the earliest possible stage.
If so, then there are no reasons to think that there were wild, unbridled textual changes taking place in this earliest period. On the contrary, Evans’ study provides good reasons to think the NT text was transmitted with a high degree of accuracy and fidelity.
If you want to check out Evans’ full article, see: “How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticism” BBR 25.1 (2015): 23-37.
If you want to dive even deeper into the transmission of the New Testament text, see my recent book (edited with Chuck Hill): The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012).
I recently spent some time in Chattanooga speaking to various groups about the authority of Scripture. I spoke to college students from RUF at the University of Tennessee (Chattanooga) and Covenant College about “Five Misconceptions about the Origins of the New Testament.”
Then I spoke to Alternate Seminary on “How Do We Know the Bible is God’s Word?” Alternate Seminary is doing some great work training African American pastors and leaders. Here is a twitter post from my visit there:
Pleased to speak on biblical authority 4 Alt.Sem. in Chatt, TN. Great work for African American pastors pic.twitter.com/cpfX9jTcaH
— Mike Kruger (@michaeljkruger) March 5, 2015
Then I gave two lectures at North Shore Fellowship (PCA), kindly hosted by senior pastor Robby Holt. Those two lectures are available for download:
One of the most common objections to biblical authority is that the God of the Bible is guilty of committing immoral acts. God appears to advocate, endorse, and even commit acts that are normally seen as morally questionable. The classic example is the command to the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites as they enter into the promised land.
In fact, it is the question of whether God endorses genocide that features heavily in the objections of atheist Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (Mariner Books, 2008). It is also a prominent theme in Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014). See my review of Enns here.
For these reasons, I am thankful for the good work of Dick Belcher, the John D. and Francis M. Gwin Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte. Dr. Belcher has recently published important commentaries on book such as Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and has a wonderful book on Christ in the Pslams: The Messiah and the Psalms (Christian Focus, 2006).
Dr. Belcher recently did an interview on whether God is a moral monster with AP Magazine, an evangelical, Reformed publication out of Australia. Here are some excerpts:
Critics of the Bible claim that it contains so many obscene and cruel stories that it can hardly be the work of a holy and righteous God. Do they have a point?
Obviously, this is a pressing issue today. In the past people who have had moral problems with the Bible have said, “Well, the Bible contains some stories and practices that are offensive to many people and this undermines its authority”. But today some of the more passionate atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have gone a step further and said, “the Bible’s views on morality are dangerous”. This represents a change in the way that people are viewing the Bible. They are not simply saying that it is wrong; they are claiming that it is evil. Moreover, they go a step further and suggest that the teaching of the Bible should not even be tolerated; instead, it should be rejected as “hateful”. In response, I would point out that when the Bible describes an event it does not mean that it necessarily condones it. The Bible paints an honest picture about the fallen world and it certainly includes some confronting stories. However, the inclusion of some of these stories does not mean that God approves the actions of their characters. On the contrary, they are often condemned. What we need to understand is that God is able to use these stories in ways that further His purposes by teaching us things we need to know about Him, ourselves and His grace towards sinners.
When God brings judgment on people such as Pharaoh or the Canaanites is He being malicious, or does He have some other purpose in view?
In most of these situations, God’s first response is not judgment. Even in a case like Sodom and Gomorrah, God comes first to Abraham to reveal His plans to him. Abraham pleads with God, and God is willing to save the cities if there are 10 righteous people in them. So we see that God’s first response is not one of judgment. Usually God’s judgment comes after an extended period where people refuse to change, and evil reaches epidemic proportions. God is always slow to execute judgment. In Genesis 15 we discover that God reveals that He will not punish the Amorites for at least four generations, which in those times equated to over four centuries. I don’t think that anyone could argue that God acted capriciously and was not long-suffering and just in executing His judgments. In fact, I think that most of us would be thankful that God is so forbearing and merciful in the way He executes justice. I think we all need to pause and remember that the God of the Bible is holy and we are sinners. We deserve nothing from Him, and that’s the part of the equation we don’t understand today. If we did we would soon realise how merciful and gracious God is when He exercises such restraint towards us.
A lot of people take offence at God’s command to the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. What do we know about the Canaanites? Did they deserve it?
That’s the way this issue is presented sometimes: the poor, innocent Canaanites, minding their own business, and then God pounces on them in judgment and destroys them through the Israelites. Well, as I said earlier, God’s judgment wasn’t His first response. He waited for over four centuries until their evil had reached the upper limit, so to speak. The Canaanites were a people who were very wicked in their behaviour, even engaging in child-sacrifice. They worshiped gods who were lustful, incestuous, and bloodthirsty and the Canaanites became like the gods they worshipped. The goddess of sex and war, Ashtart, was very violent. She decorated herself with suspended heads and hands attached to a girdle. She exalted in brutality and butchery. Of course, the Canaanites also worshipped Baal, who was the god of fertility. One aspect of Baal worship involved the Canaanites engaging in sexual activity as a form of sympathetic magic to induce him to produce fruitfulness for their crops. So it’s a false picture to say that the Canaanites were innocent people minding their own business. They were extremely debauched and wicked people.
How would you answer somebody like Richard Dawkins who says that when God orders the extermination of the Canaanites He is nothing more than a moral monster?
I would answer by reminding him that the Bible says that God is a God of justice. His judgment is simply a manifestation of His justice and righteousness, and if we had a sense of His holiness, our response would be one of fear and reverence because of the holy God that He is. I would also remind him that this judgment upon the Canaanites serves as a warning of the future eschatological judgment that faces us. And I would also add this: God’s command to exterminate theCanaanites is not something that occurs all throughout Old Testament history. It is for a particular period of Israel’s history. It’s not as if Israel participated all throughout her history in this kind of activity. It was for a particular purpose in a limited period of her history. Further, it was confined to the time when she entered Canaan to take possession of it for herself so as to fulfil God’s purpose for her. Now there were times when Israel engaged in physical warfare – holy war – but many times that was defensive. So this is a strictly limited period during Israel’s existence, and we should not think of Israel participating in this kind of activity all throughout her history. To suggest otherwise is wrong.
To read the whole interview, go here.
It probably comes as no surprise that the most common question I receive from both Christians and non-Christians is “How do I know the Bible is the Word of God?” And the reason this question is at the top of the list is not hard to determine. The authority of the Bible is the foundation for everything that we believe as Christians. It is the source of our doctrine and our ethics. Thus, we need to be able to answer this question when asked.
Let me say from the outset that there is not just one answer to this question. I think there are many ways that Christians can come to know the Scriptures are from God. God can certainly use historical evidences to convince us of the truth of his Word (though it is important to understand the limitations of evidence). And God can use the testimony of the church to convince us of the truth of his Word (I cover the details of this in Canon Revisited).
But, it is noteworthy that throughout the history of the church many Christians have ascertained the divine origins of the Bible in yet another way: its internal qualities. Apparently some Christians were persuaded of the Bible’s authority by reading it and observing its distinctive character and power.
Tatian is one such Christian. Tatian was a second-century Christian thinker, a disciple of Justin Martyr, and the author of an apologetic work known as Oration to the Greeks (c.165). In this work, Tatian makes his case for the truth of Christianity. During one section, he lays out his personal conversion story and recounts how he carefully examined all the pagan religious writings and found them incoherent, problematic, and, sometimes, downright evil. But, then he happened to come across the Scriptures and began to read:
I was led to put my faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centered on one Being. And my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world (29).
This is a profound statement. Tatian, the impressive intellect that he was, was not persuaded by historical evidence nor from the testimony of the church (though, as noted above, both are legitimate when appropriately utilized), but by the internal qualities of the Scriptures themselves. There was something about the Scriptures that came alive to him. How did he discern this? As he indicates, “my soul being taught of God.” Presumably this is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.
And Tatian was not the only one who thought like this. One century later, Origen says something very similar:
If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings…it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize that the words he is reading are not the utterances of men but the language of God (Princ. 4.1.6).
The Reformers also thought this way. They believed the truth of Scripture could be ascertained, by the help of the Holy Spirit, from the Scriptures themselves. This is what they meant when they said the Scriptures were self-authenticating.
Such a reality should come as no surprise. After all Jesus said, “My sheep here my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Collin Hansen has recently posted his “Editor’s Choice: Best of 2014” list over at The Gospel Coalition, highlighting the 10 best resources of the year. I was very encouraged to see that he has included my recent review of Peter Enn’s book The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014).
That review was one of the longest I have written in some time (almost ten pages in a Word file), and I am grateful that TGC published the full version. Enns’ book has had a wide influence, so a thorough response needed to be widely distributed.
Here is what Collin had to say:
Reviewing bad books may not be fun, but it is necessary. The right reviewer know where and how to poke holes in an author’s presentations when many readers don’t know any better. That’s why I’m thankful that such gifted scholars as Kruger take the time to read and critique misleading books. So long as publishers continue to push books they know will attract a lot of attention for rejecting biblical teaching, we’ll continue to need teachers who take the opportunity to shore up any historical and theological weaknesses they expose.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the original review, you can check it out here.
There is an abiding perception in the Christian world that Reformed folks do not talk much about the Holy Spirit. If you want to be in a church where the Holy Spirit plays a key role, so it is argued, then you will need to go in a charismatic or pentecostal direction.
If one is interesting in speaking in tongues or hearing modern-day prophecies, then I suppose this perception may be somewhat accurate. But, this does not mean that Reformed folks do not talk about the Spirit. On the contrary, the history of Reformed theology demonstrates a keen interest in the work and ministry of the third person of the trinity. B.B. Warfield perceptively observed John Calvin’s wide and deep interest in the work of the Holy Spirit, famously dubbing him “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.”
Reformed folks highlight the work of the Spirit in many areas such as regeneration, sanctification, preaching, the sacraments, and more. But, during the time of the Reformation itself, one area took center stage, namely how the Spirit relates to the Scriptures. The two are so connected, argued the Reformers, that if there was no Holy Spirit then there would be no Scriptures.
The Spirit relates to the Scripture in three critical ways:
1. Inspiration: the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture. One of the most fundamental acts of the Spirit is how it inspired human authors to write precisely what God intended them to write. 2 Pet 1:21 is particularly clear in this regard: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It is this foundational work of the Spirit that allows us to affirm that the Scriptures are absolutely true in whatever they affirm. When the Scriptures speak, the Holy Spirit speaks. The author of Hebrews understood this so well that he even introduced a quotation of Scripture with the phrase, “The Holy Spirit says…” (Heb 3:7).
2. Testimonium: the Holy Spirit is the Witness to Scripture. It’s one thing to believe the Scriptures are inspired, but it is another thing to know which books are Scripture. God does not leave us in the dark on this critical issue, but has given us the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This “testimony” is not some private revelation given to believers, but an act of the Spirit by which He opens the eyes of sinful people to apprehend the divine qualities of Scripture. As Jesus declared on John 10:27: “My sheep [those with the Spirit] hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The testimonium was a key part of the Reformers’ response to Catholic claims that one needed official church declarations to know which books are Scripture.
3. Illumination: the Holy Spirit is the Expositor of Scripture. Even if one believes the Scripture is inspired, and even if one knows which books are Scripture, there is still the question of how we interpret Scripture and whether our interpretations can be trusted. In order to address this concern, the Reformers highlighted the role of the Spirit as one who illuminates our understanding of Scripture and gives us clarity on what it means. The confession acknowledges this truth when it says, “We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word” (WCF 1.6). This doctrine also played a role in the Reformers’ interactions with Rome, as the latter insisted that only with the church’s help could the Scriptures be rightly understood.
All three of these functions of the Spirit are critical to having a Scripture that actually functions in the life of the church. Without (1) we would have no reason to think the Scriptures are true. Without (2) we would have no certain way of knowing which books are Scripture. And without (3) we would have no certainty that Scripture could be rightly understood.
Indeed, it is true that without the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no Scripture.
By now, most have probably heard the news splash about the forthcoming book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Sacred Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene. If the number of emails in my inbox on this topic is any indication, then apparently the news has traveled fast.
If the title of this new book sounds like The Da Vinci Code redivivus, then you would be right. Jacobovici and Wilson are not the first to claim Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. They stand in a long line of conspiracy theorists who have claimed the same thing, including the recently debunked Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see my articles on this manuscript here and here).
Although I have not yet read this book, it seems that a few comments are in order to help prepare people for what is coming:
1. The reader should know that Jacobovici and Wilson have certainly not discovered a “Lost Gospel” in any normal sense of the term. We know about many gospels that did not make it into our New Testament canon (e.g., Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary), but this newly discovered text is not one of them. On the contrary, the authors base their claim on a Syriac manuscript, dated to the 6th century AD, that contains a pseudepigraphical story entitled Joseph and Aseneth. That story has been well known to scholars for years.
2. The story of Joseph and Aseneth has nothing to do with Jesus and Mary. It does not even mention Jesus and Mary. The authors are forced to argue that the story must be read allegorically–where Joseph=Jesus and Aseneth=Mary–in order to reach their conclusions. Needless to say, this is highly speculative and subjective.
3. Jacobovici, a filmmaker known for his documentaries, has already come under fire for his previous sensationalistic claim that he discovered the lost tomb of Jesus. This claim has been widely criticized in the academic community. For more on these criticisms, see the Time magazine article here.
4. There is absolutely zero evidence from early Christianity that Jesus was married. Not a single historical source anywhere tells us such a thing. The closest any source comes to doing so is a fragmented portion of the third-century Gospel of Philip where we are told that Jesus kissed Mary “on the…”, but the text is missing at precisely this point. But, aside from being a late gospel, the context of this passage does not suggest any sexual/romantic love for Mary. Even Bart Ehrman agrees that the affection Jesus shows Mary here is not a different kind than shown to his male disciples (Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, 179).
With these four considerations in mind, it seems clear that we have yet another book that is marketed to the masses who love conspiracy theories. Such sensationalistic books no doubt make good financial sense, but they don’t make good history.
Pete Enns has just released his latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (HarperOne, 2014). It’s quite a bold piece of work, with a lot of serious claims about the role and purpose of the Bible. Endorsers of the book include Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, and Brian Mclaren. Tony Campolo also offers a blurb, but qualifies it with the statement, “[I] have some problems with what he has written.” Given that Campolo is no fundamentalist, this is a telling statement.
Another telling statement is the inside flap of the book cover which states, “In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins.” That about says it all.
In the end, The Bible Tells Me So is a book about contradictions. Enns intended it to be a book about contradictions in the Bible. But, it becomes quickly apparent to the reader that the contradictions are really in Enns’ own worldview. He claims the Canaanite Conquest is immoral, yet argues that the Bible provides no clear guide for morality. He claims that the Bible presents a diabolical genocidal God, yet he insists that we still “meet God in its [the Bible’s] pages” (3). He argues that the Bible is filled with re-worked stories, many of which are made up entirely, and yet he seems to know which stories really happened and which did not. He claims that the Bible provides no clear moral instruction, yet says that people are “disobedient” to God and in need of the cross. He claims that he is the one reading the Bible in an ancient manner, when, in fact, people in the ancient world did not read the Bible the way that he does.
All of these inconsistencies stem from one simple reality: Enns has fully adopted the methods and conclusions of the most aggressive versions of modern critical scholarship, and yet, at the same time, wants to insist that the Bible is still God’s word, and that Jesus died and rose again. While it is clear to most folks that these two systems are incompatible at most levels, Enns is tenaciously and relentlessly trying to insist that both can be true at the same time. While Enns’ desire to retain the basic message of the cross is certainly commendable, it stands as a glaring anomaly within his larger system. Somehow (and for some reason), Enns has put a box around the message of Jesus (or at least parts of it)—he protects the integrity of that story while at the same time not protecting much else.
For all these reasons, Enns comes across as a man divided. By the end of the book, the reader senses that he is a man trying to live in two worlds at once. Such a scenario is ironic in a book where Enns is purportedly trying to help people who are “holding on tooth and nail to something that’s not working, denying that nagging undercurrent of tension” (7). One wonders if Enns is describing others or whether he is really describing himself.
In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is my friend and colleague John Currid (Ph.D., University of Chicago). John is the Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte and the Project Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel (1995-present). He is the author numerous books including, Against the Gods (Crossway, 2013); Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker Academic, 1999); and Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1997).
Those who read this blog know that Peter Enns has a blog series called “aha moments from biblical scholars.” The “aha” moment for these scholars is simply coming to the realization that the Bible is not true in all that it says, but it contains many contradictions that call into question the nature and veracity of the text. One of the guest scholars who has had an “aha” moment is Charles Halton, an assistant professor at Houston Baptist University.
Prof. Halton’s enlightenment regarding the nature of Scripture occurred during his study of Genesis 1 and 2. His conclusion is simple, common, and it has been around a long time: Genesis 1 and 2 are conflicting accounts of creation and are, in reality, two different renditions of creation. The seminal issue for him appears to be that the two texts give two different sequences or chronologies of the creation event. Whereas Genesis 1 presents humans as the last created, Genesis 2 presents them as the first created, even before plants and animals.
The two verses that Prof. Halton uses to support his view of conflicting creation accounts are Genesis 2:5 and 2:19. We will consider each of them in turn.
Although Prof. Halton provides little discussion about Genesis 2:5, it is still clear, at least in my reading of him, that he sees a contradiction between it and Genesis 1. He says in reference to that verse, “after the human is made, God sows a garden and plants begin to sprout.” I assume that he is arguing, as do many others, that humanity was created prior to the plant life in Genesis 2, and, if so, that would be contrary to Genesis 1 in which the opposite is true.
However, one needs to be careful at this juncture to make certain exactly what the text says. Observe that the text does not say there were no plants in the field, but it merely says that they had not yet sprouted or budded. In other words, they are there but they have not grown yet because there is no rain and no man to till the ground at this point.
Many scholars, like Prof. Halton, assume that Genesis 2:5 includes all plant life. As Meredith Kline says, “Verse 5 itself describes a time when the earth was without vegetation.” It seems more likely that this verse merely refers to two categories of plant life and not to all vegetation. And, as we already mentioned, one of these categories is in the ground but has not yet budded. Therefore, it is probably the case that some plant life existed on the earth prior to the creation of mankind in Genesis 2 as in Genesis 1.
Dr. Halton saves most of his discussion for Genesis 2:19. He reads that verse as saying, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the sky.” God was, according to Halton, trying to find a companion for Adam. So in this account the animals are created after humanity in contrast to Genesis 1 in which they were created before humans. Indeed, this appears to be a contradiction that is troubling and cannot be easily dismissed.
Halton then accuses two translations – the ESV and the NIV – of obscuring the natural flow of the passage by translating it as “had formed”, which would be an example of a pluperfect tense. The translation “had formed” would reflect a previous creation of animals prior to the creation of mankind. God, then, would simply be bringing the animals before Adam that had already been created. Halton argues that a pluperfect translation does injustice to the verb. The Hebrew verb is a narrative preterite which indicates sequential action, but the pluperfect would, in fact, remove the immediate sequential aspect of the verb. Thus, he is saying that the ESV and the NIV are attempting to harmonize and reconcile two contradictory creation accounts by removing immediate sequential action from the verb “to form.”
Thus, with the flick of the grammatical wrist Prof. Halton concludes that the ESV and NIV translations “opt for a rather forced reading of the Hebrew.” The case, however, is not that simple. Yes, he is correct that normally the narrative preterite verb does require sequence from the immediately preceding verb and the flow of the passage, but certainly not always. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the narrative preterite verb (sometimes called wayyiqtol) does at times, in fact, serve as a pluperfect. We cannot take the time here to lay out all the evidence and, therefore, I would refer the reader to the important study of C. John Collins, “The WAYYIQTOL as ‘Pluperfect’: When and Why,” Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995):117-40. More recent Hebrew grammars are recognizing the wayyiqtol verb form can be used in a pluperfect sense. For example, the significant syntax book written by Waltke and O’Connor concludes that the wayyiqtol form may indeed entail a pluperfect situation, and they provide some examples of that usage (pp. 552-53). Consequently, the claim of Prof. Halton in this matter is too sweeping and, therefore, should not be used as evidence for contradictory accounts of Genesis 1 and 2.
A hermeneutic of suspicion appears to dominate those who hold to two separate, contradictory creation accounts from two different sources. It is true that the two chapters of Genesis view the creation event from two different angles or perspectives. Genesis 1 paints the creation of the cosmos in a sequential, broad stroke, whereas Genesis 2:4-25 presents an elaboration of the sixth day and focuses primarily on the creation of mankind. This is one reason that Genesis 1 employs the name Elohim for God: this is the name of the powerful Creator who made the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 primarily uses the name Yahweh Elohim, not because it is a different account, but it is stressing the covenantal name for God who has a covenantal relationship with his people. Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory accounts of the creation, but complementary accounts that highlight different aspects of the creation event.
Prof. Halton’s view has been around for a long time, at least as early as the late 19th century. There is nothing new here. In fact, it really is not an “aha” moment, but actually a “ho-hum” moment.
In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is my friend Andreas Köstenberger (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). Andreas is the Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are: A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary), and The Heresy of Orthodoxy (which we co-authored).
My years as a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School were certainly a very mind-stretching experience. I took classes with D. A. Carson on the use of the OT in the NT, with Doug Moo on the Second Temple period and on the Septuagint, with Grant Osborne on apocalyptic literature, and many more. In these classes, I came to realize that many issues in NT studies are considerably more complex than the average person realizes. In fact, becoming aware of some of these issues can be confusing, even disorienting, and can leave people bewildered, unless they have the necessary scholarly skills and doctrinal grounding with regard to their view of Scripture. Fortunately, such a framework was provided for me at Trinity as the context for discussing the complex issues related to biblical studies and exegesis. John Woodbridge, D. A. Carson, Kenneth Kantzer, and others were all too aware of these larger issues and addressed them with considerable sophistication and nuance, both in the classroom and in various publications. Those of us who were privileged to learn from these scholars were fortunate indeed to have such knowledgeable guides who could help us steer a safe course navigating the troubled scholarly waters and avoid both the Scylla of fundamentalism and the Charybdis of higher critical (if not skeptical) scholarship.
In an ongoing series on Peter Enns’s blog Patheos, various biblical scholars share “aha” moments which eroded their belief in an inerrant Bible. In one of these accounts, highlighting her own development as a student of Scripture, Megan DeFranza describes not so much an “aha” moment as a gradual process of growing “enlightenment” during which she increasingly realized that the Bible we have is “imperfect” but nonetheless “wholly adequate.” By “an imperfect Bible” she seems to mean at least two things, which need some unpacking: (1) a Bible whose study, upon closer scrutiny, requires much greater sophistication and nuancing than she initially realized; and (2) a Bible that does not “match up every time” in all the details (such as in Synoptic comparisons) and that “does not come wrapped in scientifically proven perfection.” She learned Greek and came to realize that while knowing the original language of the NT helped in some ways, it also opened her eyes to issues that the mere knowledge of NT Greek could not resolve. She discovered discrepancies, for example, between the accounts in Matt 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 of a centurion’s servant being healed. As DeFranza discovered to her dismay, while “they [the characters in the narrative] speak the same words,” “in Matthew he [the centurion] comes in person while in Luke a messenger is sent instead.”
We’ll turn to an exploration of this issue in a moment. And, of course, I realize this is just one example among others DeFranza could have given. But first, let me say that a big part of the issue here, it seems to me, is one of managing expectations. If we expect word-for-word agreement, no wonder we’ll be disappointed when words, or even specific sequences of events, don’t match up in every detail. Also, DeFranza does not adequately acknowledge the many times when there is word-for-word agreement among the Gospels. She also does not address the nature of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, which Richard Bauckham has demonstrated compellingly in his landmark 2006 work Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. We shouldn’t expect word-for-word agreement in eyewitness reports, nor would it be reasonable to expect any one eyewitness to mention every single twist and turn in a series of unfolding events.
That’s why in God’s sovereign providence we’ve been given multiple Gospels “according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in order to provide us with a diversity of perspectives that can legitimately be viewed as complementary rather than contradictory. It is here that the distinction between the two senses in which DeFranza discovered an “imperfect Bible” is of vital importance. I would say, yes, the study of Scripture certainly requires greater sophistication than is often realized, something most students discover when attending a good seminary. But I would also say, no, phenomena such as translation from Aramaic to Greek, paraphrase of Jesus’ exact words to convey the essence of what he said, and varying degrees of detail given by the respective biblical writers, to name but a few, don’t necessarily prove that Scripture is “imperfect” in a way that renders Scripture inaccurate if not contradictory, as DeFranza claims.
5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”
7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
7 After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him.
3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
6 And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
What are we to make of this comparison? Notice that there is large agreement between Matthew and Luke in terms of the basic narrative sequence and even word-for-word correspondence (indicated by underlining): (1) Jesus enters Capernaum; (2) he is told about a centurion’s servant who requires healing; (3) Jesus goes to heal the servant; (4) the centurion conveys to Jesus at some length that he is not worthy for Jesus to set foot into his house; (5) Jesus marvels at the man’s faith; and (6) heals the servant. We know what happened. It is essentially the same story. The one difference, highlighted by DeFranza (italicized above), is that in Matthew the reader is led to believe that the interaction between Jesus and the centurion was direct while in Luke it is depicted as being transacted through intermediaries sent to Jesus. Personally, I think in the overall scheme this is a rather minor detail, though I can understand that some may be perturbed by the lack of precise “matching up” in this particular detail.
What happened here? As mentioned, the general contours of the story are clear, but what about some of the specifics? It is impossible to know for sure, but this doesn’t mean that no reasonable explanations can be proposed. Interestingly, this is one of the stories included in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Matthew may have been an eyewitness while Luke, though not an eyewitness himself, consulted the accounts of those who were (Luke 1:2). In addition, both evangelists may have used a variety of written and oral sources. If Matthew and Luke shared a common written source (“Q”) in this instance, it is possible that Matthew abbreviated the source by not mentioning the intermediaries while Luke included this incidental detail (note that Matthew does abbreviate accounts elsewhere; see, e.g., Matt 8:28-34; 9:2, 18-26; 11:2-3 and their parallels). Less likely, Luke added this detail to his source (I say “less likely” because there is some non-Lukan vocabulary in the uniquely Lukan portion of the account).
In any case, as a Jew Matthew would have known, and would have expected his Jewish readers to know, that messengers were thought to represent the person who sent them, so that if the messengers conveyed their sender’s message, it was as if the sender spoke these words directly. In fact, there are other places in Scripture where accounts are condensed by omitting the mention of intermediaries or agents who carried out actions on behalf of others. So, in 1 Kings 18:40, did Elijah personally kill each of the 450 prophets of Baal? Probably not, although the text indicates that “Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” Or, more notably, Pilate would not have scourged Jesus personally, though this is what Mark 15:15 // Matt 27:26 might be read to indicate; he surely used soldiers to administer the scourging. Scriptural examples could be multiplied: Did Pilate personally write the inscription and put it on Jesus’ cross (John 19:19, 22)? Did Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus by themselves take Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial? (John 19:40). Did Nicodemus personally carry the 75 lbs. worth of spices? (John 19:39).
So we’ve seen that it is certainly possible to explain this difference in terms of ancient literary conventions and cultural customs that do not involve the two evangelists in actual inaccuracy or contradiction. I would argue that an “imperfect Bible” with actual contradictions between various accounts, but which is somehow still “wholly adequate” (“inaccurate but adequate”) is not the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the data. If we keep in mind that the genre of the Gospels entails eyewitness testimony, and that it is the nature of eyewitness testimony to leave out some details and to include others depending on the writer’s narrative and theological purposes, why should it surprise us to find a certain amount of variety in parallel accounts? I would argue not only that this Bible is “wholly adequate” but that it is perfectly accurate when the writers’ own genre, purposes, and intentions are taken into account, as they should be.
The psalmist extolled the perfections of God’s Word (e.g., Psalms 19 and 119). Jesus asserted that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and took scriptural references to Abel (Matt 23:35), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt 10:15), Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Jonah and Nineveh (Matt 12:38-42), and other persons and data at face value. We don’t have to choose between a perfect Bible and an imperfect but adequate Bible. The scriptural testimony is reliable that the Bible is not only “adequate” but accurate in all it asserts.
To conclude, it does not help to confuse the human phenomena of Scripture with its “imperfection.” The problem with entering seminary students (such as myself years ago) is not that they’re faced with an imperfect Bible but that their expectations at the outset are often inadequately informed. Just because the Bible involves translation and testimonies doesn’t make it imperfect! The Bible is “imperfect” only when measured by the unwarranted expectation that the Gospels convey to us Jesus’ words in the original language and that all four Gospels agree word for word. But then why would we need four Gospels in the first place? And why would we expect or even demand that all the details of a given event are found in every Gospel that narrates it? As we have seen, Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the healing of the centurion’s servant provide a case in point. What we have here is the variegated Gospel witness to a miracle by Jesus that is not only attested in a way that is historically secure but that is coherent and complementary in the way it is told by the two Gospel witnesses who testify to it.
 See also the discussion in Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 17-24, “An Example: The Centurion’s Servant.” While Poythress concurs with the explanation suggested below, he also details the view that the actual incident occurred in stages, with the friends coming first, and the centurion coming later.
 Interestingly, Luke does not include Jesus’ saying found in Matthew 8:11-12. If the two evangelists indeed worked from a common source, it seems that they both may have abbreviated at certain points while including fuller detail at others.
 See D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 9:237, who concludes, “Probably Matthew, following his tendency to condense, makes no mention of the servants in order to lay the greater emphasis on faith according to the principle qui facit per alium facit per se (‘he who acts by another acts himself’),” which, as Carson points out, the centurion’s own argument implies (see vv. 8-9).
 See Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 555.
In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is Darrell Bock (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen). Darrell is the Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are: Who Is Jesus?, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary), and Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary).
One of the more famous and most discussed differences on chronology in the gospels deals with the timing of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Here is a difference often trumpeted forth as a clear error between the Synoptics and John. This is the very issue raised by Daniel Kirk in his contribution to Pete Enn’s “Aha moments” series. However, things are not so simple.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. In Mark 14:12 we are told the supper took place on the first day of unleavened bread when they sacrificed the Passover lamb (also Luke 22:15 goes in this direction referring to this Passover). Part of what is taking place here is that the Passover (14 Nisan) and unleavened bread (15 Nisan and following for a week) were celebrated one right after the other, so that both names became attached to the feast (Josephus, Jewish War 5.99, speaks of the feast of unleavened bread on 14 Nisan). The very way in which these dates and feasts are handled shows proximate dating could be used. As a popular designation, one could refer to the whole period as either Passover or Unleavened Bread. The problem comes in that John 19:14 and 31 have Jesus crucified on the Passover preparation day which appears to be the day after the meal the Synoptics portray as the Passover meal. This is a complex problem as a detailed study by Howard Marshall shows.
Several proposals exist to deal with the difference without seeing an error. Some posit the use of two calendars or of differences in the reckoning of a day with each gospel writer selecting a different reckoning. This is possible, but there is no clear evidence for a difference in calendar at this point in Second Temple history (though we do have some evidence for it later in certain cases) nor is it clear that the evangelists reckoned days differently, although they could have done so. So this solution can explain the difference, but it is not clearly demonstrable either. Others argue that the Synoptics are correct, and that the day of preparation in John 19 refers not to the Passover day but the sacrifice of the Sabbath of Passover week (which was the next day with a Friday crucifixion). Again this option is possible, but it is not the most natural reading of these texts from John. Others, favoring John’s chronology but accepting the Synoptic sense of the meal, suggest that the meal has a Passover feel to it or was presented like a Passover even though it was not technically a Passover meal offered on the official day. Once again, this could work, but there is no direct evidence for doing this kind of a thing.
So where does this leave us? Two approaches could work. The early sacrifice might explain what is taking place or reading John’s Preparation as referring to the Sabbath preparation in the shadow of the Passover. If the latter is the point, then John is saying that Jesus is crucified in the mix of the Passover season, not on the day of Passover. This can work in the sense that the entire period is associated with the Passover. A modern analogy would be that people celebrate Christmas office parties all the time and it is not Christmas. Such associations are popular in orientation and not technical. So Jesus is crucified in the midst of the Passover season with his death connected to a Passover meal and so he is seen as crucified with a Passover significance. It may be that rather than trying to work out all the details of how this works technically, we are better off to see the season being appealed to in a popular ancient manner and the association made that way. The point should give us pause in not over-literalizing as we read some of these texts. So one or a combination of the solutions noted above could well be answers to the charge of a clear error but being able to show it is more difficult. If less technical approach is taken then we are dealing with a popular reckoning in a generalized ancient chronological approach as a key to understanding what is taking place. Also what we have in not an error but the application of a season that ran many days to events tied to Jesus’ death. All of this is quite plausible given the significance of this season in the Jewish calendar and its shadow on the Jesus event.
 The following is an update of a discussion I gave in “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels Against each other,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? ed. by James Hoffmeier and Dennis MacGary (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pp. 367-81, esp. 379-80. This was but one of several examples I considered in this article.
 I Howard Marshall, “The Last Supper,” in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, WUNT 247 (eds. Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb: Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2009) 481-588, esp. 549-60.
 Harold Hoehner, “Chronology,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 120-21. David Instone-Brewer, “Jesus’ Last Passover: The Synoptics and John, Expository Times 112 (2001): 122-23.
 M Zebaḥ 1:3 seems to suggest a debate about when to sacrifice all of these lambs and allows for an early start. One must recall that we are speaking of sacrificing several thousand lambs on this day. Technically the early offerings were called peace offerings, but they were tied to the Passover as well. Instone-Brewer’s work notes this issue.
 Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Translated by Norman Perrin. NTL (London: SCM, 1966), 81-82.
 Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death (Waco: Baylor University, 2005), 271-73.
In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the one by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is Craig Blomberg (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen). Craig is the Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, and Can We Still Believe the Bible? (the latter of which I reviewed here).
In a recent post on his blog, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns invited New Testament scholar John Byron, professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, to write about an “aha moment” that changed his understanding of the Bible. Byron chose the same passage that Bart Ehrman described in the introduction to his Misquoting Jesus, which led to his reneging on his Christian commitment altogether in favor of agnosticism: Mark 2:26.
Now clearly Byron and Ehrman are a far cry from each other theologically. Ehrman teaches at a state university (the University of North Carolina) and tells classes regularly he wants to disabuse them of any form of Christian faith. Byron teaches at a theologically centrist United Methodist Seminary, helping to train people for professional ministry, and still considers himself a devout Christian. But both appeal to this same passage as one reason they reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
It’s too bad Byron actually says so little about the passage itself in his blog. Here is the sum total of his exegetical remarks: “Jesus got it wrong. The story in 1 Samuel 21 relates how David fled from Saul alone. When he stops at the tabernacle and asks Ahimelek for help the priest enquires why David is alone. David seems to lie when saying that his men well meet him later (v. 2). Moreover, Mark has the wrong priest. In 2:26 Jesus states that the priest was Abiather [sic], but 1 Samuel 21 clearly states that it was Ahimelek.”
Let’s look at each of these two claims one at a time. Byron first claims that Jesus was wrong in saying that David gave some of the consecrated bread he received from the priests at Nob to his companions, because he traveled to Nob alone. He also takes David’s words that he has told his men to meet him at a certain place to be a lie, probably because the first part of 1 Samuel 21:2, that David was on a mission for King Saul, is clearly a lie. That also means that everything David says in verses 4-5 about his men being ritually pure would also have to be made up. But why then would David ask for enough bread for himself and others? The story in 1 Samuel makes no sense if everything David says is untrue. Just because he is trying to deceive the priest on one matter hardly means everything he says is false. Indeed, the most convincing deceptions in general tend to be based on half-truths.
On any interpretation, however, nothing here suggests that Jesus got it wrong, as Byron claims. Jesus tells the story exactly as he would have learned it from the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures year after year in the synagogue. He is recounting the story perfectly accurately. We can debate to what extent David might have been lying, but Jesus has made no mistake in excerpting from the narrative precisely in the form he and his countrymen believed it to have been inspired.
The more significant claim that Byron makes is that Jesus has the wrong priest. There is no doubt that 1 Samuel 21:1 explicitly says that the priest David spoke with at Nob was Abimelek. But the wording of Mark 2:26 in the Greek is very unusual. It uses none of the several standard ways of expressing when something occurred. Instead it says these events happened epi Abiathar. Epi is a preposition that commonly mean “upon,” “on,” “in,” “over,” “at,” “by,” “before,” and numerous other things, but only very rarely, “when.” Why did Mark use such a strange construction to translate Jesus’ Aramaic words, unless he recognized that Jesus meant something a little different than “when Abiathar was high priest”?
In Mark 12:26, the same unusual construction reappears when Jesus is appealing to the story in Exodus 3 about Moses and the burning bush. He asks the Sadducees if they have not read epi tou batou—literally “upon the bush.” But that makes no sense. Translators recognize, therefore, that Mark is using epi in the sense of “in the passage about [the bush].” This is exactly how the Revised Standard Version of the Bible translated it; the New Revised Standard modified that to “in the story about [the bush].”
Because ancient synagogues developed the practice of reading through the entire Law once a year and the rest of the Jewish Scriptures once every three years, they divided what Christians call the Old Testament into specific sections so rabbis knew exactly every Sabbath how much was to be read and expounded. They would often give a two-to-three chapter segment of text a simple one or two-word name, often based on a key character in that segment. Unfortunately, we have no comprehensive list of what these names were, if one ever even existed.
John Wenham, a British biblical scholar, as far back as 1950 published a short note in the Journal of Theological Studies suggesting that “Abiathar” was the name of the larger multi-chapter segment of text in which this specific story about David and Ahimelek was found. Abiathar is, after all, the more important of these two characters for the Samuel narrative overall. Because this interpretation is somewhat speculative, several Bible translations settle for the well attested but vaguer translation, “in the time of Abiathar” or “in the days of Abiathar,” which equally leaves Jesus free from having made any mistake.
I can understand why some scholars may not be convinced by this solution. But I am consistently amazed at how few ever even acknowledge knowing about it, much less interacting with it. I have cited it in several of my books as have other leading evangelical commentators, who have found it completely satisfactory. It’s unfortunate that Ehrman, Byron and Enns never once disclose if they are familiar with it and, if they are, what objections (if any) they have to it. Until they do, it really is inappropriate for them to claim with such confidence that they know Jesus or Mark got it wrong!
This week there has been a lot of conversation about the first installment of the new series Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages. In that post, Greg Beale interacts with Peter Enns over the issue of whether Paul (in 1 Cor 10:4) believed a rock really moved in the desert after the Israelites.
Both sides of the discussion agree that a rock never really “followed” the Israelites in the desert. But, Enns argues that Paul believed that one did (based on Jewish tradition in his day), and Beale argues that Paul did not believe this (he contests whether Paul was referring to this Jewish tradition).
In debates like these, sometimes a little humor and levity is needed. I ran across a story this week where scientists in Death Valley have been baffled by rocks moving in the desert, seemingly on their own. It turns out there is a (complex) scientific explanation for this phenomenon that has finally been discovered.
So, perhaps both sides of this debate have been wrong and a rock really did follow the Israelites after all!
You can check out the story here.
In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series is largely a response to the one by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The first contributor in this series is Greg Beale (Ph.D., Cambridge University). Greg is the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are: A New Testament Biblical Theology, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC), and The Temple and the Church’s Mission.
Peter Enns begins his new blog series with his own story about what caused his view of the Bible to change. One of the “culminating ‘aha’ moments” came from his study of 1 Cor 10:4: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
Paul is clearly referring back to the times when God refreshed the Israelites with water from a rock during their desert wanderings (Exodus 17, Numbers 20). However, Enns argues that Paul is doing more than just referring to the Old Testament accounts. Paul describes the rock as something which “accompanied them”—a clear reference, according to Enns, to ancient Jewish tradition that the rock in the desert actually travelled along with the Israelites.
Since the Jewish tradition about a travelling rock is clearly a legend—a legend that Paul apparently took to be fact—then we have a real problem, says Enns, for the evangelical view of biblical authority. He puts it bluntly, “no rock moved in the Old Testament, but Paul said one did.”
Of course, I have already responded to Enns’ argument in prior works (e.g., see my Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, chapters 4 and 5). But, I shall try to summarize some of those earlier points here, but the fuller discussion should be consulted, which also interacts with Enns’s responses to my critiques.
The problem with Enns’ argument is twofold: (a) there are doubts about whether this Jewish “tradition” of a moveable rock was present in the first century; and (b) even if the tradition was present, there are doubts about whether Paul was alluding to it.
As to the first problem, there is only one Jewish reference to this “tradition” that plausibly is dated around the first century A.D., but even part of this reference is clouded by textual uncertainty. The lone Jewish source is Pseudo-Philo, which is dated by the majority of scholars as early as the first century A.D., though there is some debate even about that. The main text in Pseudo-Philo is 11:15: “and the water of Marah became sweet. And it [the well or the water] followed them in the wilderness forty years and went up to the mountain with them and went down into the plains.” However, while some very good manuscripts (the ∆- group of mss. [A, K, P]) have “it followed,” the majority of manuscripts (the π – group of mss. [H, R, W, X, Y, Z, S, Ad, D, E, V, M, B, C, O, G]), which are also manuscripts of very good, indeed almost equal, authority with the ∆- group of manuscripts, have “the Lord [Dominus] followed.”
If “Lord” is the correct reading, then the identification of the “following well” in Pseudo-Philo 10:7 (as well as, presumably, in 20:8) would apparently be the Lord himself. Put another way, if “Lord” is original, then the “following well” in 10:7 and the “water” in the preceding clause of 11:15 could well be viewed as metaphorical for the “Lord” in 11:15, which would take the legendary punch out of the evidence.
The point is that this is not a minor textual problem, despite one’s final conclusions about it, and to base a major conclusion in 1 Cor. 10:4 on this Pseudo-Philo text is precarious. This leaves only Tosephta Sukka 3.11 (date ca. 300 A.D.) and Targum Onquelos Numbers 21:16-20 (date ca. 250-300 A.D.). These are the only really solid textual witnesses to the kind of Jewish legend that Enns says Paul was dependent on; however, because of their late date, it is difficult to say that the legendary tradition was even extant in the first century.
As for the second problem, even if this Jewish “tradition” was extant in the first century there are serious doubts about whether 1 Cor 10:4 demonstrates Paul’s adoption of it. He may well be doing a biblical – theological exegesis of Exodus 14-17 in the light of Psalm 78:14-20 (e,g., “he splits the rocks . . . and gave them abundant drink . . . he struck the rock so that waters gushed out”) and 78:35 (“God was their rock”), the latter of which appears to identify God with the “rock” of Ps. 78:15-16, 20.
Note also some of the differences between Paul’s reference and that of later Judaism: (1) he identifies the rock as the Messiah, (2) he does not use the language of a “well” and (3) he refers to the “rock” from which they drank as a “spiritual rock” from which “spiritual drink” was obtained (1 Cor. 10:4), not a literal rock, significant differences with the later Jewish legend, which appears to see a literal traveling well that “followed” Israel. Incidentally, note also that the idea of God in association with a “rock” that “followed” Israel in the wilderness is not unique to the later Jewish midrashic literature but occurs also in Exod. 14:19 in relation to Exod. 17:5-7, where in the latter passage the presence of the rock from which drinking water came may also implicitly suggest that God is a rock or at least is directly linked to the phrase “the Lord is among us” in response to the people’s doubt about this.
In this respect, note the “following” concept in Exod. 14:19: “and the angel of God who had been walking before the camp of Israel, moved and walked behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.” And the presence of God continues to move between the Egyptians and the Israelites as the latter go through the sea. Note similarly that Isa. 52:12 and 58:8 allude to Exod. 14:19 and prophesy that in the new, second Exodus God would also be Israel’s “rear guard.” Thus, in light of the fact that Exod. 17:6 very closely associates God with the “rock” (as does Psalm 78), it does not take much ingenuity to see how Paul could posit that Christ was a “following rock” in his pre-incarnate divine existence as the “angel of the Lord.” Paul may be doing intratextual and intertextual exegesis, which is a form of biblical theology. Thus, Enns’s attempt to say that the “following” aspect is unique to the Jewish well legend is not correct, since both linguistically and conceptually the notion occurs in the Old Testament itself.
In sum, we can conclude that Enns’ primary conclusions about 1 Cor 10:4 simply remain unproven. It is not certain that this Jewish tradition was even extant in the first century, nor is it certain (if it was extant) that Paul was alluding to it or adopting it.
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.
I am sure I am late to the game on this, but I just observed Al Mohler’s top ten books for preachers for 2013. It is an interesting and fascinating list:
1. John M. Frame, Systematic Theological: An Introduction to Christian Belief (P&R Publishing, 2013)
2. Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Mentor, 2013)
3. Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2013)
4. Thomas R. Schreiner, The King and His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker Academic, 2013)
5. John S. Feinberg, Can You Believe It’s True?: Christian Apologetics in a Modern and Postmodern Era (Crossway Books, 2013)
6. Douglas J. Moo, Galatians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2013)
7. Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Zondervan, 2013)
8. John Elliot Gardiner, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Knopf, 2013)
9. Daniel Brook, A History of Future Cities (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013)
10. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Reading for Preachers: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Eerdmans, 2013)
Of course, I was quite please to see Mohler included my recent book The Question of Canon. Here are his comments:
Those who take the Bible seriously must take the question of the canon seriously. During the past century (or longer), the question of the canon has become quite controversial in many academic circles, and the story of the canon and how it came to be recognized and affirmed by the church is a story many preachers do not know, though they undertake the task of preaching the Bible. As Michael Kruger observes, “The question of canon simply will not go away.” His new book represents an effort to answer many of the most pressing questions about the canon, and what Kruger describes as “this fascination with the canon,” with the work of solid scholarship that should interest every preacher.
Michael Kruger is a professor of New Testament and a seminary president, and this volume represents the kind of work his faculty should aspire to emulate. He takes the serious questions related to the canon head-on and helps the reader to work through these issues in order to gain a greater appreciation for and confidence in the canon as the correct shape of God’s written Word.In his defense of the New Testament canon, Kruger rejects many of the most dangerous and subversive assumptions that have surrounded the question of the canon in recent decades. He argues, for example, that the sharp distinction between Scripture and canon is false. Along with other false assumptions, Kruger addresses these long-dominant academic assumptions as being tied to an understanding of Scripture that actually does not fit either the nature or the role of Scripture in the early church.He corrects this approach by suggesting the canon is best explained by intrinsic needs and developments within the life of the early church. As he notes, this intrinsic model “argues that the phenomenon of canon was one that rose early and naturally within the first few stages of Christianity.” In other words, it was neither forced upon the church by controversy nor did it arrive late in the church’s developing consciousness. Instead, the phenomenon of canon was the developing shape of Scripture in the earliest experience of the church.As Kruger concludes, “In this sense, the canon was like a seedling sprouting from the soil of early Christianity—although it was not fully a tree until the fourth century—it was there…from the beginning.”
You can read Mohler’s entire article here.
For the last few months I have been working through the various episodes of Bible Secrets Revealed from the History Channel. This series challenges a number of popular beliefs and conceptions that people hold about the Bible, and raises questions about the integrity and reliability of the Scriptures. In each of the posts below, I summarize the main content of each episode and offer an evaluation and response.
This entire series has reminded me of two critical truths:
1. Our popular culture is prone to distort and misrepresent the teachings of the Bible. I was struck again by how sensationalistic and misleading popular-level programming can actually be when it comes to the Bible. Although this series had some good moments, as a whole I was disappointed to see the History Channel offer the standard Da Vinci Code-style approach to the Bible.
2. The church must be equipped to respond to these sorts of critiques. Given the high-profile nature of the History Channel (and similar style programming), the average person we are trying to reach is going to be exposed to this type of material. And we need to be ready to offer some answers if we expect non-Christians to give the biblical message a hearing.
But, the implications are even bigger than this. Even believers are being exposed to these sorts of arguments, and often find their confidence in the Bible shaken. At that point, they need a pastor who can speak intelligently about these issues.
Hopefully, these posts below can play a small part in equipping the church for these challenges:
In 1941, Rudolph Bultmann published a very famous essay on “demythologizing” the New Testament. For Bultmann, the New Testament was filled with myths of miracles that no modern person could accept. Thus, in an effort to save Christianity, he attempted to strip it of all its supernatural elements. After all, we don’t want the concept of “God” to become out of date.
Rob Bell’s recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God (HarperOne, 2013), brings up many memories of Bultmann. While Bell is not trying to take away the supernatural elements of the faith, he is trying to purge it of elements that he thinks will make God out of date. Unfortunately, these happen to be core doctrines of Christianity–sin, God’s wrath, the cross, atonement.
When the dust settles, Bell has given us a God that is no longer distinctively Christian. We are left with just vague spiritualism. Whereas Bultmann demythologized Christianity, Bell has detheologized Christianity.
In the end, my overall concern about this volume is a simple one: it is not Christian. Bell’s makeover of Christianity has changed it into something entirely different. It is not Christianity at all, it is modern liberalism. It is the same liberalism that Machen fought in the 1920’s and the same liberalism prevalent in far too many churches today. It is the liberalism that teaches that God exists and that Jesus is the source of our happiness and our fulfillment, but all of this comes apart from any real mention of sin, judgment, and the cross. It is the liberalism that says we can know nothing for sure, except of course, that those “fundamentalists” are wrong. It is the liberalism that appeals to the Bible from time to time, but then simply ignores large portions of it.Bell’s book, therefore, is really just spiritualism with a Christian veneer. It’s a book that would fit quite well on Oprah’s list of favorite books. What is Rob Bell talking about when he is talking about God? Not the God of Christianity.
A couple of days ago, TGC announced on its website that professors from Reformed Theological Seminary will be participating in a couple of panel discussions during the first evening (April 8 at 5:30) of its upcoming annual conference in Orlando.
I will be participating in the first panel discussion on the authority of Scripture, moderated by Justin Taylor. I look forward to joining my RTS colleagues John Currid, Chuck Hill, and Bruce Baugus. Should be an interesting discussion that ranges from text and canon issues (Chuck and myself), to the relationships between the OT and ANE literature (Currid), to the theological and philosophical foundations for our view of the Bible (Baugus).
The second panel looks equally interesting as it explores the theme of “Seeing Christ in the Old Testament.” That panel will include Derek Thomas, Miles Van Pelt, Scott Redd and Mark Futato, moderated by David Mathis. A discussion between three excellent OT scholars (Futato, Van Pelt and Redd), and one of our finest theologians and preachers (Derek Thomas), should make for a fascinating session.
You will not want to miss either of these. For the full TGC article, see here.
I just noticed that the most recent print edition of World Magazine had a write up on the recent “discovery” of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, a purportedly fourth-century Coptic gospel where Jesus refers to “my wife.” The online link can be found here.
The World Magazine article referred to my original discussion of this fragment published on the TGC website here. The article picked up on one of the most critical points I was trying to make in my original discussion: “of all the known ‘gospels’ of Christ, ‘only Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are dated to the first century.'”
This is a rather simple, but often overlooked fact. And if it were remembered more often, then sensationalistic claims about early gospels would be regarded as, well, less sensational. And that would be a refreshing change.
Justin Taylor has been listening to the panel discussion at T4G on the topic of inerrancy. The panel passed along these book recommendations:
Simon Gathercole recommends Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposalby John D. Woodbridge, for a historical study of what the church has held through the centuries.
Mark Dever recommends Christ and the Bible by John Wenham, on Jesus’ view of Scripture.
John Piper recommends “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God by J. I. Packer.
These are good options. However, I would add a few others:
- N.B. Stonehouse and P. Woolley, eds., The Infallible Word (Philadelphia: P&R, 1946).
- J.M. Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010).
- N. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980).
- J.W. Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974)
- G.K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008)