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:
We live in a culture where the thing that is most offensive is not doing something wrong, but telling someone else that they are doing something wrong.
Bad behavior gets a pass. Calling it bad behavior does not.
Of course, this cultural trend should not be surprising. We are told in Scripture that depraved cultures “call evil good and good evil” (Is 5:20).
But, living in a culture like this has had its effect on Christians. We have been conditioned to never condemn certain kinds of behavior lest we are chastened by an avalanche of social media accusing us of being legalistic and judgmental.
Thus, even in Christian circles we often hear the claim, “It’s not my place to judge someone else.”
This popular phrase is the next installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase? [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.
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…]
Well, it’s that time of year. Christmas is almost a week away and we are already seeing various media channels releasing stories, articles, and documentaries on Jesus. And when the dust settles, they all make the same point: the real Jesus is a lot different than you think.
As some might recall, this same sort of thing happened last Christmas with Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” You can read my two part response here and here.
This Christmas it is happening again with an article by Valerie Tarico, “Here are Five Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed.” But she takes things even further than most other Christmas articles on Jesus. Rather than suggesting Jesus is different than we think, she is arguing that Jesus never existed at all.
I suppose that might put a damper on some people’s Christmas.
Before I respond to her five reasons below, it may be helpful to understand how unusual articles like this really are. The reason most Christmas articles simply want to rewrite the story of Jesus is because virtually all scholars agree–liberal and conservative alike–that there is little reason to doubt his existence.
Indeed, so convinced are scholars that Jesus certainly existed, that it is difficult to even find scholars who might argue otherwise. The most notable modern example is no doubt Richard Carrier and his book, The Historicity of Jesus.
And incredibly, even the consummate biblical critic, Bart Ehrman, has responded to Carrier in his book, Did Jesus Exist? I must say, it is an unusual experience reading Erhman when he is actually defending (to some degree) the historicity of the Gospel accounts!
So, can Tarico (a psychologist by training) overcome the vast scholarly consensus in favor of Jesus’ existence? Here are her five arguments:
1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
Not surprisingly, Tarico begins with the fact that secular sources don’t talk about Jesus in the first century. But there are a number of problems with this line of reasoning:
(a) It is functionally an argument from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Secular historians would have little interest in a stir created by a backwater preacher from Galilee. This simply would not have been on their radar screen. Arguments from silence are widely regarded as fallacious precisely because we don’t always know why historians talk about some things and not others.
(b) Tarico conveniently rules out the numerous Christian sources that do tell us about Jesus (Gospels, epistles, Acts, etc.). She will claim, no doubt, that these sources cannot be trusted. But, ironically, these are precisely the sources that would have actually taken notice of a person like Jesus. Many of the New Testament authors would have actually been in Galilee and Judea and would have been able to record such things (more about this below).
(c) Tarico fails to mention the comments about Jesus in the writings of the first-century historian Josephus. Perhaps this is because Josephus is Jewish and therefore not “secular.” But this is hardly a convincing reason to omit his testimony. As a Jew, he would have had little sympathy to the burgeoning Christian movement.
2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.
Next Tarico appeals to the well-worn argument that since Paul, our earliest Christian writer, provides little biographical details of Jesus’ life, then Jesus must not have existed. This argument is problematic on a number of levels.
(a) First this argument misunderstands entirely what Paul’s letters were designed to do. They were epistles, not Gospels, and therefore not intended to recount the words and deeds of Jesus. Tarico is confused about the genre of early Christian writings and assumes they would all cover the same territory.
(b) Paul actually knows quite a bit of historical details about Jesus and these come out in various places in his letters. One key example is how he recounts (in detail) what Jesus did and said at the Last Supper (1 Corr 11:23-26).
(c) Paul would have known the immediate disciples of Jesus, such as Peter and John, and would have had access to many other people who lived during the time of Jesus. If Jesus never existed, are we to think that Peter and John just lied to Paul? Or are we to think that Paul just made up characters of Peter and James and the witnesses of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-8)? And if Jesus never existed, would not Paul have heard this from other people who were alive in the purported time of Jesus’ life? In the end, Paul’s life is nonsensical if Jesus didn’t really exist.
3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
At this point, Tarico’s misunderstanding of the New Testament documents becomes even more apparent. She claims that “we know” that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That is patently false.
John’s gospel, for instance, claims to be written by someone who is actually at the last Supper and an immediate disciple of Jesus (John 21:24). And the historical evidence for John as this person is very strong (the link between Irenaeus and Polycarp bears this out).
Another example that the Gospels contain “eyewitness” testimony comes from the Gospel of Mark. We have early, widespread, and uniform patristic testimony that this Gospel was written by Mark the disciple of Peter, and that the Gospel therefore contains Peter’s eyewitness accounts.
Tarico would have done well to familiarize herself with Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses which paints nearly the opposite picture she has presented in her article. If she had, she would realize that there is tremendous evidence that the Gospels are first-hand accounts of the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
I suppose it was inevitable that the issue of supposed contradictions between the gospels would be raised. But, this argument simply doesn’t work:
(a) Declaring it doesn’t make it so. Notice that Tarico has just assumed there are contradictions without showing that there are contradictions. Yes, the Gospels offer different perspectives on the life of Jesus, but there is no reason to regard these as contradictory. A lot of these so-called contradictions evaporate upon closer inspection, especially when methods of ancient historiography are taken into account (which are quite different than modern ones).
(b) Even if the Gospels contradict each other, this doesn’t prove Jesus didn’t exist. There is a non sequitur in Tarico’s argument here. Even if some historical sources disagree at points, this doesn’t require a wholesale abandonment of the historical realities that stand behind them. Indeed, if we adopted Tarico’s standards here we would not be able to affirm hardly any historical events!
5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
Again, this is a non sequitur in Tarico’s reasoning. Since scholars disagree about the details of Jesus’ life therefore he never existed? How does that follow? Jesus could really exist and scholars could also disagree about the specifics–the two are not mutually exclusive.
Also, what Tarico fail’s to understand is that the disagreement amongst scholars is not necessarily due to problematic sources. It may be due (and often is) to the fact that scholar refuse to accept the content of the sources we do have and instead insist on reconstructing Jesus for themselves.
Thus, the failure of scholars to agree about Jesus says more about modern historical methods (and the refusal of modern people to accept the Gospels as they are) than it does about whether Jesus actually existed.
In the end, Tarico has provided few reasons to think we should doubt the existence of Jesus. On the contrary, each of her suggested reasons, when explored more fully, reveal that we actually have very solid reasons to believe in the existence of Jesus.
In short, the scholarly consensus on this matter exists for a reason. Scholars may disagree about a great many things regarding Jesus. But his existence is not one of them.
As many know, the last two years I have been teaching a weekly women’s Bible study at RTS Charlotte designed to reach the community outside the formal seminary classroom. Every Wednesday, 120 plus women gather together to study the book of Romans, and it has been a delight.
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. As it written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see.
In light of a passage like this, it is natural for folks to wonder whether God really wants people to be saved. Why would he “harden” someone and send them a “spirit of stupor” if he wants to save them?
But, our answer to these questions depends on what we mean when we say that God “wants” something. And when we talk about what God wants we inevitably must talk about the “will” of God. And this is a subject that requires some careful nuance.
Historically speaking, theologians have distinguished between three different sorts of “wills” for God:
1. Decretive will. This refers simply to what God decrees or ordains by his sovereign will. And we know from Eph 1:11 that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. So, in this sense, we can say that a hurricane, for example, is God’s “will.”
2. Preceptive will. This refers simply to what God has commanded, his precepts. So, God’s “will” is that we honor our parents, keep the sabbath holy, not commit adultery, etc.
3. Dispositional will. This refers to that which pleases or delights God. E.g., “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:23)
When these three “wills” of God are considered, we can see that God, from one perspective, does not “want” (dispositional will) the wicked to perish. But, from another perspective, God has decreed that some will be saved and some will not (decretive will).
This is not that different than what we do even on a human level. A human judge in a court of law may not “want” to send a criminal to prison for life, but he will still do so because he is a just judge. So, in one sense he doesn’t “want” to do it; but then in another sense he does “want” to do it.
In the end, therefore, there is no contradiction between the doctrine of election and the fact that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. For this reason the second half of Ezekiel 18:23 is true: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declare the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?“
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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)