In the News

Literal Interpretations and Reading the Bible for all Its Worth

Dave Lose, author of Making Sense of Scripture, and Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, recently contributed to the Huffington Post an article entitled “4 Good Reasons Not to Read the Bible Literally.” I took an interest in reading the article, as the biblical writers utilized figures of speech (e.g. hyperbole; metonymy; synecdoche), and that there are instances when “Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water.”

A positive point made by Lose is that the Bible does not idealize humanity, but includes all of our warts and wrinkles. Abraham passed on of his wife twice, Moses murdered, David committed adultery, and Peter denied the Lord. “Whatever their accomplishments,” writes Lose, “most of the ‘heroes of the faith’ are complicated persons with feet of clay. And that’s the point: the God of the Bible regularly uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.” Problems also abound with Lose’ article, as the bulk of it is a disappointing criticism Bible inerrancy.

According to Lose, “There is no hint that the authors of the Bible imagined that what they were writing was somehow supernaturally guaranteed to be factually accurate.” Elsewhere in the article he asserts, “Earlier Christians—along with almost everyone else who lived prior to the advent of modernity—simply didn’t imagine that for something to be true it had to be factually accurate, a concern only advanced after the Enlightenment.” Yet, this makes no sense. If God has spoken to us through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, then it can be deduced that the information communicated would be without error. Common to each of the Gospel is teaching on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; yet, if this teaching is not factually accurate, then the theology is also good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot. Paul gets it when in stating: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). Inerrancy does matter!

What are the so-called “errors” of Lose? One is Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, which the Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke record towards the end of Christ’s ministry in contrast to John who places it at the beginning of Christ’s ministry. It is true that the wooden literalist, whether liberal or conservative, stumbles when coming to grips with the chronology of the Gospel writers, the issue is not the four Gospels contain factual errors; rather, the Bible student is to be sensitive to the literary structures inherent within the biblical text noting the unique ways the Gospel writers under the inspiration of the Spirit constructed their account. There is no contradiction with “Christ’s Cleansing of the Temple.” Lose also makes a fuss about the crucifixion occurring on the Passover in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but on “the Day of Preparation” in John. This is simply making a mountain out of a molehill, and John’s “Day of Preparation” is simply a reference to the Passover week. D. A. Carson writes, “ ‘Passover’ can refer to the Passover meal, the day of the Passover meal, or (as in this case) the entire Passover week (i.e. Passover day plus the immediately ensuing Feast of Unleavened Bread” [1].

Lose’s assertion that “Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally” is correct in so far as it means the wooden literalist interpretation of fundamentalist on the left and on the right only came about in the last hundred and fifty years; however, the allegorical interpretation associated with Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine and other early church fathers can likewise be considered problematic. It is really through the historical grammatical interpretive method that we can come to grips with the intended message communicated through the text.

God has spoken and, while fallible human agents were used to compose the message, these prophets and apostles wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that what was produced was the infallible Word of God. The task of the Bible student is to read God’s Word and using sound principles of hermeneutics, which is the art and science of biblical interpretation, draw out its intended message. For further study on this subject, Has God Spoken by Hank Hanegraaff is highly recommended.

— Warren Nozaki

Notes:

1. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 604.

Apologetics, In the News

The Fact and Fiction of Bruce Chilton’s Mary Magdalene

Last week for the Huffington Post, Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell professor of religion at Bard College, offered a synopsis of his book Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday, 2006). Chilton explains that Mary was a common name, which is why the biblical character was associated with a place called Magdala, so that she would not be confused with the other women with the same name. He points out that Jesus’ statement about the tax collectors and prostitutes having a better chance at getting into heaven before the chief priest and elders (Matt. 21:27) has led some to conclude Mary Magdalene worked the oldest profession (albeit the idea stretches credulity beyond the breaking point).

Chilton also mentions legends about the biblical character, such as her sailing on a rudderless ship to France, levitating while she prayed, being Jesus’ concubine according to the Cathars, or having sexual relations with Jesus and conceiving a child, as depicted in faked parchments produced by Pierre Plantard after World War II, which became subject to the popular fiction The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Please seeMary Magdalene’s Modern Makeover and The Da Vinci Code: Revisiting a Cracked Conspiracy” by James Patrick Holding.

Chilton believes Mary Magdalene was the one whom the Lord exorcised demons out of, and identifies her with the women who anointed the Lord at the end of His ministry in Mark 14. There is nothing problematic with these assertions per se; however, red flags are raised with Chilton’s statements about Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Lord being merely a vision. “Mary Magdalene’s vision, precisely because it was a vision in the earliest account (Mark 16) and not the inspection of an empty tomb, placed Jesus in the realm of heaven,” writes Chilton.

The idea of Mary Magdalene having a visionary experience of the risen Lord does not really pan out, particularly in light of the many other eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Paul Maire notes, “The ‘psychological’ or ‘hallucination’ theory would be attractive if only one person had claimed to see a vision of the risen Christ, perhaps Mary Magdalene, who formerly may have had psychological problems anyway. But the disciples were a hardheaded and hardly hallucinable group, especially Thomas. And, if sources have any validity, there would have to have collective hallucinations for different groups of up to five hundred in size, all of them seeing the same thing—a virtual impossibility in the case of a phenomenon that is usually extremely individualistic.”[1] (Please see, “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: HALLUCINATION The Recent Revival of Theories” by Gary Habermas.) Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study, please consider the following bookstore resources:

In The Fullness of Time
SB916/$23.00

Resurrection
B545/$14.00

The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God
B808/$31.99

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
B890/$16.99

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ
B387/$12.99

Notes:

1. Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 196.

Journal Topics, Reviews

The Story Behind Paul Maier’s Novel The Constantine Codex

I wrote The Constantine Codex using the same formula I did for the first two novels in this series: A Skeleton in God’s Closet, and More Than a Skeleton. While the main characters are the same and the novels do build on one another, the plots are so different that each can be read independently of the other two. In all three, I also aim to educate while entertaining. In the first, the reader learns a good deal about archaeology, and in the second, how to avoid extremes in current Christianity, Codex explores how biblical manuscripts led to our preset Bible as well as the world of Islam.
While using fiction for my principal characters, I always try to paint a background of solid fact in sowing how to respond to the greatest dangers that could ever face the faith. In the first book, I deal with a plot that could have doomed Christianity, and in the second, a fraud that would have done the same thing. But in The Constantine Codex, I also take on what is clearly the greatest challenge ever to face the church—Islam—and present readers with a model of how Christian-Muslim dialogue could take place at the highest levels when Jonathan Weber, my protagonist, debates the world leader of Sunni Islam at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Christians don’t know enough about the Muslim challenge, or how easy it is to defend our faith.

Still, the most significant plotline in Codex deals with a little-known historical episode in the life of Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He instructed his biographer, Eusebius of Caesarea (“the father of church history”) to have fifty elegantly-written copies of the Bible prepared for use in the early church, with its pages bound together into a codex, the world’s first book form. Not one of these has ever been discovered—until now (moving, of course, from fact to fiction) But this codex—the earliest Bible in book form—contains 67 books rather than the usual 66. Is it genuine? Does the extra book really complete the story of St. Paul’s martyrdom at Rome? Should it be included in the canon? How Christianity reacts to this discovery becomes the centerpiece of the novel.

Advance readers are generous in their comments regarding The Constantine Codex, I’m delighted to say. Hank Hanegraaff, the host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast, writes: “Just a few pages into it and I was hooked. Maier is that rare combination of masterful storyteller and historian. A brilliant use of the power of story to excite and educate. Bravo!”

— Paul Maier

The Constantine Codex (B1041) is available for purchase through the Christian Research Institute bookstore. Also available from Paul Maier are his novels A Skeleton In God’s Closet (B960), More Than a Skeleton (B920), and Pontius Pilate (B687). To understand more about the historical background to the New Testament, we recommend Paul Maier’s books In The Fullness of Time (SB916) and Josephus, The Essential Works (B558).

Dr. Paul L. Maier is the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and a much-published author of both scholarly and popular works.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

The Historically Reliable Bible

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”—2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

To defend the Christian faith, we must be equipped to demonstrate that the Bible is divine rather than merely human in origin. When we can successfully accomplish this, we can answer a host of objections to the Christian faith by appealing to Scripture.

Toward that end, archaeology is a powerful witness to the accuracy of the Scriptures. Over and over, comprehensive archaeological field work since the mid-nineteenth century, coupled with careful biblical interpretation, affirm the reliability of the Bible down to minute details; and skeptics who challenge Scripture are silenced as myriad discoveries point to the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Take, for example, the skeptics’ claim that Jesus was not nailed to the cross but was tied according to the Roman custom. In 1999, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a young man in his early 20s who was crucified in the first century. His remains attest to a death by crucifixion precisely as described in the Bible: his bones tell the story of open arms that had been nailed to a crossbar, and a large single nail had been driven through both heels. That nail was still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death. Moreover, the shin bones seemed to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions.

Here’s another example. The Old Testament references the Hittites as one of seven Canaanite nations. In fact, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 and is one of King David’s warriors (who is later killed in battle). Yet, prior to the early twentieth century, skeptics said the Hittites were pure mythology. Thus, many were surprised in 1906 when archaeologists unearthed the ruins of Hattutsas in Turkey, the chief city of the ancient Hittites, confirming the biblical references. Or consider the Assyrians who, like the Hittites, were also thought to be a mythological people group. In the nineteenth century, the capital city was unearthed on the plains of Northern Iraq, including the palace of Sargon, the Assyrian King mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. The list of archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record goes on and on.

Furthermore, the reliability of the Bible is affirmed repeatedly by the eyewitness testimony of its authors—or close associates of eyewitnesses—to the recorded events (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3—8; 1 John 1:1-3). Additionally, ancient Jewish and secular historians, such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius, also confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in Scripture.

It is important to note, finally, that while archeological and historical evidences can remove doubts about the factual accuracy of the Bible, the spiritual message of our sin, humanity’s need for redemption, and a loving Creator who interacts in the affairs of humans, providing salvation, must be received by faith. Indeed, as the apostle Paul declared, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV).

Hank Hanegraaff

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Proof Positive

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”—2 Timothy 3:16

scriptureDespite what you might glean from the media, Christians have proof positive that the whole cannon of Scripture is utterly reliable. This is an important point to internalize because in order to effectively defend the Christian faith, we must be equipped to demonstrate to an unenlightened audience that the Bible is not only divine in origin, but also one hundred percent correct.

In fact, archaeology is a powerful witness to the accuracy of the Scriptures. Over and over, comprehensive archaeological field work since the mid-nineteenth century, coupled with careful biblical interpretation, affirm the reliability of the Bible down to minute details.

Skeptics who challenge Scripture are silenced as myriad discoveries point to the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Take, for example, the skeptics’ claim that Jesus was not nailed to the cross, but was tied according to Roman custom. In 1999, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a young man in his early 20s who was crucified in the first century. His remains attest to a death by crucifixion precisely as described in the Bible: his bones tell the story of open arms that had been nailed to the crossbar and a large single nail had been driven through both heels. That nail was still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death. Moreover, the shin bones seemed to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions.

Here’s another example. The Old Testament references the Hittites as one of seven Canaanite nations. In fact, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 and is one of King David’s warriors (who is later killed in battle). Yet, prior to the early twentieth century, skeptics said the Hittites were pure mythology. Thus, many were surprised in 1906 when archaeologists unearthed the ruins of Hattutsas in Turkey, the chief city of the ancient Hittites, confirming the biblical references.

Or consider the Assyrians who, like the Hittites, were also thought to be a mythological people group. In the nineteenth century, the capital city was unearthed on the plains of Northern Iraq, including the palace of Sargon, the Assyrian King mentioned in Isaiah 20:1.

The list of archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record goes on and on. The reliability of the Bible is affirmed repeatedly by the eyewitness testimony of its authors—or in some cases close associates of eyewitnesses—to the recorded events. Secular historians also confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in Scripture.

It is important to note that while archeological evidence can remove doubts about the historical accuracy of the Bible, the spiritual message of our sin, man’s need for redemption, and a loving Creator who interacts in the affairs of men, providing a means of salvation, must be accepted by faith. Indeed, as the apostle Paul declared, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Hank Hanegraaff

For Further Study CRI Recommends:

Flip Chart: LIGHTS on Your Path

Basic Bible Reading Tool Kit

Book: How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth

Article: Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible

In the News

John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan: A “brilliant,” “keen mind,” Jesus scholar who “loves the Bible” or a blasphemer?

A couple of weeks ago after church, I came across the CNN article “John Dominic Crossan’s ‘Blasphemous’ Portrait of Jesus,” which offered a brief biographical sketch of the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, an extremely liberal committee of Bible scholars whose research into the “historical Jesus” attempts to undermine the Christ of the historic Christian faith. Crossan’s own portrait of the “historical Jesus” is one of a Jewish peasant non-violent insurrectionist. Crossan does profess to be a “Christian,” believes he is “trying to understand the stories of Jesus, not refute them,” and says, “if people finish with my books and now see why Pilate executed him and why people died for him, then I’ve done my job.”

Is not John Dominic Crossan really selling the Jesus of his own imagination, one which can be rightly considered blasphemous? What the CNN article does not mention is that Crossan believes Jesus was crucified; however, contrary to the four Gospel writers and Paul’s affirmation in 1 Corinthians 15, the Jesus Seminar co-founder believes the corpse was left unburied and most likely eaten by wild dogs. As for the resurrection appearances, he dismisses them as “tales” and “wishful thinking.” Finally, the Jesus Seminar method of biblical interpretation is both fanciful and flawed in that it takes a particular scholar’s preconceived notion of the “historical Jesus,” and then distinguishes the passages that fit that imaginary portrait as representing the historical person from the passages that do not fit the imaginary portrait as later mythology. For John Dominic Crossan to deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and go to great lengths to twist Scriptures in support of his own imaginary portrait of Jesus, the title blasphemous fits.

— Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study on John Dominic Crossan, we recommend:

The Search for Jesus Hoax

Answering More Prime Time Fallacies (FALSE Acronym)

The FEAT that Demonstrates the FACT of Resurrection

The Jesus Seminar: The Quest for the Imaginary Jesus

The Jesus Seminar and the Gospel of Thomas: Courting the Media at the Cost of Truth

Jesus and the Earliest Sources: An Answer to John Dominic Crossan

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Case for the Real Jesus

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Making Sense of a gracious God within the Old Testament drama

Is God a Moral Monster?Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

The Old Testament (OT) at points can be extremely difficult to understand. Complicating matters are remarks made by popular Neo-Atheists like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris criticizing the OT God as a jealous, angry deity who supports heinous acts like genocide, human sacrifice, ethnocentrism, chattel slavery, and misogyny. Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God offers a well-written lay level response to these criticisms, demonstrating how the redemptive movement of God in Israel’s history puts the proper perspective on difficult OT passages, such as those relating to ceremonial cleanliness, kosher foods, cruel punishment, misogyny, bride-price, polygamy, concubines, slavery, and Canaanite killings.

Copan observes that not only are social aspects of Ancient Near East life alien to moderns, but the ancient social structures were badly damaged by the fall. It is within this context God starts a covenant nation, gives the law, and forms a culture. The OT law, however, was not the permanent ideal for all times and places, but looked forward to “a new, enduring covenant” (59). God met His chosen people where they were at, showed them a higher ideal, but “didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for” but “moved incrementally” (61, italics in original). The Ancient Near East cultures permitted slavery and the brutal treatment of slaves. The OT law permitted slavery but limited the kinds of punishments used on slaves. The New Testament declared masters and slaves as equal, but the ultimate ideal is the “genuine realization of creation ideals in Genesis 1:26-27, in which God’s image-bearers live and work together and are fairly, graciously treated; they are viewed as full persons and equals; and genuine humanness is restored in Christ, the second Adam/the new man” (63).

Old Testament heroes were flawed. Abraham lied about Sarah, Moses murdered an Egyptian, and David power raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah; however, Copan points out that one must avoid the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and “the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.” The status placed on these OT heroes was not their moral perfection, but their uncompromising dedication to the cause of Yahweh, and trust in His promises (66-67).

Copan spends several chapters addressing the New Atheist criticism that the killing of the Canaanites is tantamount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Militating against the charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing are the facts that God waited 430 years to judge the Canaanites as “the last resort” when their corrupting moral practices reached their lowest depths (159-160), that God’s command to destroy nations was never meant to be a “universally binding standard for all time and all cultures” (161), that Israel experienced divine judgment when she sinned (163), that Joshua’s use of Ancient Near East conventional warfare language, a form of exaggeration, precludes the literalness of statements about complete annihilation of a particular people group (170-173), that some Canaanites who responded positively to the God of Israel received mercy (175), that noncombatant Canaanites live outside cities like Jericho and Ai, which were government/military installations (176), and that Deuteronomy 20 indicates Canaanite cities could have made peace with Israel (180). The OT was not the ideal, but was part of a redemptive movement to the ideal, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Copan lastly points out that Neo-Atheists can recognize morals and to a certain extent live by a moral code; however, they have not the philosophical foundations to explain why they are rights-bearing, valuable individuals (210-211). People have dignity and intrinsic knowledge of morality because they are created in God’s image, which is a better explanation why moral absolutes exist.

Is Yahweh the moral monster the New Atheists paint him out to be? According to the evidence, nothing could be further from the truth! What are your thoughts?

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Why Atheists Object to Killing the Canaanites

Killing the Canaanites: Was it Biblical?

Atheists grouse about God’s ordering of the destruction of the Canaanites calling it “divine genocide.” But, it wasn’t genocide, it was capital punishment, which I try to show in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal. In Lev. 18 the Lord details Canaanite sin: incest, adultery, offering children to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality; and, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that anyone who did any of these things should be put to death (of course, that’s a theocracy—now Christians fight in the realm of ideas and in prayer).
Shock-and-awe! The atheist is repulsed by this answer. Why? There are three major reasons. First, most of today’s “enlightened” thinkers, or “brights” (as some atheists like to be called), don’t regard anything as deserving capital punishment—usually, not even for murder. So, obviously, if capital punishment is itself always wrong, then surely God was wrong to order it.
Second, even if the atheist did think capital punishment appropriate for some crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be warranted for committing consensual sexual acts. After all, even if the atheist finds, say, sex with animals personally repugnant, that doesn’t mean that they don’t approve those so inclined. For example, atheist/ethicist Peter Singer wrote that sex with animals is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” And it’s not just Singer. Consider the 2008 movie Sleeping Dogs Lie where a woman tells her fiancé about once having sex with her dog only to have her fiancé break off the engagement. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Sleeping Dogs Lie “possesses a quick wit and an endearing tenderness toward Amy as honesty wrecks her life. It’s sweet, doggone it.” Notice for Travers it wasn’t sex with a dog that ruined Amy’s life, but honesty.
Third, even if atheists were to think that some offenses did deserve capital punishment and even if the things enumerated in Lev. 18 did warrant that punishment, the atheist would still complain that some innocents must also have been killed. But how would the atheist know this? After all, if the God of the Bible really does exist then He does know everything which includes knowing who is guilty and who would or would not repent. This was exactly the point of Abraham’s lengthy dialog with the Lord in Genesis 18 regarding the coming destruction of two Canaanite cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord said He would spare both cities if even ten righteous people were found. But not only could ten righteous not be found, the angels had to all but drag Lot and his family out of the city.
Still, atheists will intuit that what God ordered was all very wrong. And that’s all it is: atheist intuition. But the Christian’s task is to proclaim God’s truth and not be surprised that the atheist hates it. After all, Jesus said that the reason the world hated Him was because “I testify that what it does is evil.”
Clay Jones is an Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. You can read more about Clay by visiting www.clayjones.net.