Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Errors in the Bible? My Response

Before I start to respond to the prior post, I just want to note how the email presumes there are contradictions in the Bible. It doesn't really seek an answer, but instead makes a statement. I was surprised that a "pastor" listed these examples, as most of them are elementary level “accusations” that no scholar or even deep reader of the Bible would take seriously (even non-believing scholars would roll their eyes at some of them).

But let me begin with a statement at the end of the email first:

For some of us, we remember that we are not called by God to “believe in the Bible” but to have the faith of Jesus Christ but that is a whole ‘nother discussion… Let me respectfully suggest this is not true. While we are called to have Faith in Jesus, we are also called to believe the Bible.  In Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17 he says this of the disciples: “For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them” (John 17:8). A believer is thus one who accepts as true everything Jesus told us. Earlier Jesus had warned those who rejected his words: There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (John 12:48). So, at the very least, if we do not believe in the “red letter” portions of Scripture Jesus tells us that we will be eternally condemned. But it goes deeper than that. Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” If we live by accepted His word, we die by rejecting it. Paul commands us to pick up“the sword of the Spirit”, which he defines as “the word of God” (Eph 6:17). In Jeremiah 1:9 the prophet says “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’ In fact, 3,808 times the writers claimed to be speaking God’s words---and that’s just the Old Testament! Paul affirms Scripture when he says “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scripture we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). Peter wrote, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).  Paul wrote, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16). Consider the many things Psalm 119 says about the Bible: Those who keep it are blessed (v.2); God has “laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed” (v.4); “I rejoice in following your statues” (v.14); “I will not neglect your word”(v.16); those who stray from God’s commands are cursed (v.21); by setting our heart on God’s law we chose the path of faithfulness(v.30); “I trust in your word” (v.42); “I have put my hope in your word” (v.114); etc. The Bible itself claims to be God’s authoritative word that we are commanded to obey, over and over and over again.

AS TO THE SPECIFIC ISSUES: Let me just say that some of these are clearly silly and not befitting a someone who is a pastor. I expect more from uneducated bloggers who rant against Christianity (in fact, I've read most of these listed below on their blogs). Let me deal with the nonsense ones first (there are some that are legitimate questions): (NOTE: King James only folks will not like what I say below):

1.       Matt 12:30 He that is not with me is against me. /  Mark 9:40 He that is not against us is for us. The context clearly says that Jesus was speaking about two entirely different situations. This is only a “contradiction” when the context is completely and intentionally ignored. In Matthew, Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees who are actively opposing the basic Gospel message. They are actually keeping people from Jesus. Jesus rightly sees this as being against him. In Mark, Jesus is dealing with people who are promoting the Gospel, though admittedly doing so in an unauthorized fashion. Nevertheless, the Gospel is being preached, and Jesus rightly sees this as essentially being “with him”.

2.      Did the Men Hear? Acts 9:7 The men…hearing a voice, but seeing not a man. / Acts 22:9 …but they heard not a voice of him that spoke. The Greek word akouo means both “to hear” and “to understand”. Both of these meaning are well attested in New Testament Greek and the broader Greek secular literature. The simplest explanation is that in one context Paul was emphasizing that even the nonbelievers with him could hear the audible sounds of the voice, but in another context was emphasizing that only he could understand the message.  I know of no Greek scholar, even non-believing ones, that take issue with this. Occam's Razor, which is a governing principle of Critical scholarship, particularly textual analysis, states (among other things) the the simplest explanation is the most plausible. Either we assume that Paul didn't really know his own story, or we assume that Luke was incapable of catching such a major error in his own document, or we can assume that the well established and demonstratively proven uses of this term are simply being employed effectively and accurately by both Paul and Luke. Appealing to contradiction seems awfully complicated when a simple answer lies directly before us.

3.      Does God Tempt? Gen 22:1 God tempted Abraham / James 1:13 God does not tempt manThis is only a problem in the King James version. Most modern versions clarify the meaning. As with the word akou, the Greek word peirazo has multiple shades of meaning. The word doesn’t mean “tempt”, and it doesn’t mean “try”---It means both, and context determines which one is meant. By the way, it is the same thing with the Greek word for woman and wife (also man and husband). It’s the same word. Context determines which is meant. Obviously, many times it does NOT and CANNOT mean wife and many times it does. Sometimes we are not sure. The same is true for peirazo. Again, no secular Greek scholar that I am aware of has any issue with this. There are hundreds of Greek and Hebrew words in which this is true. So, if the Greek word has both a negative and positive meaning, it seems rather simple to conclude that when James says God CAN'T do something, he is referring to the negative thing (and not the positive thing).

4.     Jesus’ Last Words? Matthew 27:46-50 gives Jesus words as “My God My God why have you forsaken me.” But notice that v.50 specifically tells us that Jesus said something else, but it doesn’t tell us what it was—“he cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” [did this pastor actually READ Matthew 27:46-50??]. The other two passages (Luke 23:46 and John 19:30) give two other statements. Notice that no Gospel account tells us everything he said. This doesn’t mean there is a contradiction, it just means they are recording different statements. Luke probably comes the closest to making a direct claim for his recorded words to have been the very last words: “and having said this he breathed his last”. John makes no such claim, only that Jesus said “it is finished” and then very quickly afterwards died. It is entirely probably (and according to Luke 23:46, factual) that Jesus uttered one more statement. But no Gospel writer was trying to record every word. The point was that he died for us. One of the rules of understanding literature (of any kind) is "let the author speak".

5.      Did Michal Have Kids? 2 Sam 6:23 says no. According to King James, 2 Sam 21:8 says yes. But notice this is ONLY a problem in the King James. Most other versions give the name as Merab, which is what the Septuagint translation has. The Septuagint was translated before the time of Christ.The names look similar in both Hebrew and English, and a copyist made an error which got repeated in many Hebrew manuscripts. However, the Hebrew manuscript that the Septuagint translators worked off of had the Hebrew word “Merab”, not Michal.  The Hebrew manuscripts they had, which have been lost, were several hundred years older than any complete Hebrew manuscript that we have today.

6.     How Many Stalls Did Solomon Have? 2 Chronicles 9:25 says the number was 4,000. 1 Kings 4:26 says it was 40,000. Notice that the Septuagint version of 1 Kings 4:26 gives the number as 4,000—which correlates perfectly with 2 Chronicles 9:25. Again, the Hebrew manuscript that the Septuagint translators used apparently had 4,000 and not 40,000. The error of 40,000 got put into the Hebrew manuscripts some time much later. Sadly, the KJV put in the erroneous 40,000 instead of the correct 4,000. The NIV has corrected the error of the KJV and lists this as 4,000.

7.      Who Prophesied the Potter’s Field? Matthew 27:9-10 cites Jeremiah as the source of his quote: Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” Of course, there is no mention of 30 pieces of silver in Jeremiah. That comes from Zechariah 11:12-13. But notice that it is a rather free quotation which does include some words and themes from a few different passages in Jeremiah (particularly Jer 18:2-3; 19:1-13; and 32:6-15). In those passages Jeremiah talks a lot about potters and buying a field, and within the context of future prophesy. So, Matthew is citing Jeremiah. His only “failure” (if it can be called that) is that he doesn’t mention that he is citing from Zechariah too. Of course, as a Jew writing to Jews, Matthew may have simply assumed they would have understood the Zechariah quote as being from Zechariah, but was trying to focus their attention on the prophetic sections of Jeremiah as it relates to the Potter imagery (which deal largely with future judgment).

8.     Who caused David to Take a Census? Was it God (2 Sam 24:1) or Satan (1 Chron 21:1)? Is this really a contradiction? Could it not be both? Does not the Bible present God as being the ultimate authority of the universe? In fact, even evil spirits are presented as having to submit to the authority of God (see 1 Kings 22:19-22). The answer seems pretty simple: God judged David for his sin and allowed Satan to deceive him. Romans 1:24 talks about God “giving people over to their sinful desires”. Just as God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about good, so God now uses the deceit of Satan to humble and rebuke his servant David. Ultimately, God is in control.

9.     Who is the Mother of Abijah? Is it Maachah (2 Chron 11:20) or Michaiah (2 Chron 13:2). Again, this is only an issue in the King James or King James dependent translations. The Septuagint translation of 2 Ch 13:2 has Maachah, just like 2 Chron 11:20. In Hebrew the names sound very similar: Mî kây âh and Maʿă kâh. The Hebrew letters (which I can’t render in email) are even closer, being only one small letter off (and those two letters are nearly identical….an example in English would be the similarity between the capital letters B and D, or even U and V….and considering the manuscripts were handwritten you can imagine how easily things could get confused). The NIV corrects the mistake, and renders the name Maachah in 2 Chron 11:20.

TWO GOOD QUESTIONS: So, out of the entire list, we are left with only two complicated issues. Many are silly, surface level things that are really only a problem in the English translation. Once we get a Bible translation that isn't over 400 years old, or do a quick look at the original language (even via Strong's Concordance) many of them disappear (#’s 2, 3, 5, 6 & 9). Others are a failure to consider context (#’s 1 & 4). Still others are a failure to understand Scripture’s larger theme of God’s sovereignty (#8). #9 is a simple failure to recognize the clear allusion to Jeremiah (NOTE: MY NUMBERING ABOVE IS DIFFERENT THAN THE ORIGINAL EMAIL). The last two are more complicated:

10.   Who was the Father of Joseph? Yep, the two genealogy lists are different (Matt 1 and Luke 3). Everyone acknowledges this. In fact, the differences are far greater than what you mentioned. What many believe is that the genealogy of Luke 3:23-38 is actually the genealogy of Mary. Luke may be flagging us to this, as he says in v.23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.” If this theory is correct, then Luke is essentially saying, “Jesus clearly wasn’t the son of Joseph, so let me go ahead and give you his actual physical lineage (through Mary”. Everyone concedes that Matthew is clearly giving Joseph’s genealogy. Now, this may not be the answer—but it is reasonable and has some textual evidence to support it. 

11.     What did Judas do with the Money? Did he purchase the field (Acts 1:18) or did the Chief Priest’s purchase it (Matt 27:5-7)? Actually, this isn’t the real issue. Almost no scholar has a problem with these two passages. Matthew 27 makes it clear that the Chief Priest wouldn’t take the money back, and clearly didn’t want to be associated with it. The implication is that they purchased the field in his name. At the very least, it was HIS money (it couldn’t go back into the treasury), and the purchase of the field is clearly and obviously associated with Judas. He is the responsible party of the purchase, at least in God's eyes (which is the only perspective that counts).  The BIGGER issue that perplexes scholars is the seemingly differing accounts of Judas’ death.

Of course, we could avoid the work of actually honoring the text enough to figure out what it says and just declare it to be full of contradictions. That would be easier and it would fit the a priori assumptions in vogue today.

1 comment:

  1. One can only roll one's eyes at the sad state of pastoral "scholarship,' when, as you state, a pastor raises these issues. 'Twould appear said pastor wouldn't know the true definition of a contradiction even if it him flush in his A or non-A.

    And, his congregation most likely then sits there nodding approvingly when he puts forth such, because none of THEM have bothered to study their bibles, either.