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The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

The Real Issue Behind the Duck Dynasty Flap and What Should Be Learned From It

11174The controversy surrounding the suspension of Phil Robertson by A&E over his comments opposing homosexuality has undoubtedly crowded the newsfeed of just about everyone’s choice of social media.  Sadly, it appears to have brought out the worst of some people on both sides of the controversy.

More than the issue of free speech or the merits of the show itself, the Duck Dynasty dust up signals the significant shift of the moral landscape and perception of biblical authority in this country.  The reality is that 20 years ago comments such as this would not have drawn the firestorm as we see today.  At the heart of this controversy is not Phil Robertson, A&E, or reality TV, but rather the growing intolerance of secularism against a particular Christian conviction: homosexuality.

The subsequent issue becomes how both sides are going to respond to each other over this issue.  The comments Robertson made in the GQ article were crude, but they were not inflammatory (read the article here).  Thus, the whole thing seems to have been blown out of proportion.  And to be fair, I have seen countless comments from conservative Christians that were inappropriate and completely unhelpful in contributing anything to the debate.

My query in all of this is why each side feels the need to silence the other with bullying tactics.  This is absolutely not the way to get someone who believes differently than you to change his or her mind.  The controversy also brings to the fore the completely erroneous mindset that to disagree with someone means you hate them or think them to be backward.  Both sides need to jettison this approach posthaste.  To this end, I came across two quotes that are especially helpful on this point.  Each quote comes from both sides of this controversy.

Here’s the first quote from Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a conservative evangelical:

“Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.”  (Read Moore’s full article here)

Here’s the second quote from Brandon Ambrosino, a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore and is gay:

“For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive… But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him- even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.  I’m reminded of something Bill Maher said during the height of the Paula Deen controversy: ‘Do we always have to make people go away?’ I think the question applies in this situation too.

Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them? One of the biggest pop-culture icons of today just took center stage to “educate” us about sexuality. I see this as an opportunity to further the discussion, to challenge his limited understanding of human desire, to engage with him and his rather sizable audience — most of whom, by the way, probably share his views-  and to rise above the endless sea of tweet-hate to help move our LGBT conversations to where they need to go.  G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is ‘an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.’ If he is right- and he usually is- then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.”  (Read Ambrosino’s full article in Time here)

The best way to convince the other side of your position is through thoughtful engagement, not bullying tactics with the aim of silencing the opposition through pedantic and inflammatory comments.  Christians need to be careful not to shun those with whom they disagree, but rather through our words and actions point people to Christ and the truth of His Word.  After all, is this not how Jesus did it?

 

 

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

I have put together an attempt to summarize some of the classic arguments for the existence of God.  Yes, we believe in the existence of God through faith and must do more than just assent to God’s existence, but embrace His invitation to us to know Him in a personal way.  That said, we live in a culture that more and more thinks belief in God is a sign of ignorance.  That is not the case.  I hope this summary may be helpful to you personally or in talking to others about God.

First, why is there something rather than nothing?  Why is there a universe at all?  If God didn’t exist, then nothing would exist.  Nothing comes from nothing.  Matter is not eternal and cannot cause itself to exist.  The origin of why anything exists can only be explained by the existence of God.  Evolution does not explain the our origins.  Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, says not one single thing about the origin of life.  It is a book about mutations, not origins.  Evolution is like the ancient fable that the world rests on the back of a turtle.  A skeptic once asked a sage, “If the world rests on a turtle, what is that turtle resting on?”  “Why, another turtle, of course,” said the sage.  “And what is beneath that turtle?  Surely not another turtle?” asked the skeptic.  An exasperated sage replied, “Look, it’s turtles all the way down!”*  Only the existence of an eternal God can explain where the first “turtle” came from.  There must be a First Cause that is self-existent to logically explain the origin of the universe.  The Big Bang cannot explain origins because there is no sufficient explanation where the egg of cosmic dust/particles came from that exploded.  There must be a non-contingent entity that started life and that entity by definition is God.

Second, the universe displays a dizzying array of the evidence of careful design.  The anthropic principle- that the constants present to accommodate life are so infinitesimally small they could not be the product of random chance- is a powerful reminder that the presence of life is no accident.  The size of the earth and moon, the distance of the earth from the sun, the orbit and axis of the earth, the chemical mixture of the atmosphere, etc. are all on such a razor thin margin of error for life to exist that it is mathematically difficult, in reality impossible, for such margins to have occurred on the basis of random chance.  There must be an intelligent mind that has carefully created the universe.  Even the most ardent, atheistic scientists admit that the evidence of design is all around us.  Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  He then argues that the appearance of design is just an illusion.  The evidence begs to differ.

Third, how can humans have objective moral values apart from the presence of God?  How is it that we know, instinctively, right from wrong?  How is it that we can have a troubled conscience about some action we have taken?  The answer is that a moral lawgiver must exist who, as Rom. 2:15 declares, has written the requirements of moral law on the heart of man.  The presence of objective morality and conscience does not exist if we are highly evolved animals.  At the end of the day, we are still animals.  Some state their opposition to the presence of morality being the result of the existence of God by arguing moral relativism.  However, moral relativism is never enough to declare something right or wrong.  Morals are not relative.  Ravi Zacharias illustrates that by saying, “Some cultures love their neighbors while other cultures eat them… which culture do you prefer?”

These evidences of the existence of God are given merely to show that belief in God is something not irrational, but plausible.  I have always found it interesting that the Bible never tries to lay out an argument “proving” God exists.  Rather, it always treats His existence as self-evident.  As Philip Ryken notes, “God is not someone to be proved; he is someone to be assumed.  God is the starting point for all human thought.  You cannot even argue that God does not exist without employing the reason God has infused into the universe.”*  I hope you will be encouraged to grow in your faith in God and lovingly encourage others to do the same.

*Philip Ryken, Discovering God in Stories from the Bible

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Things change.  Businesses come and go.  Fashions and fads are always changing.  Technology develops at a pace faster than most of us can keep up with.  People change as well.  Their appearance changes, their attitudes change, habits, moods, even worldviews can change.  The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously claimed that it is impossible to step into the same stream twice.  By the time you step into the stream again, the water is different.  Most of us would agree that life is a constant stream of endless flux.

But what about God?  Does he change?  The Scripture clearly teaches that God does not change.  There are many passages that affirm this fact.  Perhaps the most well known and oft used is Malachi 3:6- “I, the Lord, do not change.”  Even though change is all around him, God does not change.  Theologians refer to this as the immutability of God.  This word comes from the Latin mutare meaning “to change.”  We get our English words mutate and mutation from this word.  Thus, God is not susceptible to any kind of mutation, alteration, variation, or fluctuation.  He is as the Puritan Stephen Charnock described “always is what he was, and always will be what he is.”

If you think about, it is logical that God cannot change.  For starters, God is perfect.  Something that is perfect never needs changing.  If God were able to change, he would by definition not be God.  A.W. Pink speaks to this point: “He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.  Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible.  He is perpetually the same.”

The Bible includes a number of illustrations regarding the immutability of God.  The psalmist compares the unchanging God to a universe that wears out like old clothes in Psalm 102:25-27, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”  James compared God’s immutability to the changing appearance of the heavenly lights in James 1:17- “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Being immutable, God is unlike us.  He never has an “off” or “bad” day.  He is never in a bad mood.  Circumstances do not affect God.  He never makes a bad choice or has an emergency.  He never says “Oops!” and nothing takes him by surprise.  He never has a change of heart and his will never changes.  Psalm 33:11- “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”  Scottish minister Thomas Boston wrote, “He is the same in all His perfections, constant in His intentions, steady to his purpose, unchangeably fixed and persevering in all His decrees and resolutions.”

The immutability of God is something that has long been questioned (despite the biblical evidence) and recently has come under strong attack through proponents of Open Theism.  This belief says that God is growing, maturing, and learning like the rest of us.  Again, if this were true, God would not be God.  But the greatest challenge to the biblical assertion of God’s immutability comes from the Bible itself.  There are a number of references where God “repents” of something or “regrets” that he did something.  These include God creating man in the first place (Gen. 6:6), the decision to bring his people out of bondage in Egypt (Exod. 32:14), staying his hand of judgment on the Ninevites (Jonah 3:10), and making Saul king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:11).  These texts seem to imply that God can repent of something or, at the very least, change his mind.  What are we to make of these texts?

To begin, a number of scholars believe that when the Bible speaks of God “repenting” it is doing so in an anthropomorphic kind of way.  In other words, “repent” is a term we can relate to and understand.  For example, the Bible speaks of God’s mighty arm (Deut. 7:19) when in reality God is spirit and having no physical form does not have an arm.  Psalm 78:65 says that the Lord “awoke from his sleep,” which is interesting because another Psalm (121:3-4) says that God neither sleeps not slumbers.  To say that God has an “arm” or “awakes” is describing some action or characteristic of God in terms we can understand.  The same seems to be true when the Bible speaks of God’s “repentance.”  He is not repenting like we repent.  God, being perfect, makes no mistakes and never has to correct or apologize for anything he has done.

So, what is the “repentance” of God describing?  It is describing a change in the way God deals with us, but the change is not in God, it is in us.  For example, look at all of the citations of God’s repentance in the above paragraph.  In each one, the change is in the people.  God “repents” of creating mankind and freeing his children from Egypt because they have chosen to sin.  God “repents” from making Saul king because he chose to disobey God regarding the Amalekites and then tried to lie about it.  Conversely, God “repents” from destroying Nineveh because they turn from their sin and follow God.  In each instance, God deals in a different way with the people because of the change in their behavior.  There is no change in God.  His attributes, nature, essence, character, and will never change.

An additional thing to consider is when it seems that God has changed his mind, he is operating in accordance with his covenant which had certain conditions.  This is seen in what God said to Jeremiah in Jer. 18:7-10, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.”  It may seem that God is changing his mind, but he is merely responding to the change in the people.  This can result in negative or positive outcomes: Negative in terms of God’s judgment for sin.  Positive in terms of people’s obedience and faithfulness (i.e. a person sensing that the prayers of fellow believers moved God to action).  Thus, the apparent “changes” God makes are in actuality him working within “the unchanging nature of his purpose” (Heb. 6:17).

Let me end this post with an additional question we often have concerning God’s immutability.  I have often been asked, “Why should I pray if God has already made up his mind?”  The fact that God does not change seems to make prayer unnecessary.  This is a misunderstanding of God and prayer.  I try to help people who have asked me this question think through another question- “Do you really want to change God’s mind?”  God is perfect.  He knows absolutely perfectly what is best for you.  His plan for you is perfect.  Is it not presumptuous of us to think that our plan is better than God’s plan?  We tend to gravitate toward a philosophy that the goal of prayer is to get God to change his mind about something.  However, the goal of prayer is not to get God to come around to our way of thinking or desires.  The goal of prayer is to get us to come around to his way of thinking.  Prayer is about our wills being shaped around his will, not vice versa.

Also, consider that of God were changeable, then we wouldn’t have any assurance that he could answer our prayers.  He wouldn’t know what the future holds anymore than we do.  If I could persuade God to change his mind/purpose, what says I could keep him from changing it back again?  Power in prayer depends on the immutability of God.  In addition, salvation is dependent on it as well.  Look again at that well known verse in Mal. 3:6- “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  In other words, if we served a changeable God, he would have destroyed us all a long time ago.  Our sin and unfaithfulness would have evoked a mood swing and he would have wiped us off the face of the earth.  However, God will never go back on his promise to save us in Jesus Christ.

On his death bed, Oliver Cromwell asked his minister, “Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?”  The minister replied, “No, it is not possible.”  “Then I am safe,” said Cromwell, “for I know that I was once in grace.”  He thought about this a while and then said, “I think I am the poorest wretch that lives, but I love God, or rather, am beloved of God.”  Our love and faithfulness to God ebbs and flows,  but his love for us is always the same because he is the God who never changes.

**Note: Much of this post is derived from a study I am doing in Philip Ryken’s book, “Discovering God in Stories from the Bible”

Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Naturally, our thoughts turn to the attempt of answering the biggest question that arises after tragedy- “Why?”  Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?  How I wish I had answers to the question of “why?” and the myriad of others that certainly come to mind, but I do not.  The questions that surround such a terrible tragedy will most likely never be provided to us this side of heaven.  Sadly, in the face of tragedy we often hear a number of comments that are the products of some bad theologizing and do little to give comfort and hope to those who are hurting.

I’m sure you are like me and have heard others say when something tragic occurs, “It’s God’s will.”  To be honest, I don’t believe that at all.  I do not think everything that occurs on earth is the will of God.  It wasn’t God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings on 9/11.  When a child is abducted it isn’t God’s will.  Abortion, drug abuse, and adultery are not God’s will.  And it’s extremely difficult to imagine the death of a young person being God’s will.  I want to be clear in making this statement that in no way does this discredit the immutability or sovereignty of God.  God is God- He never changes and He works all of history according to His plan and its eventual consummation.  Yet, God has also given us free will and we often use that free will to do things that do not please God.  So, when bad things occur we must not blame God for causing them and saying He willed it to happen.  This is why I have never been comfortable with the statement, “God took him/her.”  That implies God caused their tragic death, which isn’t true.  Bad things occur because we live on a fallen planet that has been cursed by our sin (see Rom. 8:21-23).

Something that has always helped me to understand the complexity of God’s will, a fallen world, and God’s sovereignty is the attitude of Joseph in regard to the events of his life.  When reunited with his brothers who did him wrong, he said in Gen. 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Was it “God’s will” that Joseph’s brothers threw him in a hole and sold him into slavery?  I don’t think so.  Did God work in spite of sinful actions to place Joseph in Egypt just in time to save the people from famine? Yes.  Not everything that happens on this earth is God’s will, but He can use bad things to bring about eventual positive results.

Another statement I sometimes hear at times of tragedy deals with the character and ability of God.  In other words, “Why didn’t God stop this bad thing from happening?  If He really is a God of love He would stop it.  If He really is all-powerful he would prevent bad things from happening.”  Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a famous book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” where he basically posits that God is simply unable to stop all the bad things that occur.  I disagree.  If God were not omnipotent (all-powerful), then by definition, He wouldn’t be God.  Imagine the world if God stopped everything bad or painful from ever occurring.  What would that say about the consequences of our actions?  If God did this, would it be an encroachment on the free will with which He created us?  As parents, do you not let your children make some mistakes in order for them to learn?  Is it not true that many times it is the crucible of pain that grows and strengthens us?  Is not the motto of an athlete in training “No pain no gain?”  If God never allowed anything bad to happen then the existence of the universe would be centered on us.  The point of life would be that we never experience pain, loss, or discomfort.  However, life and all that exists carries the purpose of glorifying God.  I once remember watching an episode of the Twilight Zone as a kid where a man received everything he ever wanted.  Everything went perfectly his way.  He thought he was in heaven. Yet, in the end, it turned out that the man was in hell.

It’s obviously difficult to address all of the ramifications of what we are to think about God in the face of tragedy.  My point is to simply say we must not make God something He is not in order to make sense of tough times.  Regardless of what happens in life, we must rest our anchor on the fact that God is perfectly loving, all-powerful, and sovereign to the end.  In my experience of helping families through times of tragedy, I have learned that it is best to focus on these things we do know about God, rather than on the things we don’t know.  We can never forget that God is God and He is not like us.  We are unable to grasp the “why?” of all that occurs and all that He does.  If our little three-pound brains could figure out everything about God, then He wouldn’t be much of a God.

Consider these Bible verses:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecc.11:5).

God can see a bigger picture that we will never see.  And in the midst of tragedy, we must know that God’s love for us and His desire to comfort us, heal us, and give us hope is never diminished.  In the New Testament there is a story about a young man named Lazarus who is a friend of Jesus who dies.  Jesus goes to his home and spends time with the family who is grieved and crying.  And it is in this story that we see the shortest verse in the whole Bible- “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I find it interesting that this is the shortest verse in the Bible.  In the midst of tragedy and grief, we might expect the longest verse in the Bible- to explain to us why the friend died, and what was God’s plan and purpose.  But we are not given any of that.  All we are given is the compassion of the Savior.  We need to remember that when we weep, God weeps with us.  Psalm 56:8 states that God puts our tears in his bottle and records them in His book.  His heart breaks for those whose hearts are broken.  Tragic deaths do not show God to be weak or uncaring.  In fact, it shows his power and his desire to comfort us.

So, what is left for us is not to doubt God or be mad at God or blame God, but to trust God.  Tragedy is a time for all of us to draw closer to God, not to withdraw from Him. We must trust God that He loves us and will strengthen and heal us in our greatest times of pain and loss.

 

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?

Below is a rough document I put together outlining the historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In it, I attempt to also address the major criticisms that try to refute the historicity of the resurrection. I am posting this as a resource that might be helpful for any discussion you may find yourself in this easter season.  Also, remember Easter is more than just about establishing and refuting historical facts- Easter is about meeting and following the One who is Risen!

There Are Two Major Lines of Evidence for the Resurrection:

1. The appearances of the resurrected Jesus.

 Paul supplies a list in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 of those who saw the resurrected Jesus: Peter, the disciples, over 500 believers at one time, James, all the apostles, and Paul.   Eyewitness testimony is crucial in establishing the facts of a case or argument.  If a lawyer has an eyewitness, and the witness is credible, it bolsters his case greatly.

But how are these eyewitnesses credible?  How do we know this list of witnesses wasn’t something the early church concocted to make it appear as though Jesus had risen from the dead?  How do we know this list wasn’t created years and years after Jesus died, allowing time for all sorts of myths and fables about the life of Jesus to creep in to the story?

To begin, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians sometime between A.D. 55-57.  This is 25 years after the death of Christ.  Not a lot of time for fables to be added.  Next, most scholars agree that verses 1-4 of 1 Cor. 15 are a creed used by the early church dating back to A.D. 32.  This creed and this list of witnesses was most likely given to Paul three years after his conversion on the Damascus Road.  How do we know that?  Note Gal. 1:18-19 when Paul says he took a trip to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James three years after his conversion.

And is this creed and this list of witnesses reliable?  The comment from Paul that most of the 500 were still alive is an implication that one could go and ask these witnesses for themselves what they saw.  German historian Hans von Campenhausen said, “This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text.”

Skeptics will say:

The eyewitnesses deliberately lied.

This is simply refuted in that no one would go through intense persecution and even death for a lie they had fabricated.  When someone is lying or joking, they call their bluff when the stakes get high.  When it gets down to crunch time, the truth comes out.  When it comes to the point that skin is going to be ripped off your back or your life is in danger, the gig, if there is a gig, is up.  Church tradition says that Paul was beheaded.  Peter was crucified upside down, because he said he was not worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.  Andrew was crucified on a cross in the shape of an “X.”  He was tied, not nailed, so that his agony would prolong.  Thaddeus was killed by arrow wounds inflicted on him by a hostile mob.  Why were all of these men killed?  Because they were preaching that Jesus was alive.  If it was a lie, do you think they would have given their lives?

The eyewitnesses suffered some form of hallucination.

The eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus violate everything we know about true hallucinations.  First, hallucinations are a result of severe emotional instability brought on by some form of wish fulfillment.  If the disciples were completely hysterical after the death of Jesus, why does John’s gospel tell us the disciples were out in their boats fishing?  They apparently had no trouble accepting the fact that Jesus was dead.  Second, the resurrection appearances appear to different individuals and groups.  Hallucinations do not work that way.  You never see different groups of people with each member of the group seeing the exact same thing in a hallucination.

2. The evidence of the empty tomb.

If ever a fact of ancient history may count as indisputable, the empty tomb must be it.  Ever since the first Easter Sunday, there must have been a tomb that once held the body of Jesus and is now empty.  The early church since the resurrection had taught and proclaimed the empty tomb.  And ever since the resurrection, the enemies of Jesus have tried to rebuff that teaching.  If the tomb were not empty, the Jewish leaders in that day simply would have gone to the tomb and said, “See, Jesus is in the tomb.”

An empty tomb does not necessarily mean you have a resurrection.  So, we must look at the evidence.

Skeptics will say:

The disciples stole the body.

Matt. 28:11-15 states that the guards posted at Jesus tomb went to the chief priests and told them what had happened at Jesus’ tomb.  The priests pay off the guards to say that the disciples came and stole the body.

Matt. 27:62-66 states that the Jews asked for a guard for the specific reason of preventing the disciples from stealing the body.  Pilate tells them they have a guard and to take care of it themselves.  Was this a Roman or Jewish guard?  It doesn’t matter because even Jewish guards would have been doing their duty under Roman law.  It most likely was a Roman guard already assigned to the priests.  It makes sense that it was a Roman guard since Roman soldiers carried out the crucifixion.

The only plausible way the disciples could have stolen the body of Jesus is if one of two things occurred: 1) The guards fell asleep.  2)The guards left the tomb.  There is no way the disciples could have rolled away the stone without waking the guards.  The stone was a large disk that leaned back toward the tomb and rolled along a groove.  It simply could not have been rolled away quietly or easily.  Also, the Roman punishment for a guard falling asleep on duty or leaving his post was execution.  This is why the priests tell the guards that they will protect them from the governor if he hears their story that they fell asleep.

The women went to the wrong tomb.

Both Roman and Jewish authorities knew the location of the tomb.  When the women returned with their report from the tomb, the men immediately rushed to the tomb to verify their report (John 20:1-10).

Finally, skeptics will argue that the Gospels are not reliable documents and the accounts of the resurrection are littered with inconsistencies. I will not argue the veracity of the Scripture in this post (I have done so in previous posts). But consider this quote from James Boice about the resurrection accounts in the Gospels:

“Over the years critics have complained about what they consider serious discrepancies in these accounts.  The number of women, for instance.  Matthew mentions two (v.1).  Mark has three (Mark 16:1).  Luke refers to three by name and speaks of ‘others’ also (Luke 24:10).  John mentions only Mary (John 20:1).  Another alleged discrepancy is the time the women set out.  Matthew says it was ‘at dawn’ (v.1).  Mark has ‘very early…just after sunrise’ (v.2).  Luke says ‘very early’ (v.1).  John writes, ‘while it was still dark’ (v.1).  Again, the number of angels varies:  one in Matthew and Mark, two in Luke and John.

These are not discrepancies, of course.  They are each only partial tellings of the story.  If there were two angels, there was certainly one.  As for the time of day, it is easy to imagine that the women set out for the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and arrived as the sun was rising.  Variations in the tellings of an obviously identical story actually attest to the reliability of the narratives.  They prove that these are independent accounts, not imaginary tales worked out in collusion by the writers, and their essential agreement proves that the four independent records are factual…

The way these accounts fit together makes the narrative compelling. Sir Edward Clark, a well-known English lawyer, wrote, ‘As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the first Easter day.  To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling.  As a lawyer I accept it as the testimony of men to facts that they were able to substantiate.’”

 

 

 

 

Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It

Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It

The debate about our origins has taken a new twist.  A growing number of Christians, many of them considered conservative and evangelical, have yielded to the pressure of “the fact” of evolution and have attempted to meld the tenets of evolution with those of Christianity.  This view is commonly called “theistic evolution” and poses a dangerous threat to the gospel.

Last year, NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty, wrote an interesting piece where she interviewed Christian scholars regarding one of the major threats of theistic evolution- were Adam and Eve real, literal people?  You can read Hagerty’s article here:  Hagerty NPR article

Obviously, if one believes in the theory of evolution one is forced to not believe in the literal existence of Adam and Eve.  The sudden introduction of hominids on the earth about 6,000 years ago does not fit the evolutionary paradigm.  Additionally, proponents of evolution argue that genetically it is impossible for today’s gene rich human race to have descended from just two people a relatively short time ago.  This theory is commonly known as “Mitochondrial Eve” and can easily be argued against- click here:  Mitochondrial Eve

My point in this post is not to argue the finer points of the debate from a scientific perspective.  There are many websites that do that much more eloquently than I could. I wish to demonstrate the danger to the gospel posed by theistic evolution and the belief there could be no literal Adam and Eve.  How are such beliefs a threat?

To begin, if Adam and Eve are not literal people, how does the Fall of Man ever occur?  If humans evolved from primates and then pre-hominids, how do we know who the first “humans” were and consequently when sin was introduced into the world?  The story of God, man, the Fall, redemption, and restoration is the metanarrative that runs through all of Scripture.  This biblical metanarrative explains our separation from God through sin and the reason for Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Yet, how can we believe this story if we cannot trust what it says to us regarding its beginning?

John Scneider, a former professor at Calvin College in Michigan, was quoted in Hagerty’s article stating, “Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost.  So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.”  You can easily see how that statement opposes the gospel and the biblical metanarrative.  Al Mohler (see his blog post on the subject here: Mohler blog post) responds saying, “At this point, we are looking at a repudiation of the Bible’s account of beginnings.  We are not talking about an argument over the interpretation of a few verses or even chapters of the Bible.  We are now dealing with the straightforward rejection, not only of the existence of Adam and Eve, but of both Eden and the Fall.  Look carefully at Professor Schneider’s words- ‘there never was any such paradise to be lost.’”  If Adam and Eve are reduced to figurative components of a larger figurative narrative, key concepts of the gospel become untenable propositions.

Another key problem with denying the literal existence of Adam and Eve is what such a rejection does to the veracity of the Bible itself.  It is clear that when the Bible talks about Adam and Eve and the origins of life it is not only referencing them as literal people, but also making truth claims.  There is nothing in the text that would point to the need of using a figurative hermeneutic (e.g. texts that include hyperbole, such gouging out your eye and cutting off your hand).  The children and descendants of Adam and Eve are presented as literal people describing actual events that occur in their lives.  This is further evident in the genealogies of the OT (1 Chron. 1:1) and the NT (Matt. 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).  If the authors of biblical texts did not see their descendants (including Adam and Eve) as literal people, why include them in a genealogy?  There is little doubt that Jesus thought Adam and Eve were literal, physical people in His teaching on marriage and divorce in Matt. 19:3-6- “He made the male and female… and the two shall become one flesh.”  If they were merely figurative representations for humanity, it is inconceivable that Jesus would use the term “flesh” in association with Adam and Eve.

The Apostle Paul also affirmed the literal existence of Adam and Eve and clearly demonstrated the theological importance of such.  To begin, in 1 Tim. 2:13 Paul says that “Adam was first created [or formed], and then Eve.”  These are hardly the vocabulary choices Paul would have made if he thought Adam and Eve were figurative beings.  In Rom. 5:12-14, Paul states that sin and death entered into the world through one man- Adam. Again, such a statement does not fit an evolutionary construct.  If evolution is true, exactly how and when was sin and death introduced into human history?  In 1 Cor. 15:45-49, Paul links Jesus to Adam saying that the first Adam was “the first man… a living soul” and the last Adam, Jesus, is the One who restores mankind to life.  These two texts from Paul reveal that Adam and Jesus are linked together.  The first Adam brought death to humanity, the last Adam brought life through salvation.  Notice that none of this works if the first Adam is not a literal, physical person.  If Adam and Eve are not the parents of all humanity, we really don’t have a clear understanding of sin which means we don’t have a clear understanding of the need for salvation and the person and work of Christ.  The gospel simply does not work if Adam and Eve are not real people.

Finally, Christians who espouse theistic evolution have a problem as to the mechanics of understanding when the figurative aspect of the biblical metanarrative stops and the literal takes over.  I have had discussions with Christians who say Adam and Eve were not literal, nor is the account of a universal flood, and particularly not the story of Jonah and the whale.  However, they believe the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus are literal events.  When I ask the question, “If the people and events in Genesis and other OT texts are figurative, what is the reasoning for believing the people and events in the NT are not figurative as well?” I have yet to hear a satisfying answer to that question.  My point is that in the biblical metanarrative, once you open the gate to a figurative understanding of the text (of course, not withstanding those texts intentionally meant to be so), how and when does that gate close?  If Adam is figurative, what keeps us from thinking Jesus is figurative as well?

Failing to view the literal existence of Adam and Eve is a theologically impossible and fatal thing to do.  It is especially egregious when one understands that such an approach is taken in order to capitulate to a secular philosophy such as evolution.  The Scripture is clear on how the metanarrative begins. If we muddle that clarity, we muddle the rest of the story and have thus attempted to change the very foundation and framework of Christianity itself.

 

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Ten years ago this Sunday our nation was thrust into one of the greatest crises and tragedies it ever faced- the infamous events of 9/11/01. Words will never describe the grief and heartache that hit so many on that terrible day.  9/11 changed so many things for all of us.  As we look back at the scenes of planes flying into buildings, explosions and plumes of smoke, people wounded and covered in dust, and others desperately looking for their loved ones we ponder one of the oldest questions man has asked: If there is a God who is good and loving, why do things like this happen?  9/11 was a storm that shook us to the core and one we will never forget.  How do we make sense of horrific storms such as 9/11 that hit our nation? Our lives?  Our families?          

All of us have experienced storms in life, and not just the ones that have wind, rain, thunder, and lightning.  We have experienced the storms of death, sickness, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, and temptation.  We have been assaulted by family troubles, troubles at work, troubles in our marriage, troubles with friends, and troubles with our finances.  We have all experienced great disappointment, heartache, and loss.  And some of these storms, at least to us, seem like they will wipe us out.  Like the disciples in the boat during the storm we cry out, “We are perishing!”           

Some storms we experience in life are the result of the fact that we live in a world that is fallen and under the curse of sin.  Bad things happen in this world because, let’s face it, as sinners we are bad people.  What comes natural to us is violence, lust, lying and greed.  As a result we see a lot of bad things in the world.  The headlines are full of examples that show our proclivity to sin.  Sometimes we get caught up in the middle of those bad things.  A storm comes our way and we did nothing wrong- nothing to deserve it.  It just happens.  Why?  That’s a tough question that I don’t think we’ll ever be really able to answer.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why doesn’t God stop it?  Can God stop it?  We could philosophize and theologize all day on this topic. A brief blog post does it absolutely no justice, but understand just a few things:

One, not everything that happens in the world is God’s will.  I sat with a family enduring the pain of a loved one committing suicide.  One of the people in the room looked at the grieving family and said, “Well, you know this was God’s will.”  No, I don’t think it was.  It’s not God’s will for a child to be abducted.  It’s not God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings.  Can God bring about positive things from tragedy? Absolutely! But recall that this world and the people God first created were perfect.  Yet, we were the ones to mess it up.  Let’s be careful about blaming God for bad things that happen.

Two, could God stop all of the evil in the world?  Yes, but if he did, what would the evidence be that we are all sinners.  Furthermore, God could stop every murderer and terrorist but he would have to deny them their free will.  And if he did that for them he would have to do that for us.  Bad things happen because people choose to use their free will to follow their sinful indulgences.  Free will is a beautiful gift from God, but because of our sin we have turned it into a terrible curse as well.

Three, the fact that evil things happen does not undermine the fact that God is good, loves you, and is all-powerful.  Why does God allow what he does?  We’re never going to fully know.  We just need to know that in all things he is present in the storm and desires for us to trust him to help us through it.

Why didn’t God stop those planes on 9/11?  We’re not going to know.  But in times of tragedy, we should focus on what we do know about God rather than what we do not know about Him.  I do know he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  I do know He loves me so much He sent His Son to die for me.  And there’s one more thing I know for sure: I’m not God.  My wife and I were thrilled beyond description when she became pregnant for the first time.  We started planning and focusing on the arrival of the baby.  But then her pregnancy ended in miscarriage.  We were crushed.  I will never forget sitting in the office of her doctor, a kind and older Christian gentleman, as he struggled with something to say to try and comfort us.  I was surprised when he broke the silence by saying, “Have you ever seen the movie Rudy?”  What did that football movie have to do with my grief over losing the baby?  He continued, “Remember that scene when Rudy is talking to the priest after he was denied entrance to Notre Dame?”  I nodded through my tears.  “And do you remember what the priest said to Rudy?  He said, ‘Rudy, there are two things that are certain in this world: One, there is a God. Two, I’m not Him.’”

I must admit at the moment I found little comfort in the doctor’s words.  However, as I look back, it’s good advice in the midst of tragedy.  None of us are remotely close to being God.  We will never know fully why He does what He does.  He truly sees from a perspective that we will never possess.  What’s left is for me to trust Him, regardless of the pain, knowing that God loves me and weeps with me and will one day make all things new for those who love Him.

 

The End Wasn’t As Near As He Thought: The Non-Existence of “Secret” Bible Codes

The End Wasn’t As Near As He Thought: The Non-Existence of “Secret” Bible Codes

There was a great deal of news the past few weeks about the possibility of the Rapture (or Day of Judgment, depending on your perspective) occurring last Saturday.  Harold Camping, the 89 year-old founder of Family Radio, made claims that he had discovered a complicated formula in the Bible “that would probably crash Google’s computers” revealing that Jesus would return to earth sometime around 6 PM on May 21.  Obviously, that didn’t occur.  I sound pretentious writing a post “after the fact,” but I did plan to post this Saturday morning until something more important came up- playing bubbles with my daughter.  My purpose to go ahead with this post is to remind us that we will see the likes of false teachers like Harold Camping again who claim to have found mysterious “codes” in the Bible and that we should not be led astray.

In 1994, Camping made a claim that the end of the world would occur in that year.  Afterward, he said he miscalculated and that this time he was more than certain about the May 21, 2011 date (Camping said yesterday he has miscalculated again and the actual date is Oct. 21).  Camping told New York magazine, “There’s nothing in the Bible that holds a candle to the amount of information to this tremendous truth of the end of the world. I would be absolutely in rebellion against God if I thought anything other than it is absolutely going to happen without any question.”  Apparently, Camping’s followers were just as certain.  They spent a very large amount of money putting up over 3,000 billboards across the globe.

Here are a few of my observations and some lessons I think we can learn based on this incident with Harold Camping:

One, and most basic, is that Camping’s teaching stands in egregious opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture.  For someone who claims to have studied the Bible so thoroughly and knows its innermost “secrets,” this is either a gross oversight or prideful refusal to adhere to the truth.  Matt. 24:36 states of the Second Coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”  In Acts 1:7 when the early church asked if Jesus was about to consummate His Kingdom, He replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”  We must always remember that the Bible emphatically states that no person will ever know the date of the return of Christ.  No matter what you hear, or how convincing the argument and evidence may seem, always reject any teaching that claims to know what Jesus said was unknowable

Two, we need to be careful with the cult-like following most false teachers such as Harold Camping generate.  On Camping’s website he states, “However, it was not until a very few years ago that the accurate knowledge of the entire timeline of history was revealed to true believers by God from the Bible.”  Note that only “true believers” are privy to the secret knowledge.  The “true believers” are followers of Camping.  As with most false teachers of a religious genre, we need to always ask if this person is genuinely trying to help people or simply trying to make a name for himself and get rich doing so.

Three, hidden or mysterious “codes” latent in the biblical text that only a certain few have the good fortune of being able to decipher do not exist.  I am certainly no scholar, but I have been a student of the Bible for all of my adult life, hold a doctorate with an emphasis in biblical hermeneutics, and teach New Testament and hermeneutics adjunctly for a seminary, and have discovered nothing remotely close to any legitimate evidence of Bible codes.

Grant Jeffrey published a book titled “The Mysterious Bible Codes” in 1998 where he claims the Bible secretly predicts the events of World War II, the death of Princess Diana, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building to name only a few.  Jeffrey makes this claim based on a dubious formula known as ELS- equidistant letter sequence.  This method takes each letter in an arbitrary sequence and spells out some hidden name or word.  For example, according to Jeffrey, if you begin in Deut. 10:17 in the Hebrew language and count every 22nd letter the word that results is “Hitler.”  The problem is that there are no rules.  You can go forward or backward, start at any verse you want, and choose whatever number sequence you want to employ. This method essentially lets anyone make the Bible say whatever they want it to say.  There is also a question of whether such formulas are carried out in the original languages of Hebrew or Greek, or in English.  It appears that Camping has done his research in an English Bible.  If God were to hide a code in the text, would He not have done so in the original languages?

The point is that “hidden” codes betray the very reason God gave us the Bible in the first place- to reveal Himself and His truth to us.  The purpose of the Bible is not to further obfuscate faith in God, but to make it clear that God exists, created the universe, sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins, etc.  We do not need complicated mathematical formulas to understand the message of the Bible.  The truth it reveals is plain and clear.

Four, though we should not be surprised that Harold Camping was wrong about the return of Christ, neither should we be relieved.  As Christians, we are to eagerly anticipate the Second Coming.  Heb. 9:28 states, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  We should never get so comfortable in this life that we lose sight of, and passion for, the next life

It’s fitting to end this post with the next to last verse in the Bible- Rev. 22:20- “Surely I am coming soon.’” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

A “Fairy Tale” Existence: Can Evangelicals Be “Thinking” People?

A “Fairy Tale” Existence: Can Evangelicals Be “Thinking” People?

As a pastor and a trustee on the board of two institutions of higher learning, I often encounter the paradigm that conservative, evangelical Christians cannot be “thinking” people.  Rather, a belief in the Bible as absolute and propositional truth can only mean that one is an unintelligent, closed-minded, bigoted, irrational Bible-thumping, hillbilly bumpkin redneck (incidentally I have been called all of those names).  My point in this post is to simply attempt to demonstrate that conservative, Bible-believing Christians can and are capable of high levels of critical thinking and that belief in God does not in any way mean that someone has checked their brains at the door.

Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist, made the news yesterday by stating that, “There is no heaven or afterlife; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  His comments illustrate what I have mentioned above- people who believe in God are like children reading stories at bedtime.  These claims are made by Hawking, Dawkins, Tyson, et. al. who, incidentally, often sound much more like evangelists than scientists.  Their campaign against the existence of God is based on their epistemology of empiricism and thus they roundly reject any notion of the existence of or faith in God.

But think with me on this.  These now well-known champions of empirical reasoning who base everything on the evidence always throw that perspective out the window whenever religion comes up.  We are told that the scientific evidence “proves” the theory of naturalistic evolution as the answer to our origins.  However, any armchair apologist (either Christian or atheist) who is honestly and objectively looking at the evidence could not possibly claim that naturalistic evolution can be empirically “proven.”  So, because belief in God is irrational, much of the scientific community approaches this topic with extreme pre-commitments.  In other words, “Believing in the supernatural is such an uneducated approach, I will make the evidence say what I want it to say.”  Phillip Johnson, in his book Darwin on Trial, adeptly refers to this as the “fact” of evolution.  The scientific community makes the assumption that God could not exist and so all evidence is viewed through this skewed filter and considered “fact” when in actuality it is not.

My point is that the scientific community stops using their powers of empirical weighing of the evidence when it comes to religion.  The reality is that there are very good scientific and philosophical reasons, arguments, and evidence for the existence of God and creation.  And yet these prophets of doubt and reason will not even consider weighing evidence that any theory other than Naturalism could possibly explain our origins and responsible worldview.  This lack of consistency by the scientific community is alarming and also leads them to stand on quite shaky ground in their own claims (although to question the “fact” of evolution will at worst get a science teacher fired or at best be branded unintelligent).

For example, in the movie Expelled, Ben Stein shows a clip of an interview of Richard Dawkins where he makes the same claim as Hawking that those who believe in God are believing in “fairy tales.”  Stein then shows interviews of renowned scientists trying to answer the question of how life on earth began.  It was long believed that life began when the first life forms were formed in the primordial ooze.  The famous Miller-Urey experiment supposedly replicated what happened billions of years ago in the primordial ooze thus “proving” that naturalistic evolution started it all.  However, science has now admitted that the Miller-Urey experiment was not an accurate depiction of conditions on early earth and in fact the entire notion of the existence of a primordial ooze has been dismissed.  So, how did life begin?  Their answer today sounds something akin to Riley Poole in National Treasure– “The aliens did it.”  Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, has postulated that some form of primordial life was shipped to the earth billions of years ago in spaceships- by supposedly more evolved (therefore advanced) alien beings.  One wants to ask, “Who are the ones believing in fairy tales?”

I deeply respect the amazing intellect of Stephen Hawking, but wish he would use those same powers to give consideration to the evidence of the existence of Jesus and His resurrection.  Just reading that last sentence will cause some to say, “Come on! Are you kidding!”  But again that demonstrates my point of the “fact” of evolution and that biased pre-commitments to its veracity hinder science from objectively exercising their worldview.  Our culture sees Hawking as the intellectual giant, and rightly so, but Christians as pitiable children unable to think properly.  Is that correct?  Consider this poignant response to Hawking by N.T. Wright:

“As for the creation being self-caused: I wonder if he [Hawking] realizes that he is simply repeating a version of ancient Epicureanism? i.e. the gods are out of the picture, a long way away, so the world/human life/etc has to get on under its own steam. This is hardly a ‘conclusion’ from his study of the evidence; it’s simply a well known worldview shared by most post-Enlightenment westerners… The depressing thing is that Hawking doesn’t seem to realize this and so hasn’t even stopped to think that there might be quite sophisticated critiques of Epicureanism, ancient and modern, which he should work through.  Not least the Christian one, which again focuses on Jesus.”

In conclusion, science should give the evidence for the existence of God a “fair shake.”  Yet it refuses to do so because of its pre-commitments, which is anything but an objective measuring of the empirical evidence.  It is not irrational to believe in God.  From the evidentiary cosmological arguments of the Anthropic Principle to the solid philosophical reasonings of First Cause, there is ample reason to believe in God.  Yes, we believe in God and His Word on the basis of faith, but such things illustrate that faith is not unintelligent.

Dr. Hawking stated that Christians are afraid of the darkness.  Given what you have just read, is it possibly more accurate to say he is afraid of the light?

 

The King James Only Controversy: Can I Trust Modern Bible Translations?

The King James Only Controversy: Can I Trust Modern Bible Translations?

Last week the King James Version of the Bible celebrated its 400th birthday.  At the time of its publishing, the KJV was the summum bonum of Bible translations in the English language.  Its style and scholarship stood above other translations and would stand for centuries as the standard translation used by English speakers all over the globe.  From time to time, I am asked about what is known as the “King James Only” controversy.  In short, there are some who believe that the only credible (some would say the only inspired) translation of the Bible is the KJV.  They claim that all modern English translations of the Bible, such as the NIV, NASB, etc. have been intentionally altered by the translators/editors to lead people away from true Christian faith and doctrine.

Space and time are limited for me to go very deep into these accusations, but suffice it to say they are arguments made without any objective study of the scholarship and textual scrutinization behind modern translations.  In addition, “KJV Only” proponents build their case on very broad based misunderstandings.  “They” is used to refer to all modern biblical scholars and translators who do not hold to their view and are thus attempting to delude readers.  There are certainly some translations of the Bible that do this- namely those produced by popular cults.  However, not “all” scholars and in turn not all translations are trying to deceive or be anything but faithful to the biblical text.

Let me take a moment and attempt to explain why I think modern English translations are credible, important, and necessary.  To do so, one must highlight the advantages of modern translations over the KJV.  Thus I want to make the caveat that I deeply respect the KJV and believe it to be a very fine translation.

In the last half of the sixteenth century in Great Britain, there had been no fewer than seven English translations made.  These included excellent works of scholarship by men such as Tyndale, Coverdale, and Whittingham.  By 1600, it was confusing as to which of these translations was the best one to use.  In 1604, King James I commissioned a committee of 50 scholars to translate the Bible from the original languages and to serve as the standard bearer for English translations.  The first edition was printed in 1611.

One of the editorial objectives listed by the translators in the preface of the KJV was to give a great variety of language usage in English.  This would turn out to be one of the “weaknesses” of the KJV.  Recall that these were the days of Shakespeare and a flourishing of English language and drama.  The KJV was not only an opportunity to create the benchmark of English translations; it was also the chance to put the eloquence and richness of the English language on display.  What this meant was that the KJV translators used a variety of different English words to translate the same Greek word even when it appeared in similar context.

For example, the Greek word “katargeo,” (generally translated “to destroy”) occurs 27 times in the N.T. However, it is rendered 18 different ways in the KJV: e.g. abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away, become of no effect, fail, loose, bring to naught, put away, vanish away, make void.  The opposite of this practice is also present in the KJV.  There are instances when different Greek words are translated with the same English word.  For example, the English word “trouble” is used to translate twelve different Greek words.  The English word “bring” is used to represent 39 different Hebrew words.

When I get into debates with KJV Only proponents, I am often told their Bible is uncorrupted because it is the original 1611 edition that hasn’t been touched by future editions or works of scholars.  However, that is false.  The history of the printing of the KJV is very interesting.  In 1611, there were two (some argue three) folio editions with 200 variations in the text.  One is the “He” edition and the other is the “She” edition involving the text of Ruth 3:15 that renders “he went into the city” and “she went into the city” respectively.  In 1611, English spelling had not been standardized (e.g. “speake” instead of “speak”) and thus numerous corrective editions were made.  Some changes were made in 1613.  The Cambridge versions of 1629 and 1638 tried to clear up a number of discrepancies.  By the mid eighteenth century, so many misprints and reprints of the KJV had been made it became something of a scandal in Britain.  Francis Sawyer Parris, a Cambridge scholar, issued a revision in 1760.  It is interesting to note the changes of his edition and the original in 1611.  For example, 1 Cor. 13:1-3 in the 1760 version has eleven changes of spelling, nine changes of typesetting, three changes of punctuation, and one variant text- the 1611 renders “not charity” in v.2 and is replaced with “no charity,” in the mistaken belief that the original reading was a misprint.

Finally in 1769, Oxford scholar Richard Blayney produced an edition that has rarely been changed to this day.  This edition serves as the text for most present day printings of the KJV.  Thus, if someone is holding a KJV Bible and claim it to be a 1611 edition, they are in all likelihood incorrect. The movement in contemporary versions started in 1885 with the printing of the Revised Version in England.  Its counterpart was the American Standard Version printed in 1901.

The importance of modern English translations compared to the KJV can be seen in the following areas:

New discoveries in biblical manuscripts

The manuscripts used by the KJV scholars were, in general, more than a thousand years removed from the originals.  What they were using had accumulated centuries of scribal error, though none of these errors were significant in terms of doctrine.  Today we have complete copies of the N.T. approximately 600 years older and fragments 900 years older than those possessed by KJV scholars.  In addition, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were not discovered until 1947, are over a thousand years older than O.T. manuscripts used by KJV translators.  In essence, we have a significantly greater quantity of ancient texts (many place the number of texts available to KJV scholars around 500 compared to over 5,000 today) that are much older than those available to the KJV scholars.  Furthermore, the Greek version of the N.T. used in translating the KJV was by Erasmus (also known as the Textus Receptus, or Received Text), which the vast majority of scholars now believe to be corrupt and was a Byzantine text type, rather than Alexandrian, meaning it is not as old.

Improvements in scholarship

The last one hundred years alone has seen developments in understanding the language and grammar of the original languages.  This is due in part to the discovery of older manuscripts (mentioned above) and findings in archaeology.

Here is a good example of this point: 1 Sam. 8:16 in the KJV reads, “And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to work.”  In the NIV, the phrase “goodliest young men” is changed to the word “cattle.”  Why did the NIV translation team make this change?  The KJV team was using a newer Hebrew text while the NIV team was using an older Greek text of the O.T. (the Septuagint or LXX).  In Hebrew, the word translated “young men” is bhrykm.  The word translated “cattle” is bqrykm.  The difference in the words is very slight and is understandable for a scribe to make the error.  The older LXX renders the word for “cattle,” not “young men.”  Additionally, notice the couplets in 1 Sam. 8:16- menservants and maidservants; young men/cattle and asses.  “Cattle” obviously fits the couplet better than “young men” and so the NIV translators made the change.

Findings in Archaeology

Science today is unearthing records from long ago which continue to open windows in understanding the biblical text.  One example of this is found in Prov. 26:23.  The KJV renders this verse as, “Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.”  It seems odd that clay pottery would be covered with silver.  The phrase “silver dross” in Hebrew is kesef sigim. A discovery in modern times found a Ugaritic text containing the phrase kesef sigim with the usage “like glaze.”  Glaze, rather than silver, better fits the context of a coating for pottery.  Modern English translations translate the phrase “glaze.”

Changes in the English Language

The changes that have occurred in the English language from the time of 1611 to the present day are a significant reason for the importance of modern English translations.  The very heart of the Bible is revelation- to communicate to people God’s truth.  However, communication is hindered if the language is difficult to comprehend.   Simply stated, the English spoken in 1611 and the English spoken today (particularly in terms of vocabulary) are quite different.  For example: Ps. 119:147 in the KJV says that God “prevented the dawn of the morning.”  Is this like the miracle of nature when the sun stopped in Josh.10?  No, in 1611 the word “prevent” meant “precede.”

Some words and phrases in the KJV are obsolete and unintelligible to modern English speakers such as:

  • “And of the rest durst…”- Acts 5:13
  • “Churl”- Isa. 32:7
  • “Cieled”- Hag. 1:4
  • “Clouted upon their feet”- Josh. 9:5
  • “Collops”- Job. 15:27
  • “Wimples”- Isa. 3:22
  • “Sackbut”- Dan. 3:5
  • “Fanners”- Jer. 51:2
  • “Implead”- Acts 19:38
  • “Glistering”- Luke 9:29

Another problem of seventeenth century English is that same words or expressions can have completely different meanings.  For example, in Luke 19:3, the KJV says that Zaccheaus climbed into the tree to see Jesus because of “the press.”  Modern English speakers would read that as Zaccheaus having some problem with the news media and reporters that were on the scene.  However, the word in the day of the KJV meant “crowd.”  The KJV will also often use the word “charity” for “love” and “ghost” for “spirit.”

There can also be confusion in understanding English grammar and structure compared with today.  One almost humorous example is the KJV rendering of 1 Kings 13:27- “And he spake unto his sons, saying ‘Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.”  One might be confused on exactly who was saddled.  The NASB renders the same verse as, “Then he spoke to his sons saying, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ And they saddled it.”

In conclusion, KJV Only proponents claim that modern English translations are man-made attempts at corrupting the true biblical text and promulgating false doctrine.  Many of the arguments made go so far as denigrating or even denying the existence of many of the ancient texts used to translate modern translations.  It is ironic that the preface to the original 1611 KJV written by the translators actually denies a great number of the things many KJV Only proponents affirm, namely:

  • The authority of Scripture is in the original autographs, not the KJV
  • The biblical authors were inspired, not the translators of the KJV
  • They did not condemn other translations and affirmed the value of Greek and Hebrew texts
  • They did not believe varying translations affected doctrine
  • They were not opposed to the future changing and editing of a translation

Yes, not all modern translations are helpful or accurate, and some are not even translations at all, such as paraphrases like The Living Bible.  But overall, modern English translations are a helpful tool for today’s disciple to read, study, and apply the Word of God.

If you are interested in further study, James White has written an excellent book about the topic of this post titled, “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?”  You can see it here:

King James Only Controversy