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Is the Bible Inerrant and Free of Mistakes?

Is the Bible Inerrant and Free of Mistakes?

Does the Bible have mistakes in it?  For years critics of the veracity and authority of the Bible have referred to the numerous “errors” that can be found in the Bible.   So, is the Bible inerrant?  Can it be completely trusted as the words of God?

For the sake of space, I will not enumerate the supposed errors in the Bible in this post.  Suffice it to say, I have studied these errors for years as well as the very cogent explanations for each made by a wide range of scholars.  Instead, I want to focus in a wider perspective why I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.  In my experience, I have discovered that many people who champion the position that there are errors in the Bible really do so from an ad hominem perspective rather than an argument of substance.  In other words, their insistence that errors are contained in the Bible is merely grounds for their disdain for God and Christians.  As Bill Fay said, “Every time someone says to me, ‘I don’t believe the Bible because there are mistakes in it,’ I simply hand my Bible over to them and ask, ‘Would you be so kind as to show me one?’”  Most are unable to do so.

At issue is whether or not the Bible is “inerrant.”  Many people attempt to make the Bible die a thousand deaths on points that really aren’t related to inerrancy.  On his blog, author Tim Challies lists a helpful post about inerrancy by explaining what inerrancy is not.

Inerrancy does not preclude the use of ordinary language. For example, the Bible speaks of the sun “rising.”  We know the sun does not rise, but rather the earth rotates to bring the sun into view.  The use of colloquialisms is to be expected, and does not invalidate the inerrancy of Scripture.  The same can be said here of numbers.  If I go to a Thunder game and the announced attendance is 18,261, I will tell people there were 18,000 there.  The same is true with distance.  Mapquest says the distance from Shawnee to Midwest City is 31.51 miles.  If you ask me how far Shawnee is from Midwest City I’m going to say, “About 30 miles.”  My response is not as precise as GPS, but nonetheless it is accurate.

Inerrancy does not preclude the use of loose and free quotations. In our culture, quoting someone exactly is of tantamount importance.  However, in first century Greek usage, of utmost importance was the content of what someone said.  Note that the Greek New Testament never uses quotation marks.  If one ancient manuscript reads, “I Am the Truth, the Way, and the Life…” and another reads, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” there’s no problem with inerrancy.  The content has been accurately conveyed.

Inerrancy does not preclude unusual grammatical constructions.  Biblical authors had their own unique style and vocabulary (see previous post on the inspiration of Scripture).  Some authors had very proper style and grammar (e.g. Luke) while others did not (e.g. John).  However, in no way does this undermine the accuracy or truthfulness of what was being written.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to biblical inerrancy is the question of the original autographs.  Some may argue, “I might believe that the original documents recorded by the biblical authors are inerrant, but the Bible we have today, copied for centuries by man, is full of errors.”  In reality, this argument is a non-sequitur because none of the original autographs of the Bible exist.  Since the Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and since God is perfect, it makes sense then that the original autographs of the Bible are free from any error.

But what about the Bible we have today?  For the first fifteen centuries of the New Testament’s existence, it was passed on by the handwritten work of copyists (called the “transmission” of the text).  Did these copyists make mistakes? Absolutely!  The earliest copies of the Bible were written mostly on papyrus, a brittle medium that fell apart over time.  As copies began to wear out, new ones were copied by hand.  Sometimes these copies were made by a lone copyist looking at the document(s) needing to be replaced.  At other times a reader would read the document and multiple copyists would record what they heard.  This was no easy task.  The Hebrew language has no vowels (which must be supplied) and Greek texts were often written with no spaces between the words to conserve space on the papyrus/parchment.  What were some of the mistakes that copyists would make?

Mistakes by the ear.  If a copyist was recording what was being read to him, he may mishear what was said.  For example, a reader might say, “For many years, the book had been read.”  However, the scribe may write down “red” instead of “read.”

Mistakes by the eye.  Hebrew and Greek letters are similar and copyists may have mistaken them for something different.  If a verse had a repeating clause in it, the scribe’s eyes may go from the first one to the last one, skipping the intervening words.  They may have also repeated words or phrases moving from one line to the other.  Just imagine how tired your eyes get when reading or writing for long periods of time.

Mistakes of confusion by correction. Many times the scribe would catch his own mistake.  However, if he made a mistake after a considerable amount of the document had been copied, he would not start over again.  Instead, he would go into the margin or between the lines and make the correction.  However, future scribes might not know if these marks were corrections or notes added for clarification of the text.

Mistakes of abbreviation.  Common words or phrases were sometimes abbreviated, but later scribes might not understand these and attempt to erroneously correct them.

Mistakes of refusal to correct.  Scribes would sometimes come across what they knew to be a clear mistake by the previous copyist.  However, out of deep respect for the biblical text and process of transmission, they would refuse to correct the manuscript.  We should note that biblical scholars, even in ancient times, were aware of the mistakes made by copyists.  The vast majority are quite simple to identify.  For example, the Masoretes, who preserved the oldest Hebrew copy of the Old Testament we have today, made a comprehensive list of ancient variants and problems with the text.

So, knowing that copyists were prone to mistakes, how can we say that the Bible is inerrant, infallible, and completely true and accurate in all that it says?  Let me explain by using the New Testament as an example.  Today we have over 5,000 ancient copies, in whole or in part, of the New Testament in the Greek language in which they were originally written.  Obviously, these 5,000 copies are not exactly identical.  There are variances between the copies in terms of different vocabulary words used, phrases, or sentence structure (called “variants”).  However, of these 5,000 copies, the vast majority do have the exact same rendering for every word and sentence in the New Testament (called the “majority text”).  If there is a variant reading in a number of ancient copies, or in some of the more important, older copies, then a note to this effect is made at the bottom of the Greek New Testament (called the “textual apparatus”).  It is important to note that none of the variances deal with anything that is substantive or theological in nature.  They generally deal with conjunctions, determiners, etc.

That the majority of over 5,000 copies, made by different scholars at different times in different places, say the same thing is evidence that the majority text is God’s inerrant Word.  Add to this that copyists and ancient scholars used rigorous standards to determine the accuracy of the text.  For example, here are two (among many) of the rules they commonly used:

The rule of difficulty.  The most difficult text (i.e. to understand theologically or in plain sense) is probably the correct one.  It is far more likely that ancient scribes would have tried to simplify a text through editing than to make it more difficult.  Thus, difficult texts show that a copyist did not make an alteration.  An example I give to my students is this: Let’s say you’re a copyist and you have two copies of the same text which have different renderings and you’re trying to determine which is correct.  One copy reads, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily life is but a dream.”  The other copy reads, “Propel, propel, propel your craft placidly down the solution, exuberance, exuberance, exuberance, exuberance existence is but an illusion.”  The simpler rendering appears to have been simplified by a copyist. The more difficult rendering appears to be closer to the original.

The rule of antiquity.  The oldest text is most likely the best one.  Copyists dated their work or dates can be determined by the style of font that was used.  The older the text, the less time and opportunity copyists had to make alterations.

But does any of this verify that the Bible we have on our desk today is an accurate and trustworthy representation of the original documents written by the biblical authors?  One of the greatest archaeological finds ever made are the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Most people have heard of these, but they don’t know why they are so important.  They are tremendously important because they stand as evidence of all I have been talking about in this post: Namely, that God was directly overseeing the transmission of the biblical text so that what we have today is truly inerrant.  The Dead Sea Scrolls, accidentally discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947 in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea, were copies of the Old Testament written in Hebrew.  The scrolls were produced by the Essenes, a monastic sect of Jews living in seclusion, carefully recording and preserving the Scripture.  The scrolls date back to 200 B.C.  At that time, the oldest copy of the Old Testament was the Masoretic text (from which the Old Testament in your Bible is translated) which is dated around 900 A.D.  The absolutely amazing thing is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, over 1,000 years older than the Masoretic Text, are virtually identical.  This means that for 1,000 years God was overseeing the transmission of the text.  It’s difficult to describe just how amazing this is!  Despite the human errors of copyists, God had insured that His Word was being accurately passed on to future generations.

Everything I have written thus far helps to explain that, as far as textual criticism and the problems of transmission, the Bible stands unparalleled in its accuracy.  As for the aforementioned “errors” in the Bible- theological, historical, or otherwise- each of these has very plausible explanations.  I plan future posts in the “Tough to Tackle Tuesday” feature of my blog to specifically address some of these.

I hope you will join me in trusting that the Bible is divinely inspired by God, completely inerrant and infallible, free of any fraud or deceit, and a trustworthy guide for life.

 

Who Wrote the Bible: God or Man?

Who Wrote the Bible: God or Man?

Who wrote the Bible- God or man?  How can we trust that the words we read in the Bible are the words of God? These are common questions many people have about the Bible known in theology as the inspiration of Scripture.  This doctrine addresses the question: In what sense, or exactly how, is the Bible inspired by God?

To begin, the Bible is indeed inspired by God.  To say that the Scripture is “inspired” means that God is the source behind its creation and truth.  The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man.  A key biblical text which teaches this is 2 Tim. 3:16- 17- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  The word “inspired” in this verse literally means “God-breathed.” The Bible is not merely the work of man, but are words “breathed out” by God.

A second key text that demonstrates God as the inspiration behind Scripture is 2 Pet. 1:20-21- “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture seeks to answer exactly how we are to go about interpreting that last phrase- “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

In general, there are four major views, or theories, of the inspiration of Scripture:

Illumination

This view states that the author is not divinely inspired, but rather the reader is inspired by the reading.  This makes the Bible “inspired” like we would consider the works of Shakespeare are inspired.  The theory of illumination makes the source of inspiration not God, but the reader of the text.  If this view were true, it would explain apparent “errors” in Scripture since it eviscerates any notion of the Bible being propositional truth.  The “truth” of the Bible would be up to the interpretation of the reader. The problem is that this view ignores the statements made in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Pet 1:20-21 on God inspiring the text and thus gives the Bible no real authority.

Dictation

This view states that humans were only stenographers that God used to write the Bible.  There is no human element involved and thus the men who wrote the words of the Bible did so as automatons whom God “zapped” to record the Scripture via dictation.  If this theory were true, it would answer any issue with supposed “errors” in the Bible.  If the men took direct dictation from God there could obviously be no mistakes since God is perfect.

The problem with this view is that it does not take into account the obvious personality, writing style, and background of the biblical authors.  For example, when my Greek professor would give us assignments from the Bible to translate, we would always breathe easy when he assigned writings of John.  His sentence structure is simple and he uses very basic vocabulary.  On the other hand, if our teacher assigned something from Luke or Acts, we groaned somewhat because Luke uses complex sentences and vocabulary.  Another example is Mark, whose Gospel is known for its rapid movement.  Mark uses the historic present tense a great deal- about 150 times in his Gospel.  He clearly prefers this over the past tense, so we read “Jesus comes… Jesus says… Jesus heals…” time and time again.  Jesus is always on the move in Mark.  Furthermore, to express rapid movement Mark uses the Greek word for “immediately” 42 times whereas Matthew and Luke use it 7 times- “and immediately Jesus got into the boat…”   When you read each book of the Bible, it becomes clear that each author has a distinct purpose and emphasis for writing.  For example, Matthew clearly wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience.  Luke wrote his Gospel for a Gentile audience.

Another weakness of the dictation theory is that it doesn’t explain why there is so much repetition in the Bible.  If God was dictating his word to a scribe, why do we have four different accounts, from four different perspectives, about the life and ministry of Jesus (the Gospels)?  Why do we have 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which overlap much of their material?

Dynamic

This view emphasizes the inspiration of the author more than the actual words they recorded.  In other words, God only inspired the thoughts of the authors and left the details of what was to be recorded up to them.  With my students, I compare this view to something akin to Deism- that God created the world, then removed His presence, and let naturalism run its course.  This theory means that cosmology, grammar, and history are reflective of the author and his times, which explains apparent problems of history and science in the Bible.

Adherents of this rubric of biblical inspiration often cite that the Bible in terms of “religious” things is OK because God inspired their basic thoughts on the subject.  However, scientific and historical things are not to be trusted because biblical authors were all members of pre-industrialized society. Their words are not trustworthy in such matters because they did not have access to modern scientific knowledge.  The problem with all of this is that it creates a huge slippery slope for biblical authority.  If not all of the Bible is inspired, which parts are inspired?  We go back to 2 Tim. 3:16-17- “All Scripture is inspired…”

Verbal Plenary

This final view is the most preferable one because it gives strong authority to the Bible as the actual words of God while allowing for the human element to be involved in its recording.  The word “plenary” means “full” and the word “verbal” refers to the actual words in the Bible.  Thus, the verbal plenary view states that God inspired every word of Scripture.  Each statement in the Bible is propositionally true.  Yet, at the same time, God used the personalities and backgrounds of the authors to accomplish the task of recording His written revelation of Himself.  When people ask me the question, “Who wrote the Bible: God or man? Who wrote Romans: God or Paul?” I always respond with a tongue-in-cheek, “Yes!”  God inspired it and He uniquely used unique authors to record the Scripture.

Critics of this view argue that it cannot be adequately explained- it is too much of a mystery.  Yet, when it comes to the Bible- the actual words of our Creator, should we expect to neatly package and explain everything that comes from One infinitely greater and wiser than us?  This final view best captures what is clearly apparent when reading the Scripture- every word is inspired by God and He used human personalities in order to uniquely and effectively communicate His truth to the human race.  What an amazing book the Bible is- and an even more amazing God who inspired it!  Yes, the Bible contains the accurate and trustworthy words of God.

 

Is the Bible Credible?

Is the Bible Credible?

You have heard objections to the credibility of the Bible: “The Bible is just a fairy tale.”  “How do we know people didn’t just make this stuff up?” “The Bible we have today isn’t what the original authors wrote.”  “The Bible cannot be trusted because the originals do not exist.”  “The Bible is full of mistakes.”  Unfortunately, much of what we hear from mainstream media promulgates such statements through the insistence of only consulting liberal scholars such as those within the Jesus Seminar.  In addition, my experience of teaching biblical hermeneutics and debating others about the veracity of Scripture has taught me that many people who question the Bible know very little about it.

In this post I hope to give evidence that the Bible is an amazingly credible document.  A few caveats: First, there is so much more I could add of a technical nature (which I teach in my seminary class) to defend this position, but for sake of space (and boredom!) I will try and make it simple.  Second, one ultimately believes in God and believes His Word on the basis of faith.  That said, I firmly believe that believing in God and the credibility of Scripture is a very rational thing.  In other words, to be a Christian and believe in the Bible does not mean you have to check your brains at the door.  Third, issues relating to this topic such as the inspiration of Scripture and the inerrancy of Scripture will be covered in forthcoming posts.

So, is the Bible reliable?  What does it say about itself and what does the historical evidence reveal?

Internal Evidence

The first question we should ask is whether or not the Bible itself claims to be the authoritative words of God.  The answer is a resounding “yes!”  Consider these texts:

2 Tim. 3:16- 17- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Pet. 1:21- “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Also significant is that Jesus considered the Scripture to be authoritative, accurate, and credible.  Matt. 5:17-Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament- the “Bible” of Jesus’ day]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”  Clearly, Jesus had the utmost regard for Scripture.

External Evidence

Consider the following in terms of the credibility of the Bible:

The practical effects of the Bible in the lives of people.  Granted, this may be an academically weak point, but you cannot discount the fact that the Bible has changed more lives in human history than any other book.  It remains today one of the best selling books (and can be argued the best seller) every year.

Remarkable survival and withstanding of scrutiny. The Bible has been scrutinized and held to a higher standard in terms of credibility than any other document in history.  See “Credibility of the Text” below.

Confirmations in archaeological findings. Consider, for example, that the Book of Mormon states that the people of Jared, descendants from the Tower of Babel, migrated to North America and built large, industrialized cities in the pre-Colombian era.  The problem is that archaeologists have yet to find one of these cities.  On the other hand, the vast majority of the cities mentioned in the Bible have been discovered.

Credibility of the Text

The Bible has been scrutinized more than any other book.  In general, scholars consider the validity of an ancient document on the basis of two criteria: One, the number of ancient copies that are extant (in existence); Two, the date of the earliest copy in relation to the date of the autograph (the original).  NOTE: It is often argued that the Bible is not to be trusted because the originals do not exist.  However, the original to ANY ancient document the age of the Bible does not exist.  The actual documents written by the hand of Plato, for example, are not extant.  So, the lack of originals is a completely fallacious argument.

Consider the two criteria I just mentioned.  The first is number of ancient copies.  Let’s say you walked into a high school or college classroom and asked the students, “Do you any of you doubt Livy wrote Roman History?” No one would raise their hand.  But if you asked that same question of Paul and his letters, you would certainly have some skeptics.  But let’s examine the evidence. Today, there are 20 copies of Livy’s Roman History.  There are 9 copies of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  There are 8 copies of Herodotus’ History.  All of these easy fulfill the scholarly criteria for being credible.  So what about the Bible- the New Testament in particular?  Today we have over 5,000 full copies and fragments of the New Testament in its original language of Koine Greek (if you include other language copies, that number shoots to more than 25,000).  20, 9, 8, and 5,000- which document is more credible?

The second criteria is the gap of time between the date of the original and the earliest copy.  The argument is that the shorter amount of time between the original and earliest copy is better because that is less time for scribes to make errors or additions.  The oldest copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars we have today was written around 850 A.D.  Caesar wrote Gallic Wars around 50 B.C.  The gap of time between the original and the earliest copy is 900 years.  The gap of time between the original of Herodotus’ History and the earliest copy is about 1,300 years.  The gap of time between the writings of Plato and the earliest copy is also about 1,300 years.  All of these fit the scholarly criteria and would never be thought as anything but credible.  Once again, what about the Bible?  John wrote his Gospel around 90 A.D.  We have a portion of a copy of John 18 (the Rylands fragment, known as “P52”) that is just 35 years after the original!  900 years, 1,300 years, and 35 years.  Which document is more credible? The Muratorian Canon (170 A.D.- about 200 years after most of the New Testament was written) contains a list of almost the entire New Testament as being in wide circulation in the early church (incidentally this is a blow to the “research” of author Dan Brown).

The works of Livy, Herodotus, Caesar, and Plato are seldom, if ever questioned, as for their credibility.  However, the Bible is always questioned.  Yet, the historical evidence does not bear this out.

Scholars and scribes through the centuries have used strict criteria in evaluating biblical manuscripts.  They consider the age of the manuscript and its physical condition.  They consider what is known about the manuscript and its scribe and if there is any reason to suspect editing.  They consider if the text is in harmony with the same text in other manuscripts.  They look to see if there is an easier reading substituted for a more difficult one.  In so many ways, the text of the Bible has been carefully copied in the transmission of God’s Word.

Credibility of the author

Here’s another objection to the credibility of the Bible: The authors are biased.  Do they tell us the truth about Jesus or what they want us to believe about Jesus?  Everything ever written is biased to some degree.  Everyone who writes has a purpose for writing and a particular point of view.  A newspaper story, the letter you got from your mother, even your electric bill has some bias.  The question is, “Is there too much bias?

Biblical authors included their shortcomings unlike most ancient authors. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the chronicles written by Pharoahs, and Mesopotamian kings are all written about themselves by themselves.  They do not tell of any defeat, only victories.  The purpose of these writings is to glorify themselves.  On the other hand, biblical writers are out to glorify God, not themselves.  If the biblical writers were biased, we would not read about:

-Moses murdering a man and forced into exile.

-David sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband.

-Peter denying Christ three times.

Accuracy

The Bible is accurate in all that it says.  There are countless critics who have determined so-called “errors” in the Bible.  I do not have the time to consider these (perhaps in future posts?), but studying these “errors” and how time after time advancements in textual scholarship and archaeology always support the Bible and not the critics is fascinating.  We could go through a long litany of evidences on how the Bible is accurate, but consider just two.

One, much of what the Bible claims, if they were lies, would by their nature not exist.  Let me explain.  Let’s say four guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all meet at the Jerusalem Starbucks in 60 A.D. and decide to “invent” a new religion to foist onto to people as a joke or ploy for popularity.  If they were “inventing” a new religion, wouldn’t they make it something that would be believable and credible in the minds of people?  Instead, the Gospels start off with the protagonist being born of a virgin, healing people and raising people from the dead, then raising himself from the dead with the first witness of the resurrection being a woman (whose credibility as a witness in the first century was inadmissible).  The only reason such “unbelievable” things appear in the New Testament is because they really happened.  If these guys were making this stuff up they certainly would not have included such outrageous claims.  Furthermore, most of the earliest followers of Jesus gave their lives as martyrs for their faith.  If the account of Jesus had been a lie they had fabricated, they certainly would have come clean about their deception in order to save themselves.

Two, the fulfilled prophecy contained in the Bible cannot be discounted.  Suppose you picked up a book and it predicted the major events of WWII.  It talked about the rise of Hitler, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the atomic bomb.  You then looked at the copyright on the book and it says “1950.”  Big deal.  Written after the facts.  But what if that same book had a copyright of 1920?  Then you would be on to something!  Consider the fulfilled prophecy in the Bible written long before the events occurred, many times in amazing detail.  Micah wrote (5:2) that Jesus the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, over 700 years before it happened.  Psalm 22, written even earlier, accurately predicted that the soldiers would not divide Jesus’ robe at the crucifixion, but rather cast lots for it. There are about 300 prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled in the person Jesus Christ.

There is so much more that could be said in defense of the Bible, but I hope I made the point that, even by the world’s secular standards, the Bible can fairly be called the most credible ancient document in existence.  You don’t have to check your brains at the door!  Again, we ultimately trust God’s Word to be true and authoritative on the basis of faith.  We love His Word because we love Him.  The Bible is truly an amazing, powerful, guide by which to live our lives.

Psalm 119:129-130- “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

 

Tough to Tackle Tuesdays

Tough to Tackle Tuesdays

Today I am going to launch a new feature on my blog entitled, “Tough to Tackle Tuesdays.”  I know, it sounds cheesy, but it’s my feeble effort at being creative.  In these posts I hope to fulfill a major reason I started the blog in the first place: to equip believers to grow in their faith and defend it.  1 Pet. 3:15 states, “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Tough to Tackle Tuesday posts will be about issues in apologetics and the difficult questions we often have of the Bible and Christianity.  In time, I’ll try and give explanations to passages in Scripture that are difficult to interpret and common objections to Christianity we so often see in TV shows and hear about at work or school.  Sample topics/questions would be: Where did Cain get his wife? Who were the Nephilim in Gen. 6? Was the flood worldwide? Is evolution correct? Is Jesus the only way to be saved and what about people who never hear the gospel? The problem of evil and suffering and a loving, all-powerful God. Did Jesus visit hell while in the tomb (1 Pet. 3)?  The list is very long and hopefully we’ll cover some topics of interest to you or deal with some issues in which you are discussing with others.

I hope these posts will generate discussion and be helpful for you to use in your spiritual growth and to assist in the growth of your family.  I’m going to start Tough to Tackle Tuesdays with a topic that is very dear to me: the Word of God.  Is the Bible credible? Exactly who wrote the Bible- God or man?  Does the Bible have mistake sin it?  In the next several Tuesdays I’ll attempt to cover some common questions about the Bible.  The first post, “Is the Bible Credible?” is coming up right now…

 

Is Jesus the Only Way? Universalism, Rob Bell, and the offense of the Gospel

Is Jesus the Only Way? Universalism, Rob Bell, and the offense of the Gospel

I’ve been reading with great interest the last few days about the controversy surrounding the forthcoming book by Rob Bell, “Love Wins.” Granted, we should be careful about bringing charges and making assertions before the full book is even available. It is also entirely possible that the promotional material released from the publisher of the book has as its goal a controversy in order to sell more books. However, if you watch the promotional video that Bell has made, it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion than that he is a universalist. Take a minute and read Justin Taylor’s post on this controversy here:

Rob Bell: Universalist?

In essence, universalists do not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved and have eternal life. Some have said that Bell is merely asking questions in the video, but even in such a format we can clearly be teaching something. Watch Bell’s video about the new book here:

Rob Bell- “Love Wins”

Bell is a very popular pastor/speaker/author who wields considerable influence representing the emergent church movement. This is not the first time controversy has been associated with Bell. His book, “Velvet Elvis,” called into question his affirmation of key, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith such as the virgin birth. I remember having a discussion with some of the students in my seminary class about Bell and if he was really advocating what many accuse him of believing. If you have read his books, he is skilled in the way he states things and can often be hard to “pin down.” Apparently, “Love Wins,” is going to make it clearer than ever that Bell is moving away from the mainstream of evangelical doctrine.

The notion that faith in Jesus alone is the only way to have salvation and go to heaven is, and has always been, one of the most offensive things about Christianity to non-believers. Bell states in the promotional video it’s the reason so many want to have nothing to do with Christianity. Yet, the exclusivity of Christ in salvation is a doctrine that is clearly articulated in Scripture (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12 and many others that could be listed). I don’t have space in this blog to cover all of the arguments for, and those that have been posited against, the exclusivity of Christ (but see my letter below). Suffice it to say, the necessity of faith in Christ and not faith in good deeds or other deities is increasingly becoming a scandalous and offensive position to hold in our society. This recent news about Bell shows that it is now becoming more and more offensive even within the Christian ranks.

Recently, the local newspaper in our community has been publishing letters to the editor concerning this issue of the exclusivity of Christ. I was surprised to see multiple letters from those who would identify themselves as Christians defend universalism and deny that faith in Jesus is necessary to go to heaven. Below, I have posted my letter in response to these letters, which was published in the paper.

Dear Editor,

I have read with interest recent editorials on the issue of Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation. Too often, we interpose our 21st century understanding of truth on to the Scripture, thus making the Bible say what we want it to say rather than what God wants to say. This seems to be a difficult thing for many to accept when it comes to the topic of salvation. Our postmodern/pluralist culture finds absolute truth (the belief that one thing can be true for all people at all times) offensive. Yet, the Bible is clear in its claim to the exclusivity of Christ in salvation.

Recent editorials have attempted to deny Jesus is the only way to salvation on the basis of context. Yet, the context affirms the contrary. For example, Peter’s words to Cornelius in Acts 10:34 do not imply that those outside of belief in Christ could be saved. The verses that follow articulate what “fearing God” and “doing right” truly mean- that peace with God comes only through Jesus Christ. There is no doubt in the mind of Luke (who wrote the passage) that what saved Cornelius was not his religious belief outside of Christ, but rather his faith in Christ that made him right with God. Incidentally, if a multitude of religious belief systems are efficacious (able to save), why does a large portion of the Apostle Paul’s writings condemn any teaching that contradicts the exclusivity of Christ? The wonder of salvation is not that any belief system can save us, but that any of us can reach out to Christ for redemption.

Readers have stated the assumption that doing good can result in salvation. The Bible is clear that good deeds can never save us, but only faith in Jesus can save (Eph. 2:8-10). Good deeds are the result of salvation, never the basis for it. The message of Jesus’ gospel is not that we need to become better versions of ourselves, but instead we need to die to ourselves and become new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-18). In regard to salvation, the Bible says we can know with certainty how we are saved and should never place this doctrine under the rubric of “a poor reflection” (1 Cor. 13:12). In fact, John stated this as the reason for writing his Gospel: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

If we are going to accept the Bible as God’s Word and not force it to die a thousand deaths at the hands of postmodernism, we need to accept the biblical claim that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. Christians should not wield this truth in a spirit of judgmentalism and sanctimony, but rather engage people with the love and hope that only Christ can bring.

More and more people in the Christian community are abandoning the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ in salvation because the world is offended by it. Adherence to this doctrine appears to be close-minded, irrational, and intolerant. Yet, faith in Christ is necessary. Only Jesus could serve as our substitute on the cross, a perfect and unblemished sacrifice, to satisfy the righteous demands of God and pay the penalty and punishment of our sin. As the world grows more and more hostile to this crucial doctrine, I hope you will stand fast. In no way should we be mean, arrogant, or judgmental about it. People may claim that about us, but let’s encourage others to embrace Christ through authentically living out our faith, loving people, and communicating the gospel of Jesus.

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too: The Incompatibility of Jesus and Darwin

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too: The Incompatibility of Jesus and Darwin

There has been quite a bit of attention lately about the issue of theistic evolution. Books like Saving Darwin by Karl Giberson propose that Christians can hold to their religious convictions and believe in evolution at the same time. Notable people such as Francis Collins have stated that Christians must hold to the theory of evolution or lose its credibility with the world to share the gospel. Of course, theistic evolutionists would disagree with atheistic, naturalistic evolutionists in that our origins lie with God’s creation. But beyond that, theistic evolutionists concur with most of the scientific community that the earth is billions of years old and that the evidence for evolution and transitional forms is irrefutable. The epistemology (how we know things) of science is the scientific method which means the burden to “prove” the fact of evolution is incumbent upon scientists. In fact, as Phillip Johnson so poignantly notes in his book Darwin on Trial, the scientific community rarely refers to the theory of evolution, but rather the fact of evolution.

The problem is that any objective study of the evidence of of the fossil record, the field of chemistry, etc. reveals that evolution is far from a fact. It cannot be “proved” by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps this is why, if you have ever heard Richard Dawkins speak at an event such as his appearance at Oklahoma University a few years ago, he doesn’t speak about scientific evidence for evolution. Instead, he gives ad hominem arguments against the Christian community and insults them for their ignorance and backwardness. One can only wonder if he does this because he doesn’t have the evidence on his side? The scientific community merely approaches the question of our beginnings from the presupposition that faith in the supernatural is not a rational position to hold.

The dangerous issue the Christian community faces today is the growing number of Christians who have bought into the “fact” of evolution. To do so, and adhere to theistic evolution, presents doctrinal challenges that eviscerates the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the major issues of holding to theistic evolution is that it eliminates the possibility (and necessity) of Adam and Eve being historical, literal people (in fact, theistic evolution really cannot adhere to the historicity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis). If Adam and Eve are figurative characters, then it becomes impossible to reconcile the biblical account of the Fall of man and the introduction of sin into the world. This obviously has huge implications for the gospel and the work of Christ on the cross and resurrection.

The theistic evolution debate is another sign of the Christian community trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Why do we need to accept what the world says in order to be “credible?” We are reminded in Scripture that the cross will often be an offense and stumbling block for many. Theistic evolution has bought the lie that if you do not believe in evolution you are an anti-intellectual (a fallacy indeed!). Yet the doctrinal price is too high to pay to hold to theistic evolution. Christians need to affirm that Jesus and Darwin are competing worldviews- it is impossible to reconcile them.

For further study, read the Baptist Press articles (links below) recently released which track the debate about theistic evolution between Albert Mohler and the BioLogos Foundation.

The New Shape of the Debate
Theistic Evolutionists, too, Face “Suspicion” and “Condescension”
Mohler at Center of Debate Over Evolution and Bible

Also, one of the best books available that refutes evolution and its accompanying presuppositions and fallacies is Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson.