ANSWERING JESUS’ SKEPTICS — PART 3

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In Part 2 of this series (ADDING A BIT OF PERSPECTIVE:  ARE ROMAN CATHOLICS JESUS’ SKEPTICS?), we considered the advisability of giving Roman Catholics a bunch of grief. That’s because many Catholic teachings seem to rely more upon tradition than they do the Bible. Because Catholic teachings defer to the Bible on core issues, I tend to take the view that with respect to Catholics it is better to focus on teaching what the Bible says. For example, although the Bible teaches us that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was extraordinarily obedient to God, nowhere does Bible say Mary was free of original sin (Here is an explanation of the position of the Roman Catholic Church.). Therefore, as far as we know Mary was an ordinary young woman.

What is important about this subject? Is it what Philippians 2:5-11 attests? Did Christ Jesus, the Son of God, empty himself by taking the form of a servant, a mere man? Why would God, the Creator of the Universe, the maker of stars and galaxies, become one of us? Does He love us that much? The Bible says He does. 

Yet because they directly deny the truth of the Gospel, there are some people Christians must confront with the Word of God. These we call apostates.

WHAT IS AN APOSTATE?

What Is An Apostate? 

Some people, even though they have had ample opportunity to study the Bible and learn about Jesus, vociferously reject Christianity. These we call apostates.

Apostates say that Jesus is not the Messiah.   To “disprove” the Bible these unbelievers will even lie (2 Peter 2:1-3 and 1 John 2:22-23).

John MacArthur offers this definition of an apostate.

The word “apostasy” comes from the Greek apostasia, which is translated “falling away” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The word is closely related to the Greek word for “divorce.”

Apostates are those who fall away from the true faith, abandoning what they formerly professed to believe. The term describes those whose beliefs are so deficient as to place them outside the pale of true Christianity. For example, a liberal denomination that denies the authority of Scripture or the deity of Christ is an apostate denomination.

True Christians do not apostatize. Those who fall away into apostasy demonstrate that their faith was never real to begin with (1 John 2:19). (from here)

Here are some key passages.

  • 1 John 4:2-3: This passage explains how we are to test those who would teach us. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
  • Hebrews 10:26-31: The author of Hebrews says that those who continue to worship idols, “sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth,” will be punished. 
  • Jude 1:  In his short little epistle, Jude focused on God’s judgement on false teachers. He observed that false teachers have  crept in unnoticed and pervert the grace of our God into sensuality. They deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 8 and 1 Corinthians 10:23-33: Here the Apostle Paul uses the example of food sacrificed to idols to illustrate a principle. When the Bible is not altogether clear, we don’t cause another to do something they think might be wrong. In a spirit of love and concern, we respect the beliefs of others.

An Example Of An Apostate

When people misrepresent the Bible, the Bible is quite capable of defending itself, but we must challenge apostates. We must explain that the Bible does not say what the apostates say it says. We must encourage people to see for themselves. In Part 1 of this series we considered God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question by Bart D. Ehrman.  Ehrman is a former pastor. As a theologian, Ehrman has made a name for himself by criticizing the Bible. As Ravi Zacharias observes in Why Jesus?, criticizing the Bible is relatively easy.

This is what I believe it boils down to: If you are determined to find flaws in the Bible, you will find them, especially in a book that has been around for so many centuries, was written by such diverse authors over a great period of time, and has been translated into so many versions and languages. So it is with the texts on almost any subject. It can be done. Ideas  are easy to quibble over, debate, dissect, and reject. One has to start by looking at the big picture, at the overall truth that is being asserted. Then one puts the main ideas of the argument to the tests that I mentioned earlier, and sees how they have been borne out in life, in history, and in personal application. (chapter 14, pg 261)

What tests? Here are what Zacharias calls three all-important questions. (from chapter 14, pg 252)

All worldviews and religions need to take a hard look at themselves and at how they answer three inescapable questions.

  1. How do they answer the question of exclusivity as it relates to their own belief?
  2. What is the source of their authority?
  3. How relevant is what they believe to the common experience, what difference does it really make?

How Is An Apostate Such As Bart Ehrman Countered?

Does Ehrman have critics? Yes, and Zacharius points to the work of Ben Witherington and N. T. Wright.  Here are some links.

12 thoughts on “ANSWERING JESUS’ SKEPTICS — PART 3

  1. An interesting and valuable post. As usual, I have a small point: I don’t think Ehrmann has “criticised” the Bible. His scholarship is not “critical” as much as it is historical. He simply points out that what we know about these writings indicates that there are errors, contradictions, additions, deletions, naming conventions that lead to misunderstandings (e.g., the notion that the Books of Matthew, Mark, John were written by three of the twelve original disciples of Jesus), etc. Nothing really surprising about that given the age of the texts and the anthology structure of both the Hebrew and Christian bibles. Unfortunately for Ehrmann, who grew up with a rather rigid view of Scripture as the inerrant, direct word of God, dictated verbatim to human scribes, these discrepancies, coupled with his inquiry into human suffering, leads to conflict with his initial literal view of the Bible and his early faith in the omnipotent and ubiquitous presence of God in the affairs of Man. His apostasy, in my opinion, is a reflection of his inability to reconcile these disparate points on his faith journey. I hope he finds his way back, because he has made significant contributions to our understanding of these ancient sacred writings.

    Ehrmann’s experience points out the irony of a literalist interpretation of the Bible. Faith based on a studied awareness of the Bible’s flaws (after all, this is a book pieced together of writings from an array of humans going back possibly as far as 700 or 800 B.C.), is probably less subject to being rocked by the multiple anomalies in the texts than is a faith that requires every word of the Book to be “inerrant” and literally, historically accurate. Ehrmann is a good example of this. Tom Wright is an example of a less rigid, literal but ultimately more robust faith that includes an awareness of the flaws, but understands that they are trivial in relation to the larger underlying truths that the texts convey.

    Your post does a nice job of pulling together different takes on these important discussions.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment. I am pleased you have found the post worthwhile.

      In a literal sense, very few people, if any, have ever read the Bible. We have read copies and translations, but we have not read the words that God inspired the original authors to put down on paper. Each of us is stymied by certain facts. The originals are gone; they did not survived the passage of time. And even if the originals had somehow survived, the language we speak is not static. Few people alive now can speak and read the languages used by the inspired authors of the Bible.

      Thus, we only have slightly imperfect copies of the Bible. Doesn’t that seem to be the pattern, however. We live in a sinful world, not heaven. Nothing we have here is quite as it should be.

      So what should we think of the Bible? Should we take it literally? Tomorrow we celebrate Easter. If Jesus did not die for our sins and rise from the dead, what is the point? If we don’t take the four Gospels literally, what is the point?

      Is the problem “Noah’s” Flood? Is it so hard to believe that the God who died for our sins and rose from the dead could flood the entire world and leave only Noah’s family alive? I don’t think so. On the other hand, I am confused by findings of scientists, and I sometimes find it difficult to reconcile some of the accounts in Genesis with what scientists think might have happened thousands, millions and billions of years ago. In the moment of Creation who but God saw what happened? And the Flood? Noah did not record it. Instead, a man named Moses put those words to paper. What did Moses intend the Hebrews to understand? Did Moses want the people whose parents had seen the ten plagues fall upon Egypt to believe what he wrote?

      Imperfect knowledge is a problem. Hence to love as Christ Jesus commanded us we must depend upon faith and hope. So in those moments when I doubt what I truly must believe, that the Son of God loves us enough die for us (John 3:16), I remember the words of a desperate man: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). God knows there is much we do not understand.

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  2. There is so much in the Gospels , whether we take them literally or not, that is inspirational, Tom. God is very complex and very much beyond human comprehension. I come from fairly primitive farm country. My cousins had a phrase to describe when they didn’t understand something: “I feel like a hog staring at a wristwatch.” God tries to come down to our level through allegory and symbolism. It is an imperfect conversation because we are so inferior to God. We discern vaguely.

    Our understanding of the complexity and depth of God is like a hog staring at a wristwatch.

    God uses metaphors, parables, analogies, myths to come down to our level. He is far beyond us. I do not speak dog language to my dogs. They only roughly discern what I know. That gulf symbolically approximates the gap between us and God.

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  3. Another quibble: I don’t think many people who have studied the Bible believe that Moses “put those words to paper” or even put those words to papyrus or clay tablets, if your reference there is to the first books of the Hebrew Bible. The most that can be said linking those stories to Moses is that they may reflect oral traditions that go back to a time when Moses may have lived. However, I think the common understanding of authorship is that the early books were written and compiled roughly in the time of Solomon by several authors, many centuries later than the Moses stories.

    None of this detracts from the value of these writings. A writing from 700 BC is plenty ancient. The value of the books is in their content, not in their authorship.

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    1. Because they do not believe the prophecies, many “experts” date books of Bible after certain events. Are we suppose to believe those experts too?

      Our conundrum is not a simple one, but we do have a choice. If we believe that Christ Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead — as the Bible says He did — then we may as well believe what the Bible says about itself, and who wrote it. When it is relevant to its authenticity, logic dictates that we also believe the ancient traditions of authorship. After all, other than their repeated speculations, what new evidence do the “experts” have that prove their claims against the truth of the Bible?

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  4. You seem to be saying that if one accepts any element of the Bible as factually or historically correct, one has to accept all of it as factually correct. That doesn’t work for me, either as a matter of logic or as a matter of studious regard for the Bible itself. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the core event of the New Testament. If one takes this event to be literal, historic fact (or even if one accepts it metaphorically as an indicator of God’s relationship to Man), it doesn’t follow that one has to literally believe in the Garden of Eden, the Creation Stories, Jonah and the Whale, the Ark and the Flood. to get spiritual value from those stories. Jesus frequently and effectively used allegory and parable to make important points. I can think of no reason why God would only communicate literally.

    Authorship is not as important as content. There are probably only around a half dozen books of the combined Hebrew Bible and New Testament whose authorship can be traced to a known historical person (I’m thinking of the authentic Pauline epistles, primarily). But not knowing the authors doesn’t undermine the value of the content. If we didn’t know who wrote Moby Dick, we would likely nonetheless regard it as a great literary work.

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    1. @ scout
      and hello Tom.

      I beg to differ that ‘Jonah’ or the ‘ark’ tales are not relevant to the testimony of scripture. Firstly they are not tales, meant solely to amuse or even inspire. If Jonah was not swallowed by a ‘great fish’ then the Lord Himself would be the greatest of fools. He used both events to teach historical certainties, so His word is at stake as well.

      It takes no more effort for an iron head to float, a Red Sea parted, or a fig tree created, as they all have the same author. The Eden beginning? Not relevant or even true? Then words do not mean things, and we as well question sin and a Redeemer. Perish the thought.

      The warp and woof of scripture stands or falls together, from creation, to eternity, from Genesis to Revelation. As to allegory, yes it is taught, and it is plainly understood by context. ‘Rightly dividing’ the scriptures is the sole anvil against all paltry attacks. And yes, to say there was no Eden, no ark, no flood. no Jonah, no whale, is to shake the belief of a little child, not a good thing.

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    2. Think carefully about what the nakedtruth2 just said. Then observe something else. You noted that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the core event of the New Testament. The death and resurrection of Jesus is also the core event of the Old Testament. The Old Testament provides the history of what went before the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it provides the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Without the Old Testament, how would we make sense of the New? That’s why the New Testament contains hundreds of references to the Old.

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  5. I didn’t say that they were irrelevant. They are highly relevant. How barren would the Hebrew Bible be without these stories? They are central elements of an unfolding of God’s relationship with the people of Israel and they define a cycle of God’s blessings met with human resistance and neglect. They are, as you say, a kind of warp and woof, a structure, that supports not only the early history of Israel, but also provides a predicate for the New Covenant marked by the coming of Jesus.

    I’m not sure why you think I deemed them “not relevant.”

    Beyond this, however, it seems borderline blasphemous for you to describe God as “the greatest of fools” if these stories are allegorical or didactic extrapolations of actual events. I am in no position to label God a fool, but I think it more impressive to teach animals of such limited comprehension and awareness as humans with symbols and stories that they can understand than to assume that our only learning is through literal demonstrations. If literal accuracy is the test we put to God, we diminish Him arbitrarily, I would think. I’m not comfortable with doing that. Doing so also makes minor contradictions and inaccuracies in Scripture potentially fatal blows to an inerrant God and magnifies the significance of scholars like Bart Ehrman. If the Bible is a human work with human errors, the errors reflect on no one but us.

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  6. In my Bible, Tom, the death and resurrection of Jesus are in the New Testament. Obviously the two are linked because the Pentateuch was what Jesus preached from when he cited scripture. And I agree with you that the Old Testament provides useful context for the New. I have a little paperback New Testament. It’s pretty skinny. I remember once thinking that, while it was handy for carrying around, it really was a bit like one hand clapping. Having said that, I think the resurrection is a distinctly NT event and, without it, the NT wouldn’t have any meaning at all and probably wouldn’t even exist. I’d probably be celebrating some Spring Planting festival today without the Resurrection.

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