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About that Camel and Abraham

camelLast week a bit of a media kerfuffle emerged after several media outlets reported that a “new discovery” cast doubts about the “accuracy and truthfulness” of the Bible. This was not stunning news, these kinds of report happen often. Specifically here, the pieces were referring to an archeological discussion about camel bones.

The reports appears to center around a piece written by Martin Hiede, back in 2010, titled “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological andInscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia,and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible.”

Certainly other, more informed folks, have written about this and given their more informed perspectives on the archeology behind this. Essentially, these qualified archeologists were excavating the site of an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley when they found some leg bones from camels. After dating the bones to about BCE 900, they also noted that the bones showed no signs of domestication. This brings doubt to the use of camels in Genesis 12:16; 24:35; 30:43; 37:25 where camels are referenced in ways that demonstrate domestication.

However, the reports of the Bible’s utter demise seem, yet again, to be overstated.

As a means of working through this “new issue” let’s apply a couple of thoughtful apologetic processes consider the claim:

  • One of the first things I did upon hearing that the Bible’s testimony was suddenly both under scrutiny and possibly undermined, yes that should be read ironically, was consult a couple of technical commentaries I have in my study. One of the commentaries, Nahum Sarna’s excellent installment for the JPS Torah Commentary, written in 2001, points out the issues of early domestication against the certain archeological evidences (pg 96.) Sarna points out that this issue has been known for a while and there are some responses. He suggests that, perhaps, we are dealing with a different species of camel than is found elsewhere. So, two points here: 1) this isn’t a new problem and 2) very good, very informed scholars have already provided some responses.
  • Then we look deeper at the archeological discovery and note that negative evidence is tenuous at best and, in the words of Professor Hiede, “Proving that something did not exist at some time and place in the past is every archaeologist’s nightmare because proof of its existence may, despite all claims to the contrary, be unearthed at some future date” (337) This is not an exhaustive discovery since the site being excavated isn’t the entire ancient world. Other evidences may spring up in the future, the responsible action is to note the challenge and not make wild claims.
  • Even if this text comes from a later redactor, a reasonable claim in Old Testament scholarship, including evangelical scholars, this doesn’t mean the text suddenly a) isn’t inspired, b) isn’t coherent with the teaching of the Bible. We stand at such a distance from the inscripturation of the biblical text, especially the Hebrew Bible, that many references and idiomatic language can be lost in translation. However, an honest and forthright investigation of the text doesn’t take every “new story” uncovered four years after its publication and blow it up out of context.
  • If we trust in the media establishment to communicate authentically and with scholarly nuance we are setting ourselves up for failure. As Anthony LeDonne has aptly pointed out, even the media’s reporting they are confusing 900 BCE with CE 900…a difference of 1800 years. When scholars in the field, such as Alan Millard write concise letters to the editor much of the issues are cleared up. This is because these scholars have seen the issues before and also know of the contrary data that exists. Archeology is not the enemy of the faithful, yet too many reporters make their money off false-dichtomies like this.

 

The biblical text can be confusing at time and, in light of the scant archeological data around it, hard to comprehend as well. However, we will all do well to consider the actual arguments being offered and then see where scholars are in dealing with the primary issues. For evangelicals, and other Christians, we can have confidence in an inspired text that, though thoroughly troubling at times, is an inspired text that accomplishes what it sets out to do when properly understood amid its pre-modern times.

17
Feb 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Apologetics

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Is Genesis 1 Poetry?

Last night Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with posts and reflections, or reactions, to the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate about creation and evolution. Since I follow a rather diverse crowd on my Twitter feed, I saw a litany of these reactions. One point that came up several times was that Genesis 1 is just poetry and not meant to be taken literally. Matthew Paul Turner made this point in this post:

I entirely agree that Genesis 1 isn’t meant to be scientific. Being written in a pre-scientific, pre-modern era the text and author simply lacked any scientific framework. Though we can say the text is observational it is not scientific. Nevertheless…Genesis1

Now, I did give this idea of the text being poetry some pushback. Genesis 1 (well 1:1-2:3 is the proper citation) is not poetic. It has aspects of poetry in it, but the text itself lacks common poetic features. So, how do I come to this conclusion?

When I was taking my second semester of Hebrew at seminary, we translated Genesis 1-4 as part of our classwork. Part of this translation was consulting multiple technical commentaries to aid our translations. So I read most of the technical commentaries written by Hebrew scholars as I translated Genesis 1:1-2:3. Most of the scholars I consulted pointed out that the entire text lacks a poetic structure though there are elements of poetry in the text.

In listening to these scholars (both Jewish and Christian voices here), we see that there are a number of key features about the Hebrew text that draw it away from being poetry:

  • The first of these is that the literary form of the Hebrew is the same as Genesis 12 – 50 and other historical narrative passages in later texts like Exodus, Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, etc.
  • A second point concerns the lack of parallelism in the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3. If the text was going to poetic, it should contain examples of this. However, they are lacking in this complete passage.
  • Another, third, point is that the verbs conform more to recounting a narrative than forming a poetic stanza. For more information about this read Andrew Witt’s thesis on verbal forms in Hebrew poetry, he has some great points.
  • Fourth, the text just doesn’t read like poetry. It lacks rhyme, meter, and other examples of poetic devices. Now, verse 27 does reflect these, much like the Song of Adam in 2:23. Yet this isn’t present elsewhere in the passage of 1:1-2:3. For more information see this excellent post.
  • Finally, in considering the literary structure of the passage it is likely more chiastic than poetic. There are various ways into this, but the structure seems to indicate an ABC – X -C’B’A’ chiasm between 1:1-2:3. This doesn’t entirely remove the poetic possibility, but it does constrain that interpretation.

My takeaway is that just because the text isn’t poetry doesn’t mean it isn’t allegorical, it also doesn’t mean that it must be read literally. Once we’ve arrived at the nature of the literary genre that a text has we then must make the move, via interpretive method, to understand how to read the text. That is, ultimately, a theological decision.

creationLikewise, just because someone might read this, or any other text, as poetic doesn’t mean that it is, by default, allegorical. The book of Job is a great example of a Hebrew epic poem. Almost all Old Testament prophetic passages are poetic, including some about Jesus’ ministry on earth. That certainly wasn’t an allegorical event.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a preface to the rest of the book given the literary arrangement of Genesis.

So, when it comes to reading Genesis 1, we can see that it isn’t entirely Hebrew poetry and that even where it is does not mean we can dismiss the text as, by default either literal or allegorical. We can’t leverage the text inappropriately to support our personal theological position on the nature of creation. Theology and hermeneutics are still valuable disciplines.

What we should be left with is that the focus of the text isn’t so much on the process, but the Person who is creating. (and yes, I am leveraging the text to support my read…)

05
Feb 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Theology

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A Few Thoughts on Bible Secrets Revealed

Last night, the History Channel aired the first of six episodes in a series titled “Bible Secrets Revealed.” So what might some preliminary thoughts about the series, and some of the points that were made, look like to an evangelical (and Baptist! – *gasp*) minister?

You can find out more about the series at the History Channel website and also see the list of confirmed scholars who will have air time. Also, the venerable Dr Jim West has posted a liveblog of the episode from last night, go check it out. Here’s a YouTube trailer:

Couple of preliminary thoughts and then we’ll be moving along:

1. The scholars they consulted were some of the top in their field. You just can’t find many series that dig as deep into the scholarly pool to bring out some (relatively young and articulate) scholars who can make sense of their dense fields of work. For their contributions, each of the scholars last night did an excellent job.

2. There are no actual “secrets” in this (or likely any) of the episodes. Maybe they’ll be secrets for somebody who hasn’t ever actually thought about this stuff or ventured into even the most elementary discussions, but these are pretty well acknowledged topics.

3. The selection of scholars was, generally good, however, I would have like to see a couple leading evangelical voices. As I mentioned in a twitter exchange, there are legitimate evangelical scholarly voices. The producers saw fit to include a creative writing professor who has only published a (bad) book about Jesus based on discredited 19th century historical Jesus work. Why not dial up Dan Wallace and talk about his perspective on textual transmission? Or Craig Evans about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Or Tim Keller? Or some others?

4. Along these lines, there are legitimate, evangelical responses to each of the discussion points about the nature of the biblical text that present accurately a viewpoint that leaves the Bible as an inspired set of texts that were accurately transmitted and faithfully preserved to reflect the authentic words of their authors. I wish we had heard some of them.

5. Critical scholarship is hard business, but this was a good production of some realistic challenges with dealing with the biblical text. Some texts are more challenging than others, and certainly the producers have found a good starting point. I’ll look forward to some stimulating conversations with a few of my atheist and other religions friends based on this series.

6. I’ll look forward to seeing the subsequent “Qu’ran Secrets Revealed” that surely is being worked on. (wink, wink)

I’m looking forward to the other episodes. From the list posted by Dr Bob Cargill it looks like we’ll be seeing some Historical Jesus stuff, Gnostic and hetrodoxical testaments, eschatology vs. apocalytpicism, and sex (well you gotta keep folks attention some how.)

Perhaps we’ll also see some evangelical voices. The challenge for the History Channel and the producers of this series (not that they care) is many Christians in the United States are already expecting to see a series that “goes after” the authority and inspiration of the Bible. If you want to lessen the cries of “heresy” and “liberal theology” it might be best to include a few faces and voices they’ve heard and trust. Just putting out a series that recapitulates an argument against the Bible, perceived or not, which seeks to undermine it is no longer surprising to so many faithful Christians. Since the History Channel and other networks won’t ever touch on my sixth point, there is a definite imbalance that is hurting the credibility of good, scholarly based series like Bible Secrets Revealed.

So, what did you think?

13
Nov 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Apologetics

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The Witch of Endor: A Biblical Ghost Story in 1 Samuel 28

Ghost stories have a unique place in folklore from almost all ages. The more we uncover from ancient and old societies, the more we tend to find out about their ghost stories. Particularly around the Halloween festivities in the western world, we often hear more ghost stories and legendary tales of ghosts and goblins.

For readers of the Old Testament, there is a story that arises in the conflict between King Saul and (soon to be King) David that is a good, old-fashioned ghost story. In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, a strange scene unfolds where the leader of historical Israel goes in secret to a pagan necromancer to learn unworldly truths about his future and his nemesis.

The story of 1 Samuel 28 is a good read, so go read it first.

So what actually happens in 1 Samuel 28? Does the witch actually conjure Samuel’s spirit from the afterlife? Does the spirit of Samuel appear to these two and haunt Saul with a prophetic word? Is this the resuscitated body of Samuel that returns to the grave (i.e. zombie)? Or, is it all a dream that Saul had after eating bad matzo?

In the history of interpretation of this passage there are, unsurprisingly many different takes on the scene. Not the least of which attempts to explain it away. For Christian interpretation,

I. Samuel was resuscitated by the woman. (Justin Martyr, Zeno of Verona, Ambrose, Augustine, Sulpicius Severus, Dracontius, and Anastasius Sinaita.

II. Either Samuel or a daemon in his shape appeared at God’s command. (John Crysostom, Theodoret of Cryrrhus, Pseudo-Justin, Theodore bar Koni, and Isho’dad of Merv.)

III. A daemon deceived Saul and gave him a forged prophecy. (Tertullian, Pseudo-Hippolytus, “Pionius,” Eustathius of Antioch, Ephraem, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Ponticus, Pseudo-Basil, Jerome, Phiastrius, Ambrosiaster, and Pseudo-Augustine.)

These appear as a consolidated list in KAD Smelik’s 1978 Vigiliae Christianae piece “I Samuel 28 in Rabbinic and Christian Exegesis.” The article goes on to point out some issues with each of these interpretations and the larger issue that remains: how is a pagan witch able to raise a God glorifying prophet from the dead? Is this ability still available in the world?

The entire scene is an odd one. Saul, the King of Israel, fears for his future and desires to get spiritual insight as to what might unfold. The Chronicler points out that two things have already happened  that 1) Samuel had been dead by now (referring to 1 Samuel 25), and that 2) King Saul had rid the land of pagan spiritualists and mystics. Yet this pagan witch still remains. With the sudden invasion of the Philistines into the land, there was another challenge to his throne.

Saul asks his servants that he wished to find a medium, or witch (the terminology used is specific to a female necromancer)  to help him discern what lies ahead. They tell him of the Witch of Endor (not the one with warrior carebears,) a town that (supposedly) lies about 5 miles northeast of Shunem where the Philistines had camped. So Saul gets into a costume…oh wait, disguise…and travels around the Philistine army to the other side to find this witch. He then commands her to “practice divination” and consult a spirit for him. The type of command used only exists in the Old Testament for a pagan cultic practice (HALOT.) Saul is asking for a pagan ritual to be performed. Not only is this a violation of his own decrees and actions, but also of violation of Deuteronomy 18:10-14.

After some haggling, Saul’s identity is revealed. (The text says she immediately sees Samuel and ackbar traprecognizes the man before her is Saul, but there is a textual issue which might be best resolved by her seeing Saul since only a mem differentiates the two names in Hebrew.) Then the witch can see Samuel coming up, presumably from the grave, and Saul asks her who it is. Samuel is known by his robe (cf. 1 Samuel 2:19; 15:27) and that is the identifying mark. Now it appears, given the textual data, that only the woman can see Samuel in some kind of diviner trance. Saul can hear, perhaps through the woman’s communicating Samuel’s words, and respond but cannot see Samuel. At this point, vs. 16-19, Samuel gives the prophetic curse of what will happen to Saul, the kingdom being taken from him and given to David, and that his sons and he will die at the hands of the Philistines.

The scene ends with the witch being concerned for Saul, who hadn’t eaten for the entire day while traveling (perhaps by foot since horses would have drawn attention of the Philistines.) She makes him some food and we are left the erie scene of a pagan witch feeding the powerless Saul who is quietly pondering his looming fate.

However, the same question remains: did Samuel actually come back from the dead?

I’m not so certain this is a good conclusion. Perhaps our best option is understanding from the scene that Samuel was not physically present but only seen via a vision. Some textual clues give us the idea that the witch entered a kind of trance though the explicit narrative never states this. When she asks Saul whom she might summon, probably a better word than “bring up” (vs. 11.) Just a moment later, after the revealing of Saul’s true identity, the witch notes that she can see “a divine being coming up from the earth” (vs. 13.) The Hebrew here is elohim. Saul cannot see this, as the text reflect, as a result perhaps this is that trance like state the witch has entered.

As the scene then unfolds the conversation takes place between Saul and Samuel and the witch disappears until after Samuel has gone and Saul collapses in exhaustion. In reading this text as a narrative developed by the Chronicler, perhaps it is reasonable to note that Samuel’s spirit is brought up from beyond the grave in a scene similar to Luke 16:27-28. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man expects that some kind of being can pass from Heaven to his relatives to warn them. The text in 1 Samuel 28 does not leave us with only conclusion that Samuel’s body was physically present before Saul and the Witch. Instead, it is reasonable to assert that the Witch summoned Samuel’s spirit which was brought through the providence of God to condemn Saul for his actions.

While these details are intriguing to discuss, the larger point of this narrative (even though it is oddly placed in 1 Samuel) is how far King Saul had fallen from being a godly leader. He had violated God’s ways before and it led him down a path of destruction. Sin always takes us farther than we expect. The larger point of the story, in spite of the details, is that pagan rituals are often a final mark of disqualification from God’s blessing. This was the event that Saul would be known for by Israel as reflected in 1 Chronicles 10:13.

It also should remind us that God’s plan is greater than the sins of our leaders. God will bring to pass what He desires and seeks out willing people to partner with Him. Those who disqualify themselves can, and might, receive a terrible end. Quite a bit like Saul.

So that is the grand ghost story from the Bible. It has all the good things a ghost story should contain, a witch, a king, a spirit, and a curse. 

What do you think about the story? Who shows up? Is it Samuel or a demon, or something else? What role does the witch play? What is the ultimate truth?

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Zombies and the Bible

As it is almost Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve as it is properly said, which leaves many of us thinking of creepy and undead things. Well, perhaps more than usual. Over the past two years we’ve seen a pretty startling rise in the number of television shows and movies that showcase zombies, or zombie killing, as central to their plot. This has been along the same line as “teen paranormal romance” novels which are, perhaps, a telling sign that we are nearing the end of days.

So, as we look towards that spooky evening tomorrow night, I wonder how we might encounter zombies in the Bible. And I’m not talking about Zombie Jesus, because that’s a heresy.

The Bible is a varied text that ranges in genre, age, and personality from book to book. In this premodern book of books, there are any number of scenes that are odd or just downright creepy. For most of us, when we look to the Bible zombies aren’t the primary reason we read Scripture. However, there are some scenes that should remind us the undead are a topic of interest occasionally in the Christian Scriptures.

Few accounts match the description of a plague from Zechariah 14:12,

This will be the plague the LORD strikes all the peoples with, who have warred against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 

Sounds pretty much like zombie-esque activities. Maybe a little too much like World War Z or I Am Legend. Zombies aren’t always the undead, but living people who become zombified.

One of the first descriptive accounts, and perhaps most notable, is the scene in Matthew 27:52f following the death of Jesus on the Cross. Here’s Matthew’s account: (HCSB)

52 The tombs were also openeda and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  53 And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.

For many, perhaps most, Bible scholars this passage is viewed as apocryphal and an unnecessary elaboration by Matthew. Obviously after the recent dust-up between Mike Licona and Norm Geisler, this topic has been readily handled. For our purposes, let’s just note the passage and move on after pointing out, that imagine being in the streets of Jerusalem and seeing this horde of zombies pouring out of graves and staggering through the streets. Then you’re realizing, “Oh, that’s just Zephaniah…let’s see how’s he’s been.”

Another possible zombie passage is found in John’s Gospel, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the Dead. The scene given in John 11:38-44 shows Jesus, going to the tomb of Lazarus and calling him out from the grave. Most folks don’t think that Lazarus would have been a zombie since the account seems to reflect that Lazarus, though still shrouded in grave clothes, had a restored body. But still, you got to say that someone who was resuscitated (I think it is different than resurrection) who is walking around for another couple of years is pretty creepy. It becomes important, then to note there are differences between those who are resuscitated and those who might be actual zombies. Yet I’m compelled to think what the difference is, since zombies could be people who have been dead for a while. Perhaps its a matter of degree.

Other examples of Jesus resuscitating someone exist, specifically in the miracle stories of Luke 7:11-17, the widow’s son, and later in Luke 8:40-56, Jairus’ daughter. Perhaps this kind of miracle was attested to in Jesus’ ministry since he is thought of as a raiser of the dead in Matthew 10:8. However, I don’t think we need to label Jesus a necromancer, since he doesn’t have the clothes in all the pictures we see of him from that era…just kidding, about the clothes.

Revelation also depicts some possible zombie scenes with dead people springing to life-like existences. The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:9-12 are raised from the dead and are cause people around them to be afraid. Also, in Revelation 20:5 there is talk of the dead being raised. It is unlikely these are zombie like states, though the Two Witnesses, given how they die might be zombies and that would surely explain their reception by others. Of course, this all means you need to read Revelation in a futurist frame of reference.

Hebrews 11:35 also speaks about women receiving dead loved ones, though this is by resurrection. It seems that resurrection talk is different than zombies for some New Testament authors. In Acts 9:40 there is a scene where Peter is thought to be dead but isn’t. Clearly this isn’t a zombie text, but more of a “not quite dead yet” scene.

The Old Testament has many scenes of people brought back from the dead. Though I will deal with 1 Samuel 28:3-25 tomorrow, the ghostly appearance of Samuel is unsettling to say the least (and perhaps the greatest ghost-story ever told.)

Outside of Samuel, we see in 1 Kings 17:17-24 a scene were Elijah resuscitates a boy from the dead and this also happens with Elisha in 2 Kings 4:32-37 when he resuscitates the Shunamite’s son. One intriguing scene is found in 2 Kings 13:26f where, after having died and, it seems, decomposed, Elisha’s bones have restorative powers. A group of men were burying a friend when they spied a band of marauding Moabites. They cast the body into Elisha’s the tomb (which was apparently open) and ran off, but the dead friend came into contact with Elisha’s bones and he sprang back to life. Now that’s a creepy story. Think about it, you run home to evade the Moabites and a couple minutes later Jeff comes walking in scratching his head and wondering why he just woken up in a crypt. Jeff died three days ago. And hopefully he isn’t hungry for brains…but it is possible.

So, I think this brief tour of zombies in the Bible we see that there are a couple of key passages worth investigating. Many will disregard these things as being outlandish or simply unreasonable. As we’ll talk about tomorrow, with Samuel, maybe a lot of this is because we’ve already made up our minds that once someone dies they immediately go into the presence of the other side never to return. I believe this kind of presupposed theology (or necro-ology) doesn’t automatically cohere with the biblical record.

Nevertheless, as you sit and ponder creepy and erie things over the next day, maybe one or two of these passages will help guide your thinking. Ultimately, those of us who are redeemed should be thankful that we have a greater Savior than anything which goes bump in the night.

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Harris’ Bible Contradictions Chart: A study in deconstruction

About two years ago, Fast Company pushed out a piece via their twitter feed provocatively called  “Infographic: What the Bible Got Wrong.” Now, why Fast Company, a secular business publication, would have any interest in describing the chart as, “[managing] to make an ancient text — over which men have fought wars and women have sacrificed babies — look downright silly.” is beyond reasonable comprehension. However, the power of visualizations like this is important to note in our present day, media driven society.

The chart cited originates from Sam Harris’ Project Reason site and has elicited plenty of conversation.  As an initial observation, the chart is an excellent example of simplifying a complex argument through a graphic representation. On first glance the chart is overwhelming, it appears to demonstrate massive contradictions across the 66 books of Christian Scripture. Most of my atheist friends I have pointed to this chart, and one had it specially framed and put on their office wall. This chart has found new life on the site: bibviz.com.

The chart also is a good representation of how a provocative issue, like errors in the Bible or anything about “rethinking” Jesus, can sell like umbrellas in a rainstorm.

However, as we  take a closer look at the chart and don’t get overwhelmed by its possible implications we see there is not much beyond the flashy graphic.

After adopting their work from another person (which came out two years prior to Harris’ chart,) Harris’ chart attempts to immediately shock the cursory glance by suggesting that there are such insurmountable contradictions within the Bible that they should stun any believer or non-believer to think the Bible is coherent, honest, or valid. Of course, this is the point of this wildly erroneous infographic.

So in evaluating the graphic we begin by noting several of its features:

1. The chart is broken up into several parts that are all important: the arching lines are the most prominent, but also below the lines are the various chapters of the entire 66 books of the accepted Christian Bible measured according to their verse length, then below this top half of the chart is a numbered list of the 439 Bible contradictions, finally some bottom information which is essential to understanding the chart.

2. Now, the amount of lines on the graphic exceeds 439 lines.

3. As well, there is little evidence that any of the arching lines in the above chart correspond to the contradictions listed. As a result, the force of the graphic is unrelated to the contradictions below. Since multiple references occur for different numbered contradictions, there is little way of showing how these have worked themselves out graphically in a singularly colored chart.

4. You’ll note on the bottom left hand corner of the chart Harris’ group points out that the biblical translation they are using is the King James Version only. Since it “The King James Bible was used due to its popularity, perceived authenticity, lack of copyright restrictions and the fact that it has not been subjected to cosmetic editing, as have some of the more modern versions of the Bible.”

This is a compelling statement that should immediately discredit their work. The last update of the King James Version was in 1769. Since 1769 the amount of credible, peer reviewed, academically recognized biblical studies research that has occurred is the same amount of difference of the scientific worldview from 1769 to the present. The Dead Sea Scrolls were unknown, the Critical Text was unknown, Ugaritic was unknown, archeological studies were in their infancy, the list can go on and on.

As a result it is highly disingenuous and discrediting for Harris’ group to suggest that the 1769 KJV is the best text since all the contemporary versions have been “cosmetically edited.” Suffice to say, the “editing” in the contemporary versions isn’t cosmetic, it is rigorously backed, highly research multi-disciplinary updating.

5. The list of 439 contradictions (expanded to 464 on the bibviz.com site) is actually not a list of contradictions. It instead contains a host of perceived errors, scientific inaccuracy, sexual discrimination, unresolved questions, and other issues that Harris’ group find to be on contradiction not always to the Bible, but to their worldview primarily.

6. As one begins to evaluate these “contradictions” it becomes clear that the vast majority are easily dismissed and have been dismissed by competent, credible scholarship.

For instance, here’s one taken at random: #48 Did Jesus Baptize Anyone? Of the texts given (which correspond to entries from the Skeptics Annotated Bible) are not actually in contradiction or show any discrepancy. Instead, the narrative as the Gospel of John records it, there is a clarification given on 4:2 (which clearly was only a paragraph or two later in the original texts) that explains 3:22 in that Jesus was overseeing the baptism carried out by His disciples.

Other examples abound within the chart. (I’ll anticipate responding to a few more later this week, however I do not simply have the time to respond to all right now.)

Upon closer investigation, even without the aids of competent scholarship, most of the “contradictions” are easily resolved by a plain text reading of Scripture using basic hermeneutical principles that most lay people are familiar with.

Ultimately what we are left with in Harris’ chart is a stunning graphic that has no basis. Yet the atheistic response seems to attempt to build a fortress upon this weak ground.

Others have responded to this and poor texts like Dennis McKinsey’s ill fated Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy. A couple of good examples are Norm Geisler’s Big Book of Bible Difficulties and Gleason Archer’s New International Encyclopedia of Bible DifficultiesOther resources abound though the scholarly consensus is that the vast majority of these 469 contradictions aren’t actual challenges to the Bible. This isn’t to say there are difficult spots within the biblical text, but it is, instead, to point out how rejected these tired new atheist arguments are in the broader academic circles.

Tomorrow, I’ll go through a discussion the Bible study group I lead had about this chart and how we can practically lead our people to see poor argumentation for what it truly is and then believe stronger.

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