Tag Archives: New Testament

Your fast-track to becoming Senior Pastor at thousands of American churches


Fast-track to Senior Pastor at thousands of American churches

And if a few people actually read The New Testament for themselves and ask hard questions, just kick them out for being unspiritual.

Sorry not sorry — I couldn’t resist. My previous post is still pretty much the case, although I had to snap this photo. I was at a bookstore Friday night so my wife and I could look at interior decorating books for our home remodel, and so we could pick out Bibles for two of our daughters who were confirmed yesterday (in a church that requires much, much more than Spark Notes to enter full-time ministry). I forebade the NIV and ESV. But it’s easier to be snarky about two translations than to take the heat for the translations we bought, so consider this entire post to be just silly — as silly as Spark Notes for The New Testament.

Advertisements
Aside

Monday: It’s wise as a dove and innocent as a serpent, rather than the other way around. Just remember some days are better than others.

Five things you didn’t know about Jesus


“In the end, as theologians like to say, Jesus is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be pondered,” writes Rev. James Martin. That reminds me of a Gabriel Marcel quote. (Also interesting in this short piece: The literary evidence of Jesus growing in wisdom, in a natural, normal sense, rather than just knowing all from the beginning.)

CNN Belief Blog

Opinion by the Rev. James Martin , special to CNN

(CNN) — With Easter approaching, and the movie “Son of God” playing in wide release, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days.

You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.

Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.

Still, even for devout Christian there are surprises to be found hidden within the Gospels, and thanks to advances in historical research and archaeological discoveries, more is known about his life and times.

With that in mind, here are five things you…

View original post 727 more words

Conservatives showed me factual discrepencies in the Bible


Before I began listening to debates between Bart Ehrman and conservative defenders of biblical faith, and before I started (slowly, still) reading Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted, I read a paper by a New Testament scholar at the conservative Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

Rodney Whitaker’s paper, “The Moon of Our Darkness,” was a defense of the Bible as the guide for the Christian’s life. And, the paper offered me the first time I can clearly recall being confronted with a factual discrepency in the biblical record.

Also before I started investing time in Ehrman’s debates and writings, I read C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen. That book, which attempts to use Lewis’s perspective to navigate contemporary controversies about the Bible, began with several examples of factual discrepencies in the Scriptures.

Through decades of Christian schools and church attendance, I never heard any of these discrepencies addressed. In fact, I heard, on a few occasions, ministers and teachers suggest their weren’t any discrepencies or contradictions, and they even suggested people who don’t believe the Bible because of contradictions couldn’t point out any.

And so for the better part of 30 years, I believe the Bible contained no factual discrepencies.

Now, as a 42-year-old who went to conservative Christian schools from kindergarten to 12th grade (with only the exception of part of 2nd grade), I want to try to understand a different point of view, and I want to consider its validity or lack thereof.

Part of that process has included considering what Bart Ehrman has to say.

Unfortunately, I think the narrative people took away from this blog is more simplistic: that I just picked up Ehrman and thought he settled everything.

Tim Keller, not aware of my background, once said to me in a blog post, “If you are going to recommend [Ehrman’s] views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.”

Uh, I’ve been basing my faith and life choices on American, Bible-believing fundamentalism. That’s why I should read Metzger.

So Ehrman, who himself has a fundamentalist background, has raised some questions that are interesting to me and relevant to me because I’ve seen how sweepingly literalist interpretations of the Scriptures were applied within social situations, schools, and churches — and the results typically varied between ugly and harsh.

But even the reputedly enlightened Reformed crowd seems to care very little about the way sweepingly literalist interpretations are applied in America each day.

Among some Reformed circles, you can easily become too liberal, but you can’t become too conservative.

Many fundamentalist, Reformed, and evangelical leaders don’t seem to care about addressing discrepencies because they’d rather have their congregations snowed and compliant than well-informed. Besides, admitting actual, plain-sense contradictions could get messy.

Furthermore, those leaders are caught in their own contradiction: God inspired everything in the Bible for a specific purpose, but wait, the factual discrepencies result from conventions of ancient near East literature so the discrepencies don’t matter.

If God had a specific purpose for inspiring an historical record, couldn’t he do it correctly? Couldn’t He do it as precisely as He set so many biological and chemical processes in place? Of course He could.

And, if He wanted the canon to contain certain stories, why include details that will be contradicted later? He could tell a meaningful story without including unnecessary details.

To draw on the Christensen book again:

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch’s note: he couldn’t have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas’ death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”

I realize most people, myself included, haven’t read the Bible in a “horizontal” way, comparing parallel accounts and such.

However, in light of the above excerpt from Christensen’s book, why would God use particular details if He was also going to provide contradictory details? He could have provided differing accounts in which details did not conflict.

In other words, two different eyewitness accounts of any type of incident could rely on two different sets of details — instead of having conflicting information going head-to-head.

I’m still having trouble with the idea that something is factually inaccurate yet truthful — at least in the context of saying God inspired certain writings.

Replying to a critique from ‘The Grand Book’ blog


Back in April, I posted “Why Factual Discrepencies in the Bible are a Barrier to Faith.”

Today, I received a reply that  responded to several points I made.

And, now, here’s my reply to the reply:

Thanks for your reply. I approved your comment on my blog (I have it set up so I have to approve all comments because I was getting a lot of junk in my comments sections).

Your lengthy reply deserves an adequate response.

In the first section, I quote things you’ve said and made replies. After that, I give examples of factual discrepencies.

“And on what basis is rationality unassailable?”

My argument was not that rationality is unassailable, but rather that rational arguments based on non-rational grounds don’t make sense.

“…nowhere in New Testament literature do I see the preeminence of Reason” Oddly enough, here you are making a rational or reason-based argument based on a lack of evidence in the New Testament texts.

“Isn’t it really just a reaction to the Enlightenent where humanity, in it’s arrogance (for it issued in the bloodiest Century EVER when it deified Reason) decides it has the right to place “God in the Dock” (on trial).”

Maybe I can just say that Thomas Aquinas would probably not make reason the bad guy, but rather the people who use it. Actually, I’m more likely to agree with you in one sense: David Hume said reason is and ought to be slave to the passions. So it always has been a tool of convictions and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that one can just say “the Enlightenment and 20th Century were bad therefore reason is to blame.”

On lower-order and higher-order concerns, let me give a brief illustration: If my wife, children and I are traveling, and our car breaks down in a rural area, I will certainly talk to the first person who stops to help. However, if that person does quirky things and says unusual things and acts strangely (lower-order concerns) then I’m going to be wary of his offer to take all of us to a safe location (higher-order concern).

“And how does one get better information than these eyewitnesses (or those who received information from them) as an English-speaking American postmodern skeptic 2,000 years after the fact? Why would I accept the culture-bound skepticism of my generation over the testimony of 1st Century Middle Eastern eyewitnesses who both spoke the language (Aramaic) and were able to write in the “lingua Franca” of het day?”

I like most of this point, and especially agree about culture-bound skepticism. However, I’m pretty sure the Gospels were written in Greek. You’re right to say the disciples spoke Aramaic. Considering their class and education, they most likely couldn’t write in Greek. So who wrote the Gospels?

“If some facts do not line up as reported by different sources from different cities for different audiences with different intents that does not equal a lack of truthfulness. The author of this article may have been a journalist as I was myself, but the authors of the N.T. books (for example) are under now such social contract to deliver the daily news.”

OK, as long as we’re admitting that we’re divorcing factual accuracy from truthfulness. Maybe I am too “Greek” in my thinking but I smell relativism here. Then again, I love poetry so I’m actually quite cool with metaphors and the idea of getting to the “essence” of an experience rather than just the facts. Maybe I should read the Bible in more of a poetic way. Seriously, maybe I should and will.

“This is patently poor thinking. Having undermined scripture (without a single example) he now wants to base the Nicene Creed on it? Then he says that a Bible-study industry cannot reasonably supported by these same documents? What Bible-study industry?”

Well, you may have gotten the facts right, but you sure missed my intentions (which ironically is what you say I’m doing with the Bible). I transitioned from my previous points by saying, “Of course, it’s not that simple,” which is my way of admitting that there is fault in what I have said previously, and I’ve only given a simplistic overview. THEN, I proceed to make a point that you made earlier, which is that multiple witnesses provide good evidence in the areas in which they agree. To answer your question about the Bible study industry, I use your own words: “Christian bookstores now stay open not by selling serious theological or exegetical works…” Yes, very true, but many of those books are still labeled as Bible studies, and wherever I go, I can’t get away from books by Beth Moore and Kay Arthur and others. Maybe I should have said, “alleged Bible studies.”

“Okay. Cherry-picking.”

No, the exact opposite — looking for broad thematic unity within the canon. The opposite of cherry-picking.

Now, before I give examples factual discrepencies (which I had before in earlier blog posts because I consider all the posts to be part of one work), I will say that I’ve been watching video clips of Ben Witherington, D.A. Carson, and others making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. And this actually goes to your last point: specialists CAN explain differences between, for example, the geneologies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. I’m not sure how someone could take the plain sense of the text and make the two geneologies work  together, but specialists in other fields can. But as I give these examples of discrepencies, I am acknowledging that some scholars might be able to shed genuine light on the related subjects. However, very few people I grew up with — both in the non-denominational charismatic churches and in the Independent Misisonary Baptist schools — even KNEW the phrase “ancient near East literature.”

But I am acknowledging that “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” isn’t necessarily always the “right” way to read the ancient near East texts.

In what follows, I show examples of discrepencies in the “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” reading of Scripture, the way my Christian schools and churches all approached the Scriptures.

To be concise, I’ll begin by quoting Michael J. Christensen, who at the beginning of his book “C.S. Lewis on Scripture” tries to give the background for why he is writing the book.

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch’s note: he couldn’t have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas’ death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'”

Now, some other observations:

Genesis 1:1-2:4 presents a much different order of creation than Genesis 2:5-2:25.

Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3, supposedly parallel accounts, differ on whether Jesus sent the disciples out with a walking stick or told them not to take one.

My Oxford edition of The New English Study Bible says, in its intro to 1 Thesalonians, that the account of Paul’s travels in Acts 17:1-18:5 does not seem to match up with the presuppositions of 1 Thes. 2:7-9 and Philippians 4:16. Admittedly, I’m not sure I fully understand this one, but I assume the folks behind the Oxford edition of a study Bible are sharp enough to consider.

Vice and the New Testament


The New Testament suggests that rules never change desires. If anything demonstrates that truth, look at the war on drugs: nearly $1 trillion spent, tens of thousands of lives lost, and still the drug cartels remain strong and lethal, killing people along the Mexico-Texas border and violently protecting their interests in Baja California. That’s why it’s time to Legal It — even if Mexico’s war on drugs is kind of working.

 

 

Bait and switch: The New Testament in the semi-public square


I appreciate Tim Keller’s exhortation (in his blog comments) to read Bruce Metzger. I’ll also point out the availability of Ben Witherington’s critique of Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman and the Evangelical Textual Criticism forum so I won’t be accused of an unqualified endorsement of Ehrman.

I know I’m not trained in exegesis, theology, or textual criticism, but I am a guy who has been in a variety of churches and Christian schools during my 42 years, and I know Christianity goes wrong in numerous ways. When something I love is going wrong, I want to say something about it. Historically, few of the people who implimented real change were the scholars and experts, but rather those who stood up and screamed.

I understand some personal pleas to leave the past behind, but I don’t understand the naive beliefs that institutions — and indeed books — cause each mistake only once. A great way to avoid making a mistake a second or third or tenth or hundredth time is to analyze what went wrong. You remember the quotation: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it (Santayana).

Meanwhile, as a brief follow up to my last post, I dislike this contrast between evangelical apologetics and evangelical teaching:

Evangelical apologetics tends to say textual criticism, history, and reason are adequate to endorse the central message of the New Testament. As historical documents, the New Testament books testify, reliably, about Jesus. This is not an endorsement of historical-grammatical exegesis, nor is it a statement about the inspiration of each word in the family Bible. In apologetics, the historical reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is put forward, not the doctrine of inerrancy.

Evangelical teaching, however, doesn’t stop there. It takes the further step of claiming “inerrancy,” a word with too many operating definitions amongst U.S. believers, and a word that suggests a kind of accuracy that close scrutiny of some biblical texts renders impossible.

I understand why some people will say that apologetics must offer broader brushstrokes than exegetical teaching, but I don’t necessarily agree with their perspective. The problems conceded in apologetics ought to be part of the believer’s sober-minded approach to the texts. On these matters, we have an enormous number of irresponsible pastors and ministers in the U.S. Not many of them are as smart — or wise — as someone like Keller! And that’s an ongoing problem — to be a good Christian, it seems like you must not only be redeemed, but you also must be smart enough.