Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Contradictions – Jesus in the Wilderness or at a Wedding?

July 14, 2017

The final contradiction I’ve been asked to deal with is this one – Mark’s Gospel (1:12-13) says that Jesus was sent into the wilderness immediately following his baptism to be tempted by Satan, and that He remained in the wilderness 40 days.  This is allegedly contradicted by John’s Gospel (2:1), which allegedly says that Jesus was in Cana three days after his baptism to attend a wedding.  Matthew (4:1-2) and Luke (4:1-2), although not as imperative as Mark’s account, clearly indicate that Jesus goes to the wilderness pretty quickly after his baptism.   Which means that John appears to be the odd man out on this one, and we should focus on his account.

First off, we need to note that John does not describe Jesus’ baptism in a narrative sense, but rather only by John’s recollection of the event (1:29-34).  And as John recounts his experience at Jesus’ baptism, he is speaking about it in the past tense – something that has already happened prior to John pointing Jesus out in v.29.  John’s account therefore mentions three days, but not the three days immediately following Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus is baptized on Day X, which could easily have been 40-some days earlier.  But John’s Gospel begins numbering days based on when he is interrogated about his own identity.  He is interrogated on day 1 (1:19-28).  The day after his interrogation he points out Jesus (1:29) and testifies about Jesus’ identity.  Thus the third day mentioned in 2:1 is the third day after John’s interrogation, not after Jesus’ actual baptism.

Once again, an alleged contradiction is based on a superficial reading of the texts, without any interest or effort in attempting to make sense of them.  If there is a reasonable explanation for the apparent contradiction, it is unfair to insist it is a contradiction.


Contradictions – Saul’s Conversion

July 13, 2017

A contradiction is alleged because there are slightly variant reports of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  Acts 9:7 indicates that Paul’s associates – likely soldiers and perhaps religious officials accompanying to Damascus to arrest Christians – saw the light which blinded Paul and heard a voice but did not see the person speaking.  Yet Paul claims in 22:9 that his companions saw the light but did not hear a voice.  Additionally, in Acts 26 Paul claims (or at least implies) that his companions saw the light but he does not state whether or not they heard the voice or not.

We should first define our context.  Luke writes the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is in fact the second of two writings of Luke that were originally one text and later separated into his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and the book of Acts which details early Church history and apostolic activity.  Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is drawing on multiple sources for his material.

If so, then Luke may be relying on a different account for his account in Chapter 9, an account that doesn’t come directly from Saul/Paul – or at least solely from him.  In Chapters 22 and 26 Luke is quoting Paul as he describes his own experience.  Could it be that Luke in his collection of accounts spoke with one of the other travelers with Paul, who indicates that they could hear the voice?  Is it possible that Paul was not aware of this fact, since the person may not have mentioned it to him initially out of fear – prior to Paul’s conversion – that he might be prosecuted as a Christian sympathizer?  Perhaps.

And perhaps Paul, becoming aware at a later point that his compatriots could indeed hear the voice, omits this from his description of the events in chapter 26.  IF this is the case, Paul became aware of this new information in a relatively short window of time – a matter of a few weeks at most between his testimony in Chapter 22 and his recounting in Chapter 26.

Grammatically the same Greek verb is used both in Chapters 9 and 22.  From what I can tell, this verb has both the connotation of to hear, but also the possible connotation of to understand.   Is it possible that Paul knows that the men heard a voice but couldn’t understand what it was saying, and that Luke highlights the first aspect of the verb in Chapter 9, while Paul more explicitly intends the secondary connotation in Chapter 22?  This seems a bit more likely to me than the idea that Paul is operating with insufficient knowledge but then suddenly is enlightened (although this certainly could be possible).

In any event, it clearly doesn’t have to be a contradiction, but could be a matter of interpretative definition.  Indeed, some translations (such as the ESV) render the verb in Chapter 9 in terms of hearing, and in Chapter 22 in terms of understanding.  To call this an example of Biblical contradiction or error seems far heavier-handed than the details warrant.

Contradictions – Marriage

July 12, 2017

I’m nearly through the list of alleged Biblical contradictions that was gifted me some time ago.  It’s been a fascinating process, and one that has strengthened my appreciation of God’s Word rather than weakened it.

The next contradiction alleges that the Bible is contradictory because sometimes it states an affirmation of something and then in another place denounces it.  In this case, the issue is marriage, with Solomon set up as the proponent for marriage in Proverbs 18:22, while St. Paul is arguing against marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  Is this a contradiction?  Is God giving contradictory advice to his people?

Hardly.  Is marriage a good thing?  Is it a blessing to have a good spouse?  Of course!  And clearly, from Genesis onwards, marriage is intended as a blessing for God’s creation through intimate relationship and the creation of family.  I think we can say pretty authoritatively that the Bible as a whole is pro-marriage (with the Biblical definition of one husband and one wife for life).

So what do we make of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7?  First, we need to understand context.  Paul is responding to something to questions or concerns about something he previously wrote to the Corinthian church (but which we don’t have a copy of – at least yet!) – that it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.  No, this is not a tacit endorsement of homosexuality – Paul understands the Biblical idea that the only appropriate sexual conduct is between a husband and a wife, so he is being asked to clarify his position on marriage.

As he is writing this, Paul likely presumes that Jesus is due back at any time.  It seems from the apostolic writings that this was their assumption – Jesus’ promised return in glory would happen soon.  Within their lifetimes.  While Jesus never gave a timeframe, and in fact asserted that they wouldn’t know when it would happen, this idea of an imminent return permeates Paul’s responses to issues like should I get married or not.  From Paul’s perspective, for a couple to be worried about getting married was pretty irrelevant in light of the imminent return of Jesus and the need to be about the work of the Church.  With those assumptions, Paul could advise not to get married unless you just can’t remain chaste.  If that impulse is so strong, then by all means get married!  Not just reluctantly but enthusiastically.

Later in the chapter he revisits the basic question of how the imminent return of Jesus should affect marriage decisions.  Are you married?  Stay married!  Are you single?  Stay single (again, unless you can’t do so without sinning sexually).  Marriage refocuses our attention (and rightly so) on our spouse, and this might be an unnecessary distraction if Jesus is returning any day.  He clarifies this in verses 29ff.  Time is short.  We should view not just marriage in this light, but our approach to all of life.  Our sorrows are not as deep and our joys less giddy and our economics less all consuming in light of the unparalleled joy that we anticipate when our Lord returns.  Paul is not against marriage per se, but marriage in light of the imminent return of Jesus.

So the Bible is not contradictory about marriage.  Paul’s advice does not contradict God’s created order.  For those who don’t feel compelled to get married, his advice remains sound.  And for those who can’t conceive of not getting married, his advice remains sound.

Book Review – When Skeptics Ask

July 11, 2017

When Skeptics Ask by Norman L. Geisler & Ronald M. Brooks

I have the original edition of this book, which was published in 1990.

This is a great book – a handy compendium of philosophical, literary, historical, moral and scientific arguments helpful when engaging someone under the impression that any or all of these fields have somehow disproved the existence or necessity of a divine being.  The purpose of these arguments and any apologetic exercise is to help clear away misunderstanding or bad logic in order that the Gospel might be proclaimed and heard.

The book is wide ranging, and for that reason it lacks depth and a fuller treatment of complex topics.  At times the argumentation is too brief and will require multiple read-throughs for clarity.  Because I read the older edition I can’t vouch for how some of the scientific sections stand up against current scholarship.  The reader will hopefully be inspired to do further research in areas of particular concern or helpfulness.  A suggested reading list is provided at the back of the book, along with a topical index for quick reference.

This is a great resource for the intelligent Christian interested in how to respond to the objections or doubts of those around them.  Hopefully, these arguments will be utilized with love and prayer not for personal pride or the sake of argument, but so that the Gospel of Jesus can truly be heard and considered fully.

Contradictions – Jehoiachin’s Age

July 6, 2017

Here’s a bonus contradiction – not just Jehoiachin’s age but also Ahaziah have variant ages at which they are said to have become king.  2 Kings 24:8 claims Jehoiachin was 18 years old, but 2 Chronicles 36:9 says he was eight (depending on the translation you’re using).  2 Kings 8:26 claims that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he took the throne, but 2 Chronicles 22:2 claims that he was 42.

Once again, the likely culprit is a copyist error in both cases.  The Bible itself provides enough information in other places to make it clear what the correct answer is – 18 for Jehoiachin and 22 for Ahaziah.  The fact that a copyist made a mistake in these two cases is not an actual contradiction.  Many modern translations have realized this and adjusted their translation to use the correct information.  This is in part based on a variety of sources for the Old Testament including Syriac, Aramaic, some Septuagint (Greek) copies, and at least one Hebrew copy – each of which avoids the variant confusion (eight for Jehoiachin and 42 for Ahaziah).

Within the Bible (2 Kings 8:17-18), we are told that Ahaziah’s father, Jereboam, was 32 when he became king and reigned for eight years.  It is highly unlikely that Jereboam’s son was older than Jereboam himself, so clearly the age of 42 given in some versions of 2 Chronicles 22:2 is incorrect.  Assuming that Ezekiel 19:5-9 is referring to Jehoiachin, the description of him as a man of war and conquest make little sense in reference to a boy of eight, but are quite reasonably ascribed to a man of 18.

The key takeaway is that this is not a true contradiction in any real sense of the word, and can easily be resolved both from within other Scripture passages as well as through the attestation of ancient copies of the Old Testament with the correct ages in all places.

Contradictions – Michal’s Children?

July 4, 2017

Next up – did Michal have children or not?  2 Samuel 6:23 says she did not, while 2 Samuel 21:8 seems to give the impression that she did.  Which is right?  How can we trust the Bible when it contradicts itself like this (that’s one implication that might raise this question)?

Michal was King Saul’s youngest daughter (of two) – 1 Samuel 14:49.  As King Saul’s relationship with David deteriorated, he sought to marry David to his oldest daughter, Merab, perhaps to eliminate a potential rival or to co-opt some of David’s popularity for himself.  But David humbly declines.  When Saul finds out that his younger daughter Michal is in love with David, he decides to marry her to David instead.  He sets a bride-price for her that will tempt David to try and win her hand, but which could get him killed in the process.  Either would appear to Saul as a good outcome, but David is able to pay the bride price and is married to Michal (all of this is in 1 Samuel 18).

Eventually Saul and David’s relationship is so toxic that Saul wants to kill him and David has to flee for his life, leaving his wife Michal behind.  Michal actually helps David escape, but tells her father that David would have killed her if she hadn’t helped him (1 Samuel 19:17).  In David’s absence, Saul marries Michal off to a man by the name of Palti (1 Samuel 25:44).  During the war that erupts between David and Saul, David’s strength and popularity reach a point where he is able to demand that Michal be returned to him (2 Samuel 3).  Nothing more is said at this point about Michal’s opinion about this, and she likely had no choice in the matter.  It is clear that her husband, Palti, loved her deeply though, and mourned her departure bitterly.  It might be that their marriage was a very good one, and that she did not return to David happily.

This might explain her disgust with David in 2 Samuel 6.  She mocks and taunts David for making a fool of himself before the people, dancing and worshiping God as the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  It is implied in 2 Samuel 6 that Michal’s contemptuous treatment of her husband is divinely judged by her not being given the honor of bearing children.

All of which would be fine if it didn’t say in 2 Samuel 21:8 that David atones for Sauls’ slaughter of the Gibeonites by putting to death Michal’s five sons.  There is further confusion in that this verse says that Michal bore these sons not to David or to Palti, but rather to a man named Adriel.  Adriel is the name of the man that Merab (Michal’s older sister) was married to after David declined to wed her.  (If your translation of 2 Samuel 21:8 says Merab rather than Michal, don’t worry – I’ll explain that in a moment!).

Proof that the Bible is not inerrant after all?  Probably not.  There are a couple of different ways that we can approach an explanation for this apparent contradiction.

Perhaps the most common approach is to say that rather than the original manuscripts being wrong (which we don’t have), what likely happened was that someone copying the text a very long time ago accidentally wrote Michal instead of Merab in 2 Samuel 21:8.  Many very reliable modern translations therefore simply render 2 Samuel 21:8 as Merab rather than Michal, since that is most likely the correct reading.   Nowhere are we told that Michal is married off to anybody else, let alone her sister’s husband!

The second explanation is that the Hebrew word translated as “bore” can have several different meanings.  It can mean give birth to, but it can also mean act as a midwife for, or even to rear/bring up.  It is possible that because of Michal’s status, she brought up her sister’s children when her sister was unable to.

It might be argued that deferring to an original text that we don’t have is cheating, that we could make the original text say anything we wanted, any way we wanted in order to solve problems.  However I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection in this case.  I tend to prefer the second explanation – the related but different uses of the Hebrew verb, but I don’t think that the first explanation of a copyist error is outrageous either.

Contradictions – 1 John 5:7

July 3, 2017

Next contradiction – the argument over 1 John 5:7.

This passage is well known among Biblical scholars as somewhat controversial.  Humorously, the author of this list of contradictions emphasizes that this is an “important” verse, implying that the omission of the verse in some (actually many) translations is suspicious.  The reality is a bit less exciting.

For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  (KJV)

Actually quite a few modern translations omit this verse at least in part.  The reason is not partisan, theological manipulation, but rather the evidence (or lack thereof) that this verse is actually original in John’s letter.  Some critics mock the many variants of the Greek New Testament as evidence that we have no idea what it actually said originally.  However tracing literary transmission actually works the exact opposite – the more versions you have, the more likely you can discern the original text.  Variations (which in the case of the Biblical New Testament are overwhelmingly minor spelling issues or the reversal of words – nothing that actually alters the meaning of the text!) can be traced and by comparison with other copies, it can be determined which is the older and more reliable text.

In the case of 1 John 5:7, the Greek evidence for the verse is wholly absent.  There are no ancient Greek manuscripts that include this verse.  It doesn’t begin showing up in translations until the Middle Ages.  Only four Greek translations contain the verse, and these translations date from the 16th century, 14-15th century, 12th century, and the 11th century.  Additionally, no other ancient copies of the text in any other language contain the verse.

In terms of ancient references to or quotes from 1 John that might reference this verse, nothing appears until the fourth century, and scholars suspect that it was based on a marginal note.

The evidence appears to argue heavily against this verse being original, which is why it is often excluded.  Some hypothesize that Erasmus, the man who produced the translation of the Greek New Testament utilized to produce the King James English translation was influenced by theological politics rather than strictly academic interests.  This is speculation, but is certainly possible.

The verse is not “important” in the sense of communicating something that is lacking elsewhere in Scripture.  Verses and passages with Trinitarian references are hardly lacking and are found in passages that are not questionable in terms of authenticity.  At the end of the day, 1 John 5:7 falls into the category of a very small number of passages (such as Mark 16:9ff) that do not have good historical attestation as being original, and are either omitted or marked as suspicious in good translations.  The the appearance of contradiction could be avoided altogether of this information were just included in marginal notes or footnotes.

Contradictions – Proverbs 26

July 1, 2017

The next alleged contradiction is a verse from Proverbs 26.  The first 12 verses of this chapter deal with fools – people who are the opposite of wise.  The reader is warned about fools in a variety of ways.  But of course, there are different kinds of fools, as we all know.  Some people are fools out of ignorance or inexperience.  They are fools in a certain regard, but with time and teaching they will become wise.  Other fools are such in a deeper and broader sense.  They won’t allow themselves to become wise, oftentimes because they already insist that they are wise.   And as with most of life, the proper way to handle a fool lies in the context.

Proverbs as a whole represents this contextual nature of wisdom.  A different approach is wise in different situations.  It would be patently unwise to attempt the same approach regardless of the situation.  Dealing with fools is the same thing.  You have to know the kind of fool you’re dealing with in order to know how to deal with them most wisely.

Some fools seek to draw us into their game, or into their folly.  I liken this to trollers on the Internet.  There are folks who love to try and rile people up with inflammatory comments.  They want to draw people into argumentation or into a verbal war.  They comment not in order to further dialogue or more deeply explore an issue, but just the opposite.  And as anyone on the Internet for any length of time knows, the last thing you want to do is engage a troller.  It’s a waste of time and effort.  So it is with some fools.  If you take the time to engage them, it’s time wasted and in the end you look just as foolish as they do if not more so, since you should have known better in the first place!

Other folks who post online mean well, but they are fundamentally misinformed or lacking in knowledge or experience.  They aren’t simply trying to waste people’s time but are genuinely foolish in their misinformation.  In these situations, providing context, background, education, etc. can be helpful in leading this person from foolishness or ignorance towards wisdom.  That’s what I’m trying to do in responding to these alleged Biblical contradictions.  For the person that really wants to understand what is going on, I strive to the best of my limited abilities to provide clarification.  I don’t want them to remain foolishly ignorant, or simply to take the word of someone who has written a book that a contradiction exists where it actually doesn’t.  My goal is that the reader would become wiser and more discerning, able to see better for themselves what is going on rather than just taking the word of someone else.

Two different approaches to dealing with an unwise person.  Sometimes you don’t waste your time.  Other times, you do spend the time because the other person can be educated and made wiser.  Likewise, there have been times when my own foolishness has been reduced somewhat by the patient efforts and explanations of others.  I’m grateful they took the time, despite the fact that I must have looked very foolish indeed!


Contradictions – Paul & Burdens

June 29, 2017

The next in the list of alleged Biblical contradictions is the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.  Verses two and five are allegedly in contradiction with each other, as in v. 2 Paul admonishes to bear one another’s burdens, while in v.5 Paul insists that each one will have to bear their own burden.  Important to resolving this is tracking the flow of Paul’s thought and expression.

Towards this end, we need to remember that the chapter and verse designations in the Bible were added much later.  They are not part of the original documents or the earliest copies.  The Jews had their way of dividing chapters and verses for what Christians call the Old Testament, and while Christians by and large have maintained these there are some slight variations, particularly in the Psalms.  The first organizing divisions of the New Testament were evident by the fourth century (called kephalaia), though they don’t match the chapter divisions we have today.  Be careful if you’re Googling Kephalaia – the most prominent hits are related to a Gnostic, non-Christian text from the fourth century.  Modern chapter divisions come from a system derived by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 13th century.  Verse divisions derive from the 15th century work of Robert Estienne.

All this is to say that to show that the verses in Galatians don’t, in fact, contradict one another, we need to start reading in Chapter 5.  Paul is writing on the larger theme of how Christians should treat one another.  We are not to trust our own feelings and ideas, but rather seek to conform ourselves to the Holy Spirit, something we would say happens when we are in God’s Word and allowing it to show us how to be, rather than determining what we want to do and say for ourselves.  In Galatians 5:16-24 Paul illustrates this basic distinction.  When we do what we want, rather than allowing God to guide us, our behaviors are destructive and dangerous to ourselves and others (vs.19-21).  When we are guided by God’s Word to us, our behavior is far different (vs.22-23).  This is the theme that Paul is continuing into what we now look at as Chapter 6.  The chapter divisions and headings are sometimes helpful, but at other times they lead us to treat the material in a given chapter as a discrete and self-contained unit of thought when it really isn’t.  Such is the case here.  Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul’s larger theme about how Christians deal with themselves and one another started in Chapter 5.

In 5:24, Paul also warns against allowing our faith in and following of Jesus the Christ become a point of spiritual pride and comparison.  Nor are we to envy in an unhealthy way those who have greater insight, training, education, or experience in the Christian life or the Word of God, the most reliable expression of the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Such attitudes might lead us to gloat when a brother or sister falls into sin (6:1).  Rather, the opposite should happen!  Christian community exists to help sustain and uplift one another.  Sin and failure will happen, but such situations are always to be treated first and foremost as an opportunity to glorify God by the restoration of the fallen brother or sister.  We don’t look first for opportunities to exclude, but opportunities to come alongside one another to encourage and lift up.

At the same time, we have to watch out that we are not tempted into sin ourselves.  If your weakness is alcohol, you aren’t the best person to go to the bar to attempt to bring out a brother or sister who is struggling with alcoholism.  We all have our weaknesses, and knowing this, we should always be ready to stand with and alongside one another, bearing up one when she is weak, and ourselves being borne up when we are struggling in weakness.  This is a fulfillment of what Jesus the Christ intends for his followers.  While there is no specific statement of Jesus to this effect recorded in the Gospels, it likely flows from Jesus’ repeated admonitions to love one another.

Contrary to this desirable, beneficial, and commanded relationship of mutual support and encouragement is the ever-present temptation to spiritual pride.  I don’t need such support.  I am strong enough in my faith that I do not need others to support me.  Such an attitude might extend even further – If I am strong enough, others should be as well.  If they are not, they are lesser Christians, or perhaps not even Christians at all!  Such an attitude is dangerous, and Paul hints that it likely is never appropriate.  Far more likely is the situation where one person considers herself to be stronger than she really is.  In which case, she has convinced herself of something that isn’t true, and it will be only a matter of time until this becomes a source of stumbling for her.

Rather, we should measure and test ourselves, probing and uncovering our weaknesses and vulnerabilities where we might be tempted to sin.  Then we will have a better assessment of ourselves.  We can give thanks to God, for example, that we are not tempted to alcoholism, rather than gloating or lording over the brother or sister who does have that weakness.  The word boast used here can be either a positive or a negative sense of the word.

Ultimately, we each must bear our strengths and weaknesses.  We can be assisted, encouraged, prayed for, mentored, and nourished by brothers and sisters in the faith, but ultimately we are responsible for ourselves.  We bear the actual responsibility for our walk of faith.  Nobody else will be held responsible for our failure to do what we know to be right.

So Paul is not actually contradicting himself here if we are willing to take the time to examine his flow of thought.  In Christ we are bound together, all seeking to follow the same Lord to the best of our abilities, which will differ from person to person.  As such we walk together, bearing up one another and ourselves being borne up.  But ultimately we are responsible for our own walk.  We won’t be able to claim that we were sinful because nobody was there to help us, or didn’t help us enough.  Our sin is our own.  Even more reason to give and receive help!






June 17, 2017

I’m in the process of planning a weekly radio show on a local talk radio station.  The intent is to give people with questions, issues, concerns, etc. about the Christian faith a forum for dialogue with the Biblical Christian witness.  It’s not a Christian station because I’m not interested in arguing with Christians about doctrinal differences.  Rather, I hope to engage people outside a formal community of faith, whether they consider themselves Christian or not.  The station theoretically has a listener base of about 18,000 people.

Each week I’ll hope to have listeners calling in with things they want to talk about or hear the Biblical response to.  While the sales rep for the station cautioned me that call-in shows are rare, I think I have some good contacts in the community that could help supply at least 2-3 calls per show if not more.  We shall see.  Other folks have asked about me doing a podcast instead – a pre-recorded digital audio (or audio and video) show that would be hosted online somewhere.  The problem is that podcasts rely on self-marketing.  I have to find ways to make people aware of the podcast and encourage them to go and stream it or download it.  With a relatively small base of people – many of whom are less than tech-savvy, this seems like a slow way to proceed.  I’m considering putting together a podcast as well, but it would be supplemental to the radio show.

Of course, this is a pay-to-play arrangement.  It will cost us money every week and month for a one-hour live show that is rebroadcast three other times during the week.  Our congregation can afford this ministry, and I think there are folks who will step up to continue to support it if it proves to be effective in reaching people (not necessarily in bringing in new members).

An alternative is to try and get a time slot on a public station run at the local university.  There is an information meeting this Tuesday evening, a mandatory meeting if you hope to get a shot at a time slot.  I’m praying that I will, and I’m curious to see how it goes.