God’s Not Dead, Movie Trailer

God's Not Dead

God’s Not Dead Movie Poster

Today is the opening day for the Movie God’s Not Dead. I have not seen it yet, but it looks like an interesting watch for anyone interested in the arena where apologetics and the entertainment industry intersect.

Visit the official website: godsnotdeadthemovie.com

Eye on Apologetics is on Instagram!

Screen shot of EyeOnApologetics Instagram 3-14-2014

A screenshot of our Instagram page.

I wanted to give a quick update regarding the website. I have recently been experimenting with an Instagram account, specifically for Eye On Apologetics (in other words, it is not my personal instagram account). I have seen a lot of good feedback and plan on continuing to develop apologetics-oriented content for Instagram.

Before today, I had the site set up to automatically post every Instagram image as a new entry in the main feed for the website. I will continue to do this, however, I have created a separate link so as not to overwhelm the main feed with 1-2 large images per day.

If you use instagram and are interested in apologetics, theology, and evangelism, then you should take a moment to check this out!

Instagram linkWaive your mouse over “Media” and click on “Instagram Images,” it is that easy!

To follow @EyeOnApologetics on Instagram, click here.

Joseph Smith’s Translation of Genesis 14:24-15:1

I just happened upon this graphic I made a couple years ago to illustrate the bold-faced gall with which the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) altered God’s Word. There was no explanation or apology for needing 500+ words to “translate” these 2 verses.

It does not take a skilled linguist to see that Joseph Smith played fast and loose with the Bible when it suited him to do so.

Joseph Smith's Translation of Genesis 14:24-15:1

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VIDEO: Rob Bowmen Jr. Discusses the Trinity with Shawn McCraney

The discussion of the Trinity between Rob Bowmen and Shawn McCraney is available below (starting at about 18 minutes 55 seconds in).

Rob Bowman wrote a follow up on Facebook which I have reproduced below.

As announced yesterday, last night I was a guest on Shawn McCraney’s TV program “Heart of the Matter” to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. In this post I’m going to review what has happened and give my take on where things stand at the moment.

Shawn is a former Mormon who became “born again” while he was still in the LDS Church. He eventually came out, went to pastoral training school, and began a teaching and evangelistic ministry focused on reaching Mormons. That ministry evolved into an informal church that is rather out of the mainstream of evangelical church practice. He published a book entitled “Born Again Mormon” that was later retitled “I Was a Born Again Mormon.” By all accounts Shawn’s ministry has been unusually successful not merely in drawing people out of Mormonism but in leading them to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and to experience the new birth in Christ.

During the past year or so, Shawn has offered up his own views on various doctrinal issues and spoken very critically of various evangelical doctrines and movements. This development came to a head a few weeks ago when he did a couple of programs disparaging the doctrine of the Trinity. Shawn referred to the doctrine as “garbage,” as a man-made doctrine defined as a way of controlling people, and argued that the doctrine is more likely to have originated in paganism from the triads of gods in ancient religions than from the Bible. His alternative explanation at least sounded like a form of modalism, although he insisted it was not.

After discussing the matter with my co-workers at the Institute for Religious Research, I emailed Shawn privately and expressed the desire to meet with him in order to get to know him personally and to discuss doctrine with him. Shawn responded very positively, welcomed the interaction, and we made arrangements. In the meantime, there were some swift and in some cases rather sharp responses to Shawn’s statements online, and this was followed up by a program last Thursday night in which Shawn and some of the local Christian ministry leaders who had criticized Shawn had an unfortunately vitriolic confrontation.

I flew from Grand Rapids to Salt Lake City on Monday and met with Shawn for four hours. We made a very good personal connection, frankly recognizing that we are in temperament and experience radically different kinds of men, and had a good, constructive first discussion of the doctrinal issues. Shawn invited me to be a guest on his program Tuesday night, which I did. We met again today for a few hours and talked some more. I was blessed to have an opportunity to present a solid if brief explanation of the biblical basis of the Trinity and to answer a number of Shawn’s objections in front of his audience. Afterwards I spoke with people in attendance for over an hour, and it appears that the event was helpful.

What was said on last night’s program is of course public knowledge. One thing I said at the end, in response to a caller’s question, is that I consider Shawn a brother in Christ. I stand by that statement, but I also don’t want to be misunderstood. Whether Shawn is a believer, and whether he is a sound teacher, are two different questions. Some of the things Shawn has been teaching are in error, and it is important that he come to see that and make the necessary corrections. As a teacher, he is answerable to God and is held to a stricter standard with regard to what he says than other believers (James 3:1). Some of the things he said can even be fairly labeled as heretical, though he has also said things that contradicted those seemingly heretical statements. My assessment is that Shawn’s theology is confused and otherwise lacking largely because he has never studied Christian theology at a serious level and because, probably in overreaction to the programmed instruction and extrabiblical texts imposed in Mormonism, he has tried to develop his understanding by reading only the Bible. Reading the Bible without studying works on Christian theology has certainly brought Shawn a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than he was as a Mormon, and it’s certainly a far better extreme. It is, however, an extreme that has kept him from benefiting from the wealth of Christian reflection and teaching on God’s word by those who have studied the Bible for centuries before Shawn or I came along. The result is that some of Shawn’s views are at least heterodox (other than the classical, orthodox Christian doctrines). That having been said, I consider him a brother in Christ because I see evidence that God dramatically changed his life, brought him out of Mormonism, and gave him a genuine appreciation of the grace freely bestowed through the gospel. While I don’t know definitively the state of anyone else’s soul, I am inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt and to accept him as a brother unless forced to conclude otherwise. And I really do think Shawn is a Christian, saved by God’s grace, even though some of his doctrine is seriously flawed.

Theologically, Shawn’s thinking on the Trinity appears muddled. It is probably in flux, perhaps even more so after our discussions, which may be a step in the right direction. He has agreed that he needs to retract publicly and specifically some egregious critical remarks he made in recent weeks on the subject. His explanations at times seemed modalistic, but as we talked he backed away from those explanations, in particular his description of the Logos (Word) as one of many manifestations of God. Shawn rejects the eternal Sonship of Christ, preferring the formulation of the eternal Word. In this regard he is similar to Walter Martin, but unlike Martin, Shawn is uncomfortable designating the Word as a person. For that matter, he is uncomfortable using the term “persons” at all in reference to God, because of its association in Mormonism with physical human beings. Again, his own background and his focus on reaching Mormons have in his case led to some difficulty in coming to terms with orthodox Christian doctrine. This is a problem that I hope can be overcome as our dialogue continues. Meanwhile, at some point I do plan to make available in written form some responses to specific issues raised by Shawn regarding the Trinity, not to attack him personally but to provide substantive responses for the benefit of Shawn and others. I should mention that I have already told Shawn that I expected to do this, and he was supportive of me doing so.

I would appreciate the prayers of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for what follows. Please pray that Shawn will have constructive meetings with local Christian leaders, including some that have been legitimately concerned about his teachings, and that they will develop respect and trust. Please pray that future discussions between Shawn and me will be fruitful. Please also pray that Shawn will be successful going forward in acknowledging past errors and in developing a sound understanding of the theology of Scripture. All of this will be a process; it will not happen overnight. Please pray with me that everyone involved will listen to one another, be gracious and patient with one another, and be willing to learn and to change and even to repent where needed. And if you have some concerns or grievances with regards to anything I have said, please feel free to come to me with them.

[link]

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Heart of the Matter HOTM Episode 383  Robert M. Bowman Jr.  - Director of Research, IRR 01

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Heart of the Matter HOTM Episode 383  Robert M. Bowman Jr.  - Director of Research, IRR 02

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Is Shawn McCraney a Modalist?

I wanted to title this post something along the lines of “links and videos that will provide the background to the difficulties that Shawn McCraney is facing over the charge of being a modalist” but that isn’t very catchy or succinct. I am friends with Rob Sivulka, fellow Biola alumni and president of Courageous Christians United (A song will play in a pop-up window when you open his site, be warned). I was turned on to this ongoing discussion by a blog he recently posted: Shawn McCraney is a Heretic and Needs Adult Supervision. His article, much like the title, is direct and pulls no punches.

Rob (and other Utah ministers) have been characterized as going out of their way to “attack” McCraney, however I do not believe this to be the case. Shawn hosts a free, internet-based show where he regularly discusses theological topics, especially as they relate to Mormonism. An evangelical hosting an apologetic/evangelistic outreach to Mormons would usually be right up Sivulka’s alley (Rob has been involved in missions activity in Utah for over 20 years), but theology matters. It matters when you witness to Mormons and it matters when you fellowship with other professing Christians. So when a professing Christian abandons a central theological tenant (God’s triune nature) it is no surprise that these men wanted to respond to it.

In Sivulka’s article Shawn is quoted and links are provided. I noticed that one of the links goes to a video that has since been set to private (the video settings are controlled by Heart of the Matter, i.e.  Shawn McCraney). The videos linked to are two shows about the trinity:

Episode 380 “God part 1″

Episode 381 “God part 2″

As of my posting this both videos are publicly viewable (I have copies for future reference should that ever change). To address the responses of Sivulka, McCraney hosted an “inquisition” episode which followed the following format. [Photo credit: James Thompson]

Inquisition 2014 Flyer - Heart of the Matter Shawn McCraney

Event Flyer (click to enlarge)

And the Video

I have read one well crafted account of the “Inquisition” by an attendee, Shawn McCraney is Probably Not A Heretic.

I personally threw in my 2 cents in a YouTube comment. An brief discussion ensued.

Tonight, a staunch defender of the Trinity, Rob Bowman, will be a guest on Heart of the Matter to discuss the trinity and modalism with McCraney, the event will be broadcasted online for free [event].

So, is Shawn McCraney a modalist? The evidence, in my opinion, seems to indicate that he is. As far back as 2012, forum postings on the HOTM website indicate that viewers were concerned that Shawn was teaching Modalism [read the forum post titled Shawn's description of the Trinity] He does not like the word “trinity,” and has clear misgivings about aspects of the doctrine behind the word. I appreciate his openness to allow disagreement and dialog on his show, and my prayer is that clarity will be gained on all sides as a result of this ongoing dialog.

If McCraney is a modalist then he can not be a Christian. This is not a personal attack, it is the biblical result of denying God’s self-revelation about himself.  I sincerely hope that McCraney is not a modalist and wish him the best. I am praying for him and for those he is discussing the matter with.

UPDATE 2pm, 2/25/2014

I was directed to a post on Beggar’s Bread which is definitely worth checking out: The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One)

Live-Streaming Tonight (2/25/14), Rob Bowman & Shawn McCraney Discuss Modalism and Trinity

Christian Apologist, Rob Bowman Jr., posted the following on his Facebook timeline this morning [link].

Rob Bowman and Shawn McCraney Discuss The Trinity

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The link he used leads to a flyer for the most recent online show (not tonight’s special episode).

Recently Shawn McCraney has come under some heat for shunning the use of the word “Trinity” and explaining God’s nature in a manner favorable to modalism. McCraney, a former Mormon, has hosted Heart of the Matter for eight years [About page].

Rob Bowman is the Director of Research at the Institute for Religious Research [Bio page]. Bowman wrote an excellent book [Why You Should Believe in the Trinity] defending the doctrine of the trinity against a widely circulated Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet.

The event will stream live at 8pm, Mountain Time. It will also be available on YouTube. To view live, visit HOTM Live. There is no charge.

New Book: The Watchtower and the Word, by Stephen Bedard

The Watchtower and the Word by Stephen J. Bedard

Click to view larger image.

One of my acquaintances from the time I spent as associate editor for Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics has published a new book on how to effectively engage a Jehovah’s Witness in meaningful conversation.

Although it is a response to What Does the Bible Really Teach? it really is a guide to having a good conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses without getting sidetrack on the nonessential issues. (from 1peter315.wordpress.com)

If you, like me, have had the opportunity to share the gospel with members of this cult you know how rewarding it can be. But due to our vast theological and hermeneutical differences, it is all too easy to become entangled in sub-discussions and rabbit-trails. In The Watchtower and the Word: A Guide to Conversations With Jehovah’s Witnesses, Stephen J. Bedard will help equip you with the skills to keep your conversation on topic.

The book is available at Lulu.com.

Where did the Magi visit Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?

Where did the Magi visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus Header

One allegation of contradiction in scripture is that there is a discrepancy between the chronologies of Matthew and Luke, specifically with regard to the visit of the Magi (or, the three wise men). We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6); circumcised at 8 days old (Luke 2:21; cf. Leviticus 12:3); visited Jerusalem after the time of Mary’s purification; and returned to Nazareth at some point after the 41 days of Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22-23, 39; cf. Leviticus 12:3-4).

  • NOTE: Leviticus 12 stipulates 7 days of uncleanness + 1 day circumcision (the eighth day) + 33 more days of purification, 7+1+33=41. Some commentators take Leviticus 12:3 to be the first day of the remaining 33, rendering the time of purification as 40 days (7+33=40). While interesting to note, this difference has no relevant bearing on the question at hand.

Matthew compliments Luke’s account by shedding additional light on the move back to Nazareth. Matthew 2:1 notes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it does so in a parenthetical manner. The ESV reads “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…” (emphasis mine), indicating that the events about to be described occurred at some point after Jesus’ birth, not before. It does not mean that these events occurred immediately after one another, only that one preceded the other.

At some point after Jesus’ birth, wise men visited Jerusalem looking for the king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). This piqued Herod’s interest, and after some investigation it was determined that the birth place of the Messiah was Bethlehem (Matthew 2:3-6). He summons the wise men and enlists their service by way of deception. They find the Messiah by way of the star, present their gifts, and abandon their agreement with Herod because of a warning they received in a dream (Matthew 2:7-12).

After their departure from the family, Joseph is warned in a dream that he should take his family to Egypt for the child’s protection from Herod (Matthew 2:13). He does this, and remains there until Herod’s death. Once Herod realizes that the wise men had outwitted him, ruining his plans, he becomes furious and orders the murder of all Bethlehem male babies 2 years old or younger (Matthew 2:16). Matthew notes that this heinous action was foretold in one of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Matthew 2:17; cf. Jeremiah 31:15). After Herod’s death, Joseph is again visited by an angel asking him to return to Israel (Matthew 2:19-20). Joseph obeys (Matthew 2:21), but moves to Nazareth in Galilee due to the change in ruler and another dream (Matthew 2:22).

Assessment

The situation we are facing is a matter of synthesizing two accounts of the same story. When assessing and attempting to harmonize these accounts the following must be taken into consideration.

Harmonious aspects of both accounts. Both Matthew and Luke agree on the details when their accounts overlap. For instance, both note that Jesus’ parents are Mary and Joseph (Matthew 2:11, 13; Luke 2:4-5). Both accounts agree that Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4). Both accounts agree that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus eventually ended up back in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39).

Both accounts have details which the other does not mention. Unique to Matthew’s record is the story of Herod, the Magi, the trip to Egypt, the murder of the male infants in Bethlehem, and the circumstances surrounding the return from Egypt to Nazareth. Unique to Luke’s account are the details regarding the census, the relocation to Bethlehem, the Shepherds’ angelic encounter and visit to Jesus, and the trip to Jerusalem.

Neither Luke or Matthew attempt to present an exhaustive account. We all have questions about the historic details of Jesus’ infancy and childhood which will never go answered in this life. Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels in the middle of the first century, selecting the details which 1) were available to them, and 2) they believed to be relevant to those whom they knew would read/hear their gospels. Neither account is exhaustive and neither account pretends to be. The details which these men did include in their accounts are the details we have to consider when asking if the (above) charge of contradiction is accurate.

The issue of chronology. If we assume that Matthew and Luke’s intent was merely to present their readers with historical details in their successive order then we will become very frustrated with them. Parts of the gospels are arranged chronologically, and others are not. In some cases long sermons are summarized, in other cases events are grouped together because of theological considerations. If the writers claimed to be presenting us with strict chronologies then we would have grounds to object. But no such claim is made. In fact, it is anachronistic for us to impose our desire for a strict chronology on first century documents.

  • Matthew. Matthew uses words of succession as noted earlier by the use of “after” in 2:1. He also mentions the death of Herod twice. In Matthew 2:15, Jesus’ family remains in Egypt until Herod’s death. Then in 2:16 Herod is alive and ordering the infanticide of male babies. Then in 2:19, His death is recorded again, as it aligned with the timing of an angel’s appearance to Joseph. If Matthew had a strict chronology as his concern we could rightly cry “foul!” but that would be absurd. He is simply inserting the tragic murder of the Bethlehem babies into his narrative.
  • Luke. While Luke’s account of Jesus’ infancy is larger than Matthew’s it is interesting to note that his record of Jesus’ return to Nazareth is much shorter than Matthew’s. I noted that both men record that the family ended up in Nazareth, but the details of how that came to be are not Luke’s concern. In the next few verses he will summarize the remainder of Jesus’ childhood from arriving in Nazareth to him as a twelve year old boy. Those are very few words dedicated to a lot of time! Again, if it was Luke’s intention to present a strict chronology that would satisfy 21st century historians then he failed miserably. But, that is not the case.

Does Matthew say which town the Magi found Jesus in? Since Luke does not mention the Magi, Matthew must be examined if we are to find an answer to this question. In Matthew 2:9 we are told the following:

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

Matthew’s record (chronologically speaking) notes that these events occurred after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1). Geographically speaking, it only says that they arrived in “ the place where the child was.” What is Bethlehem? Matthew does not say. Was it Nazareth? Matthew does not say.

A Possible Harmony

This section is titled a possible harmony because, lacking sufficient details to compile a chronology satisfactory to a 21st century historian, it is possible that another harmony may be produced which is both 1) internally consistent, as well as 2) incompatible with mine. Does this mean the Bible is contradictory? No, it means that there are multiple harmonious possibilities which do justice to both Matthew and Luke. If anything, it should make the Bible’s harmony seem even more likely to a skeptic.

Event Matthew Luke

Jesus is Born in
Bethlehem

Matthew 2:1a Luke 2:4-6

The Shepherds encounter
angels & visit Jesus

Luke 2:8-20

Jesus is circumcised

Luke 2:21

After the time of
Mary’s purification, they travel to Jerusalem

Luke 2:22-38

They return to their
residence in Bethlehem (assumption)

An assumption which is not stated or contradicted by the text
of Matthew or Luke. See rationale below.

The Magi visit
Jerusalem, meet Herod, are sent to find Jesus

Matthew 2:1b-8

The Magi find Jesus and
return home another way

Matthew 2:9-12

Joseph is warned in a
dream/ flight to Egypt

Matthew 2:13-15

Herod realizes he was
tricked and orders the murder of the children

Matthew 2:16-18

Eventually, Herod dies
and an angel tells Joseph it is safe to return

Matthew 2:19-21

Joseph takes Mary and
Jesus to Nazareth

Matthew 2:22-23 —-

The assumption that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned to Bethlehem prior to the Magi’s visit is, admittedly, an assumption. I noted that, while it is not explicitly stated in Matthew or Luke, it does not contradict them either. In addition, I feel that this assumption is reasonable (within this harmony) because of the following reasons.

  • In Matthew’s gospel the record of Jesus’ family returning to Nazareth does not occur until after 1) the flight to Egypt and 2) Herod’s death.
  • Had the Magi visited prior to Mary’s purification she would likely have had better gifts to present than “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). (William Hendricksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Baker; Grand Rapids, MI:1973), 170.)
  • Because Joseph was of the house of David (Luke 2:4) he undoubtedly had relatives still living in Bethlehem. Hendricksen (ibid.) comments that it is conceivable that they may have stayed with family after Jesus’ birth.
  • In Matthew’s account of Herod’s research and dispatch of the Magi, he directs them to travel to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8), based on Micah 5:2 (cited in Matthew 2:6). There is no explicit textual reason in Matthew to assume that they altered their destination from Bethlehem to Nazareth.
  • If the Magi visited Jesus’ family prior to their flight to Egypt, the gifts they presented them would have bankrolled the entire relocation (which, at the time, would have seemed to be an indefinite length) and the return to Israel. God provided for the protection of the infant Messiah, in part, through the Magi’s generous worship.

Alleged Bible Contradictions | Interpretation, Consistency, and Worldview

Alleged Bible Contradictions - Interpretation Consistency and Worldview Header

In a recent article I wrote about preliminary questions which a Christian could use to assess the charge that the Bible contains contradictions. If you recall, I noted that not all alleged contradictions are of the same kind. In preparing to answer our objector intelligently it would be prudent to assess whether or not the alleged contradiction is, by nature, an actual contradiction. Before answering, first ask, is this allegation of a contradiction between two biblical statements?

This is a very important question, for one of the tactics you will encounter is for your objector to offer you a “Bible Contradiction” which is really a contradiction between:

  • A bible verse (or passage) and one possible interpretation of another verse (or passage)
  • One possible interpretation of a verse (or passage) and one possible interpretation of another verse (or passage)
  • A biblical doctrine and one possible interpretation of a verse (or passage)

The common theme in these bullet points is the presence of a possible interpretation of a bible verse or passage.

The Role of Interpretation

The early church saw the importance of the historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation over and against the allegorical method in the hermeneutics produced by the Alexandrian school and the Antioch school. The risk of subjectivity is minimized when the interpretation of a verse (or a passage, chapter, or entire book) is undertaken by first examining the grammar, literary context, vocabulary, etc. The scholars from Antioch championed this method and it continues to stand out as the most reliable and useful method of interpretation. We should not only consult the linguistic attributes, but also the historical circumstances of 1) the author, 2) the primary audience, and (if applicable) 3) the content itself.

This method has served interpreters well throughout the years. When answering the question what does Bible verse X mean? it is easily answered. Verse X means what the author intended for it to mean. Granted, some prophetic passages which awaited future fulfillment (and the concurrent realization/understanding) had meanings which the author may or may not have been fully aware of. This feature of prophecy is to be expected in light of God’s role in the inspiration and composition of scripture. Even in these cases, the author’s intended meaning must be taken into account when investigating prophetic fulfillment.

For our present concern, the role of interpretation must be addressed when you are offered a potential bible contradiction. Ultimately, we are all interpreters of what we read. Some are more sophisticated, others are less capable, still others may be in between either extreme. Access to knowledge about bible languages, English grammar (for those of us native English speakers), relevant history, use of context, and an overall ability to apply these tools will vary from person to person.

It is no secret that among those who self-identify as Christians there are a variety of Bible interpretations. In some cases, this is due to the availability of historical information, knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew, access to other relevant information, etc. In other cases, factors exist which also take bearing on an interpretation. These could include attempts to harmonize verse X with another passage, finding an interpretation which is applicable to (their) unique cultural situation, seeking answers to questions that are relevant to their generation and/or local congregation. Some otherwise capable interpreters may also have competing allegiances which skew their ability to interpret some passages. The list may continue, but the point is clear. For one reason or another, faithful believers have (and will continue to) come up with contradictory interpretations of the Bible.

The Role of Consistency

Keeping all of this in mind, it is now time to re-visit the charge that the Bible contains contradictions (when the “contradiction” is really between a Bible passage and one possible interpretation of another passage). This is to be expected. It is the duty of every Bible interpreter (Christian or otherwise) to seek consistency. When it becomes apparent that your interpretation of one verse will directly contradict another verse you must take action. The goal of this action is to achieve some kind of overall consistency. The way you seek harmony will reveal much more than your intellectual acumen, it will display presuppositions that are part and parcel of your worldview.

The Christian Worldview. When a follower of Jesus Christ faces a potential contradiction their approach (if consistent with the Christian attitude and values expressed in the New Testament) will be humble at the outset. As those who have submitted their minds to the creator of all things, they will prayerfully investigate the interpretation in question, re-tracing their steps to detect any mistakes. If errors become apparent they will make the necessary corrections. If no mistakes are forthcoming, then they will thoroughly investigate the other passage using the same process.

This method of study and exegesis usually weeds out most alleged contradictions. When it does not, the Christian humbly seeks help from the pastors and teachers whom God has gifted to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Their education and research will shed further light and aid in achieving a better interpretation of these passages. If the harmony sought is still not apparent, the Christian does not throw up their arms in surrender. They admit that they have found a verse or passage which presently eludes their capabilities to fully comprehend. After all, one’s interpretation of the Bible is not the Bible itself. Since the Bible has proved itself to be harmonious countless times already it is reasonable to trust that the coherence of God’s word is not overthrown by a human failure to be perfect interpreters.

The Non-Christian Worldview. There are many worldviews which could be identified as non-Christian. Despite their important differences they all have similarities which impact their ability to seek consistency. For the purpose of this article, I would like to speak to two of these: intellectual autonomy, and the practice of borrowing aspects from the Christian worldview.

  • Intellectual autonomy. Primary among worldview features that deny biblical revelation is the unquestionable intellectual autonomy of self. In stark contrast to the humble investigation of a Christ follower, the non-Christian assumes his intellectual accountability is only to himself. Furthermore, because the self is the highest intellectual authority the non-Christian assumes the right to admit certain evidence as well as to ignore other evidence. The historical and grammatical elements of interpretation are, therefore, only able to assist the interpreter once they have been admitted into consideration. Sure, most non-Christians will “follow the evidence wherever it leads them.” The hindrance first comes in when they autonomously decide what can and can’t be used as evidence. The most obvious expression of this autonomy occurs when an alleged contradiction is harmonized by a Christian and then arbitrarily rejected by the objector.
  • Borrowing from the Christian Worldview. The striving for consistency (to the end of justifying the Bible or dismissing it) is something which non-Christians engage in. They would be hard pressed to justify their use of the logical laws which they tacitly apply (as desired by the whim of their autonomous fiat). Logical laws are not tangible, universally binding and exist apart from any one human’s ability to comprehend them. Christians rightly use logic because it is an inescapable aspect of being made in the image of God. It is the onus of the non-Christian to explain why logic isn’t an arbitrary application of their subjective opinions. Where did logic come from? Why is it binding upon all people? Logic fits perfectly into the Christian worldview, it is very much out of place elsewhere.

Because non-Christians approach the Bible as autonomous interpreters, they take the liberty to identify a contradiction between an interpretation of a passage and the content of another passage. Why shouldn’t they? For a Christian it would seem delusional to equate any one possible interpretation of a passage with inspired scripture itself, especially if it directly contradicts a scriptural statement elsewhere. This equating, however, could easily be made by the one who assumes himself to be the highest authority, beyond which no appeal is necessary.

Can We Trust the Bible?

If we interpret everything we read, as I mentioned earlier, then how much stock can we really put our trust in the Bible? Isn’t it really just our interpretation we’re trusting? Good question! When I was assessing a failure of non-Christian worldviews I noted how God created us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9). Part of that image is displayed in our rationality, our ability to reason, use logic, make observations, observe patterns, etc. He also inspired his word (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), and made provisions for it to be preserved for later generations. In sum, God was hands-on in creating us and in the production and preservation of the Bible. Given these two realities, the question we should be asking is why can’t we trust the Bible?

Enter sin. As the story goes, the Bible discusses our fall into sin through our first father, Adam (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12-21). Acting on behalf of his progeny (the entire human race), Adam and Even rebelled against God and sin impacted not only them, but us also. This impact was far reaching, it brought death to a world of life (Genesis 2:17; 3:3, 18-19, 22; Romans 5:12, 14; cf. James 1:15). Beyond a mortal existence, sin also impacted our minds. The first sin was irrational – Eve reasoned autonomously by assuming she had the final say as to whether she should believe God or the serpent. Adam, who was with her (Genesis 3:6), followed along by believing the same lie. One of the consequences of this irrational sin was irrational reasoning. Our ability to reason and think correctly (to think they way God intended for his creatures to think) was marred, but not destroyed.

Remember, God gave the large bulk of his word to us post-fall. Our ability to rightly understand it will inevitably be threatened, but not annihilated. The people of Jesus’ day understood what he said to them (for example, the lawyers in Luke 11:45; the Jews in John 8:59). Jeremiah’s audience was able to understand his proclamations about their coming punishment (Jeremiah 26:7-9). Scripture is replete with examples of individuals and groups who were capable of an intellectual comprehension of God’s word, but responded to it with rebellion and unbelief. Like Adam and Eve, they assumed their own autonomy and exercised a pretended liberty by rejecting and disbelieving God.

We are all interpreters and fully capable of seeing the harmony in scripture. Those whom God has impacted with new life in Jesus Christ are, perhaps, best capable of seeing the coherence in God’s word. While submitting to the lordship of Christ, one can not reason autonomously. The Holy Spirit helps believers better understand the mind that revealed Scripture (Romans 8:27; 2 Corinthians 2:10). By virtue of this reality they will have one less disadvantage than the non-Christian in the process of interpretation. Is it possible to know what the Bible means? Yes!

Conclusion

The role of interpretation can not be ignored when assessing possible Bible contradictions. It will sometimes be the case that what an objector alleges as a Bible contradiction is nothing more than a poor interpretation being elevated to the level of scripture itself. Logic is not native to the non-Christian’s worldview. They must borrow from the Christian worldview to attempt to “expose” the Bible as inconsistent. But they do this autonomously, not in submission to Christ as Lord. Autonomy is a necessary precondition before elevating any conflicting interpretation of scripture to the status of God’s word.

Any given passage of scripture will have multiple (sometimes conflicting) interpretations. Rather than assuming autonomy, and making intellectual shortcuts, it is preferable to align ourselves with the God who both 1) created us and 2) gave us his written word. The lure of autonomy is epistemic certainty which inevitably results in pride. On the other hand, submitting to God in the intellectual realm produces humility and openness to obtaining genuine knowledge as his creatures.

Alleged Bible Contradictions: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Answer Objections

Alleged Bible Contradictions 5 Questions to Ask Header

Anyone who takes a minute to google the phrase “Bible contradictions” will find links to a number of lists. These lists contain purported contradictions in the Bible. It is the onus of the Christian who encounters objections to the Bible which are drawn from such lists to be ready to answer these allegations. Prior to doing this, it would be prudent to give preliminary consideration to the following questions.

What is the academic virtue of this list? Some lists are comprised of nothing more than unexplained short questions or statements, each of which is followed by a list of verses. These lists are extremely persuasive to uncritical minds. If you have more than a minute to sift through the google results you will find that some of these lists have similarly worded “contradictions.” The same intellectual deficiency that finds the (above) sound-bytes satisfying doesn’t usually have any qualm with “borrowing” from the shoddy research of others.

It should be stated that the academic shortcuts of skeptics and atheists do not sufficiently put the issue to rest. This question is very helpful in gauging the 1) academic integrity and 2) intellectual engagement of the person objecting to belief in God’s word. Worded differently, this question could sound like the following.

  • Is this alleged contradiction well thought out?
  • Has this objector studied this topic personally?
  • Is this objector merely repeating what they just googled?

What kind of a contradiction is being alleged? There are different kinds of contradictions which are alleged as impugning the internal harmony of the Bible. Possible examples include alleged contradictions between:

  • Two Bible verses (or passages)
  • A single verse (or passage) and a group of verses (or passages)
  • A doctrine and a Bible verse
  • A doctrine and another doctrine
  • A Bible verse (or passage) and extra biblical history
  • A Bible verse (or passage) and science

If verse A is alleged to contradict verse B you will want to formulate your response in terms of clarifying the context of each verse, offering alternate harmonious interpretations, etc. However if the allegation is that verse A contradicts the doctrine of God’s eternal nature (for example), you will want to probe for what the objector’s understanding of God’s nature is. Do they understand his nature as presented in the Bible, or is it sub-biblical somehow? You may also want to investigate the relevance of verse A to the subject matter. Perhaps it was read in isolation from it’s context and does not speak directly to the objector’s concern.

What Bible translation is the objector using? It is entirely possible that the contradiction you are being called upon to explain is nothing more than the result of a poor, archaic, or obscure Bible translation. It would prove beneficial to research the differences between (and philosophies behind) various translations.

It may also be the case that verse A in translation X is supposedly contradicting verse B in translation Y. It may also be the case that verse A in both translations is not worded identically and that is being called a contradiction. In reality, matters of translation are not contradictions per se, but issues which may be answered linguistically, grammatically, etc.

There are also ancient translational issues which may be touted against the Bible. The way that the New Testament authors quoted Old Testament passages was not uniform. Sometimes the Greek Septuagint was cited, other times paraphrased (true to the meaning, but not word-for-word). While this issue will require some technical research, it will go a long way to answer the objector with integrity and persuasion.

Has the objector investigated the responses and research of Christian scholars? There are a number of valuable books and websites which Christians have produced to demonstrate that the Bible is not contradictory. Like the first question (above) this one will not reply directly to the allegation; it will, however, help you intelligently craft an appropriate response. It may be the case that they were not aware of such research. It may be the case that they aren’t seriously looking for answers (I could only speculate on the question of why this brand goes out of their way to initiate a conversation on the subject in the first place).

Does the worldview of the objector allow for the concepts of contradiction and logic to be intelligible? Coming from a presuppositional background I would be remiss to write on this subject without pointing out the deficiency of an atheistic/skeptical/naturalistic worldview to produce a concept of contradiction which could be consistently applied and communicated. The charge that two things are contradictory (whether Bible verses or anything else) can not be made unless the following assumptions are made:

  • The laws of logic (specifically the law of contradiction) are universally binding. Otherwise the communication of them to another person would may be ineffective. Likewise, the application of these laws to specific instances might not be intelligible.
  • Such laws can be communicated with sufficient clarity, as well as understood by others, in human language. Again, without this presupposition it would be fruitless to charge anyone with any kind of contradiction, biblical or otherwise.
  • Such laws have an implicit (possibly moral) imperative to be observed. From the objector’s perspective since there is a contradiction there ought to be some kind of appropriate action (modifying your belief that the Bible is trustworthy or accurate). Does the move from an is to an ought fit into their worldview?

While it is very likely that both the Christian and the objector agree on these presuppositions, that is beside the point. How does the naturalist-materialist (for instance) make sense of non-tangible, universally binding rules? Where did these rules come from? Why are they expected to be persuasive to others? Why is the law of contradiction presumed to be authoritative? If the alleged Bible contradiction has some aspect of ethics or morality involved it would be important to inquire on what basis the objector determines what is moral and what is immoral. Again, we may both agree on the specific moral imperative. But how did they arrive at their belief in such an imperative? Upon what authority do they rest? Is that authority selected arbitrarily?

In sum, if the objector’s belief in logic is based (even partially) on an arbitrary foundation, that will expose a flaw in their assumption that logical laws are binding, both to those who share their worldview and to outsiders (such as those holding a Christian/biblical worldview). If the objector’s concept of contradiction can be demonstrated as out of place, given their worldview-level assumptions, we must say something before answering their charge of contradiction. Demand consistency from your opponent. Be polite, be loving, but hold them to their professed worldview-level assumptions.

These five questions have been very helpful to me in assessing and responding to objectors. It is by no means a complete list. My prayer, however, is that it will be useful to believers who are facing these objections.