Bible Difficulties


If you’ve ever read the exchange between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30, I’m sure you’ve asked the same question most of us have: “Did Jesus really say that?!”

What did He say?  In response to the woman’s request for Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter, Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  How rude!  It seems out of character for Jesus to put down a woman, equating her to a dog.

Larry Hurtado has a helpful article on this passage that explains Jesus’ point in its original context.  He makes the following points:

One of the distinguishing marks of the new atheists is that they not only think religion is false, but that it is dangerous and immoral too.  Even God himself is not above their judgment.  They regularly chide the God of the Bible as being a moral monster!  They accuse Him of being pro-genocide, anti-women, pro-rape, pro-slavery, etc.  Rather than the paradigm of moral goodness, God is an evil despot that is to be shunned.  You know it’s a bad day when even God is evil!

Is what they say true?  Is God – particularly as He is portrayed in the OT – morally evil?  Many Christians are sympathetic to this charge because they themselves struggle to understand God’s actions and commands, particularly as revealed in the OT.  Thankfully there have been some well-written responses to the problem of “theistic evil” written in recent years to dispel this negative portrait of God.  

(more…)

It is often said that Adam and Eve did not know the difference between good and evil prior to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (TKGE).  This does seem to be the straightforward meaning of Genesis 3:22a: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’” (ESV)  There are a couple of problems I see with this interpretation, however:

  1. The text does not say Adam and Eve only gained knowledge of evil after the Fall, but knowledge of “good and evil.”  If we understand “knowledge” in a cognitive sense, this would mean God originally created human beings as amoral beings, having no knowledge of moral concepts or moral categories.  If we were created as amoral beings, then our moral intuitions and our capacity for moral reasoning are not part of the imago Dei (image of God) in which we were created, but rather a consequence of the Fall.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for two reasons: (1) Moral reasoning is one of the unique characteristics of God that among God creatures, humans alone exhibit.  Since humans alone were created in the imago Dei, it stands to reason that moral reasoning was part of that original imago Dei; (2) How is it possible for an act of disobedience to produce in us the knowledge of good?  Evil, yes, but good?
  2. (more…)

I recently taught on the historical reliability of the Gospels and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  One of the areas I focused on was the apparent contradictions and errors in the Gospels, demonstrating how most of these are easily resolvable, and thus not contradictions/errors at all.  But not all Biblical difficulties are so easily resolved.  In fact, there are some for which I do not presently have a good answer.  If you are a careful reader of Scripture, I’d bet there are Biblical difficulties you have encountered for which you lack a good answer as well.  What are we to do with such difficulties given the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy?  What should our posture be toward the Christian faith once having discovered irresolvable difficulties in the text?

Some individuals respond by concluding that Christianity is not true.  Some go so far as to conclude that God does not even exist!  I submit to you that these responses are ill-founded; the result of elevating the doctrine of inerrancy to a status it should not be accorded in one’s theological taxonomy.  While the Bible is an indispensable aid to our faith and Christian growth, an inerrant Bible is not necessary for the truth of Christianity, and thus the doctrine of inerrancy—and Bibliology in general—should be subservient to more central doctrines such as the resurrection of Jesus in our theological taxonomy.  Let me explain.

(more…)

In several previous posts (here, here, and here) I addressed the problem of differences in the Gospels, pointing out that what are often taken for contradictions are really just examples of 21st century Westerners trying to impose unrealistic and modern standards of historical reporting on ancient Easterners.  Here is another one.

Mk 14:47-54  But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. 53 And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. 54 And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. (See also Mt 27:55-8)

In verse 50 we are told that “all” the disciples fled the scene, and yet in verse 54 we are told that Peter followed Jesus from a distance.  Because both statements appear in the same Gospel no one complains.  But what if Mark only said that all fled, and Luke only said that Peter followed Jesus from a distance?  People would claim it was a contradiction.  How could Peter be following Jesus if he fled the scene?  Of course, the Christian would respond by trying to harmonize the two texts.  We would propose that all of the disciples did flee the scene when Jesus was arrested, but Peter returned, and followed Jesus at a distance.  Our critics would say we are being imaginative, and the only reason to offer such a harmonization is to avoid concluding that the Gospels are, indeed, contradictory.  But when both statements appear in the same Gospels within just a few verses from each other, no one claims contradiction. And guess what, most would agree that Peter must have fled with the rest of the disciples, but returned shortly afterward to learn of Jesus’ fate.  Indeed, that would explain why he followed from a distance.  He did not want to be seen by the guards lest he be arrested too—the very reason he fled in the first place.  I think this goes to show both how overblown the charge of “contradiction is,” as well as why harmonization is a perfectly legitimate enterprise when it comes to reading historical reports.

A new website, The Ehrman Project, has launched.  It’s dedicated to evaluating and responding to Bart Ehrman’s claims.  It examines each of his three best-selling books: Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, Jesus Interrupted.  There are eight video responses to each book, each one covering a different topic.  There are also links to related books and articles. 

Participating scholars include Ben Witherington, Darrel Bock, D.A. Carson, Daniel Wallace, Alvin Plantinga, et al.  One of the coolest features of the site is that you can pose a question on the blog, and it will be answered by one of the scholars!  So if you have any difficult questions related to the issues Ehrman raises, now is the time to ask them.

HT: Ben Witherington

Mt 27: 3-8  Now when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders, 27:4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!” But they said, “What is that to us? You take care of it yourself!” 27:5 So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself. 27:6 The chief priests took the silver and said, “It is not lawful to put this into the temple treasury, since it is blood money.” 27:7 After consulting together they bought the Potter’s Field with it, as a burial place for foreigners. 27:8 For this reason that field has been called the “Field of Blood” to this day. (NET)

Acts 1:18  Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. (NET)

This is a favorite “contradiction” appealed to by skeptics to demonstrate the unreliability of the Bible.  But are these two passages really contradicting one another?  After all, it’s not as though Matthew tells us Judas hanged himself, and Luke says he didn’t hang himself.  In fact, Luke doesn’t even tell us how he died.  He only tells us that he fell headfirst and his guts gushed out.  Clearly this cannot be referring to the mode of his death because falling down, in and of itself, cannot cause someone’s belly to burst open and expose his intestines!  Falling from a distance, however, could.  If Judas was hanged as Matthew tells us, it would provide the fall-distance necessary to explain the phenomenon Luke records for us.  Indeed, if Judas hanged himself and his body was left on the tree rather than being removed, his body would have begun to decay, and his belly would have swollen.  Once he was caused to fall (for whatever reason: the rope giving way, his head slipping out of the noose, etc.), his belly would have easily burst open and his guts gushed out.  Matthew’s account and Luke’s account are harmonious, not contradictory.

In recent days I have taken up a task I had given up on a number of years ago: harmonizing the resurrection accounts in the Gospels.  I hope to blog on this in considerable detail in the future, but wanted to explore a particular anomaly I have encountered that has me befuddled – an anomaly I am hoping you, the community, can help me resolve.

All of the Evangelists – with the exception of Luke[1] – report that Jesus appeared to several of Jesus’ women followers after they saw the angels in the empty tomb, but before they reported the incident to the apostles.  Luke, however, does not mention a resurrection appearance to the women.  According to Luke the women discover the empty tomb, encounter angels who tell them Jesus is risen, and then leave to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.[2]  If this was all there was to Luke’s account it would not be much of a problem, since each of the Evangelists omit certain details that the others chose to include.  While it would be a curious detail to omit, its omission would be just that: a curiosity.

But the story is complicated by the testimony of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  

(more…)

I just finished reading a tremendous review of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus Interrupted, by Michael Kruger.  I would highly recommend it.  The last paragraph is literary gold in my book.  It’s one of those summary paragraphs that I would have loved to have penned myself.

 

HT: Justin Taylor

The NT authors often quote an OT passage, and say it was fulfilled in Christ.  Many Christians use these fulfillments as evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith.  For example, I’ve heard it claimed that the probability of just one man fulfilling 48 different prophecies is something like 1:10157.  It is reasoned that no man could match those odds unless the Biblical prophecies were divine in origin, and thus Jesus must be who He claimed to be.  The problem with this apologetic is that the vast majority of these “messianic prophecies” are neither prophetic, nor messianic in their original context.

Consider, for example, Hosea 11:1 – “When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son, and I summoned my son out of Egypt.”  Matthew quotes this passage in reference to Jesus’ return to Nazareth, saying, “In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled ‘I called my Son out of Egypt.’” (Matthew 2:14-15)  When one examines the original context of Hosea 11:1, however, they will quickly recognize that this passage is neither prophetic nor messianic.  It is a mere historical recounting of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt.

(more…)

The following information comes from a lecture I attended of William Lane Craig:

Religious pluralists often argue that there is a contradiction between the premise that “God is all-loving/powerful” and “some do not hear the Gospel and will be lost.”

To see them as contradictory there must be one of two hidden assumptions:

  1. If God is all powerful He can create a world in which everybody hears the Gospel and is freely saved.
  2. If God is all-loving, He prefers a world in which everybody hears the Gospel and is freely saved.

I will show that such is not the case, and argue that they are logically compatible.

(more…)

In several previous posts (here, here, and here) I addressed the problem of differences in the Gospels, pointing out that what are often taken for contradictions are really just examples of 21st century Westerners trying to impose unrealistic and modern standards of historical reporting on ancient Easterners.  I demonstrated this by pointing to examples in which two different passages within the same book report different information.  No one thinks of these as being contradictions because they come from the same author, and appear in the same literary document.

I found another example of this, but not in the Gospels this time.  This one appears in Acts.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ words to Paul on the Damascus road reads as follows: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:5b-6, ESV)

Paul, recounting the same event in Acts 26:14b-18, records Jesus’ words as:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. … I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles-to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (ESV)

Not only is Acts 22 much fuller in its account of what Jesus said to Paul, but there is little overlap between them as it pertains to Jesus’ instructions.  In Acts 9 Jesus instructs Paul to go to Damascus and wait to be told what to do.  In Acts 22 Jesus does not tell Paul to go to Damascus, but instead, instructs him in his mission on the spot!  If these two accounts appeared in two different books, critics would claim a contradiction.  But because they appear in the same literary work, no such charge is made.

Of course, a reasonable harmony can be made for the two accounts.  Acts 9 appears to be a summary of the much longer conversation, rather than a transcript of the actual words Jesus said (at least for His instructions; not His introduction and self-revelation).  Acts 22 is probably closer to an actual transcript of what was said to Paul.

The fact that Jesus discloses to Paul His purpose for his life there on the road does not contradict what Luke reports in chapter 9.  No specific instructions were given regarding what he should do next to fulfill that purpose.  Furthermore, in the context of Acts 9, it seems what Paul was “to do” in Damascus was receive salvation.  That is why the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision to go pray for Paul to regain his sight and be filled with the Spirit (9:10-19).

In an earlier blog entry, “Differences in the Gospels,” I examined some supposed contradictions in the Gospels.  I argued that these are not contradictions, but differences in what and how each author chose to portray the events in question, and that the only reason we find these texts problematic is because we fail to understand how ancient writers wrote.  Unlike modern folks, they were not concerned with the minutiae.  They were concerned with the big picture: the gist.  They even felt free to report the historical facts in such a way so as to fit their literary purpose.

I gave a couple of examples to illustrate my point.  In one place, John says Jesus was baptizing in Judea.   A little later, however, he says it was Jesus’ disciples who were doing the baptizing, not Jesus Himself.   Since both statements were penned by the same author, in the same work, in close proximity, it is clear that there is no contradiction here (interestingly, if they appeared in different gospels skeptics would cite this as a contradiction).  This demonstrates for us the flexibility with which the Biblical authors reported historical events.  John felt free to say Jesus was baptizing in one place, even though He knew it was not Jesus Himself who was doing so.  He was not lying; he was not trying to deceive; he was not mistaken.  Both reports were true, even though one was more specific than the other.  For John, since Jesus’ disciples were baptizing on His behalf, it was entirely legitimate to say Jesus was baptizing (we might call this “projection”).  The problem is not with John, but modern readers who demand that ancient writers conform to the standards common to modern writing.

(more…)

I have blogged in the past on some of the strange ways the NT interprets the OT, and linked to an essay by Peter Enns that helps make sense of it. As helpful as it is, I am still baffled by some of the ways the NT interprets the OT. Here is another troubling example: Jesus’ and Peter’s interpretation of Psalm 110:1.

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

It’s important to understand the structure of this verse. The person speaking in verse 1a is a prophetic voice in the royal court, delivering a message from YHWH (“LORD”) to the prophet’s “lord.” The prophet’s lord is the king, David. Verses 1b and 4 constitute YHWH’s message to David via the unnamed prophet. In verses 2-3 the prophet addresses David, and then speaks to God about David in verses 5-7.

In the original context, then, the “Lord” was David, and the person who spoke the words, “The LORD said to my Lord” was the unnamed prophet speaking to David. When we turn to the NT, however, the original context is turned on its head. According to Jesus and Peter, the “Lord” is a reference to the Messiah, and the person who spoke the words, “The LORD said to my Lord” was David (See Matthew 22:43-45; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; Acts 2:34-36).

It should be pointed out that Jesus did not invent this interpretation of Psalm 110:1. The Jews already had a long-standing interpretive tradition of identifying the “Lord” as the coming Messiah. They reasoned that if what was spoken applied to David, it also applied to all of His royal descendents, including (and especially so) the promised Messiah. As for attributing the words of verse 1a to David, presumably it was reasoned that since David was the author of the psalm, He could be cited as having said those words. A similar phenomenon appears elsewhere in the NT when the words of YHWH are attributed to the prophet who authored the book containing YHWH’s words, or when the words of prophets are attributed to YHWH.

Be that as it may, there is something else even more troubling than these semi-understandable changes to the original meaning. In the NT, Jesus and Peter appeal to Psalm 110:1 as an argument for the deity of Christ. It was common knowledge that the Messiah would be the son of David. So Jesus asked those present, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (Mark 12:35b-37a).

To understand Jesus’ argument one must understand ancient-near-eastern culture (ANE). According to ANE culture the father is superior to his offspring. Why, then, does David call the Messiah his Lord? To call him such implies that his son is superior to himself, which is unthinkable. This was a paradox that could only be solved if one granted that the Messiah was more than a mere man—He was divine as well.

What I find troubling about this argument for the deity of Christ is that it only works if one takes the OT passage out of context. One has to change the identity of the original subjects in order for it to work. And yet, as with other strange uses of the OT in the NT, the crowds found the argument powerful and persuasive.

Back on 9/14 I posted “Re-measuring Goliath: 9’9” or 6’9”?” In the comments section I brought up an issue I want to make the focus of a new post: the quality of the Masoretic Text of the OT. It seems that it may not represent the original wording in significant places, particularly in books like Jeremiah and 1 and 2 Samuel. Here are the relevant portions from J. Daniel Hays’ article:

As in the book of Jeremiah, there is quite a difference between the Septuagint text of 1-2 Samuel and the Masoretic Text of 1-2 Samuel. Also similar to the textual situation in Jeremiah is the fact that in 1-2 Samuel the Hebrew text from the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QSama) generally aligns with the Septuagint over against the MT. In addition, the story in 1 Samuel 16-18 represents the place where the differences between the two are the most severe. In the Septuagint text of Codex Vaticanus, our oldest complete Greek Bible, 1 Samuel 16-18 is 44% shorter than in the MT. Not only are entire verses missing but entire paragraphs are missing. In the David and Goliath narrative these include 17:12-31, twenty verses that explain about David and his brothers and how he came to be at the battle, and 17:55-58, the four puzzling verses in which Saul doesn’t seem to know who David is in spite of the fact that David had been playing music for Saul back in 1 Samuel 16. As in Jeremiah, the differences between the Septuagint and the MT go well beyond anything that could be attributed to scribal errors or transmission mistakes. And 4QSama generally (but not always) agrees with the Septuagint against the MT. Either somebody added a large chunk of text to the original autograph, somebody deleted a large chunk of text, or else two different accounts of 1-2 Samuel developed separately.

Practically all scholars agree that the evidence from 4QSama implies that at the time of Christ there were two different Hebrew text traditions of 1-2 Samuel. As mentioned above, the vorlage or text tradition behind the MT in 1-2 Samuel contains many more readily identifiable scribal errors that the tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX. Furthermore, and of great interest to those of us who try to connect the doctrine of inspiration into our theories of composition, it should be underscored that when using 1-2 Samuel as a source, the author (compiler, editor, etc.) of 1-2 Chronicles (as reflected in the MT) used a Hebrew text from the textual tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX and not the one that is reflected in the MT of 1-2 Samuel.14 That is, frequently the MT in 1-2 Chronicles disagrees with the MT in 1-2 Samuel, but agrees with the reading in 4QSama and/or the Septuagint. So the inspired author/editor of 1-2 Chronicles either did not have a copy of the MT tradition text of 1-2 Samuel or elected to use the text tradition reflected in 4QSama/LXX, presumably because he regarded it as a superior text.


Our theory of inerrancy has to account for stuff like this. What do we do with ~23 extra verses in the MT version of I Samuel 17-18? If the LXX and DSS preserve the original, inspired form of the book (as seems likely), are we prepared to cross those verses out of our Bibles in the same way we should change Goliath’s height from 9’9” to 6’9”? This is a matter of textual criticism, and is not altogether unlike what we see even in NT text criticism in which the authenticity of long passages is disputed (the longer ending of Mark, the periscope of the woman caught in adultery). The difference here is the quantity of verses that are suspect. Either way, we should be open to the evidence and not shut our eyes to the facts because they make us uncomfortable.


The main reason I bring this up is not to cause anyone to doubt the reliability of Scripture. Indeed, I could write a series of posts arguing for the trustworthiness of Scripture. The reason I bring this up is because it provides an answer for why we find so many contradictions between Samuel and Chronicles when it comes to numbers. For example:

1. In 2 Sam 8:4 David takes 700 horsemen, whereas in 1 Chron 18:4 he takes 7000.

2. In 2 Sam 10:18 David slew the men who drove 700 Syrian chariots, and 40K horsemen, whereas in 1 Chron 19:18 David slew 7000 charioteers and 40K footmen.

3. In 2 Sam 23:8 we are told that David’s chief captain slew 800 men at one time with his spear, whereas in 1 Chron 11:11 he is said to have slain 300.

4. In 2 Sam 24:9 Joab counted 1,300,000 fighting men, whereas in 1 Chron 21:5 he is said to have counted 1,570,000.


Why the discrepancy? It could be due to copyist errors, or a misunderstanding of certain numerical values due to the evolution of the Hebrew numerical system. Given the fact that not all numbers disagree between the two books, this option is unlikely. The best answer is that the Chronicler was using a different Hebrew text of Samuel that had different numerical values in certain places, which means there were at least two competing manuscript traditions of Samuel. Of course, the question remains as to which is the original text, and how the changes were introduced (copyist error, purposeful tampering with the text, misunderstanding of older numerical system, etc.). That is where textual critics enter the stage, and I step off. For what it’s worth, I tend to think the Chronicler was using a superior Hebrew text, and should be given the benefit of the doubt over the MT of Samuel. The MT is a younger text. The DSS and LXX give us a much earlier picture of the text.

Back in May I posted a blog entry titled “Differences in the Gospels” in which I discussed some of the supposed contradictions the Gospels, and how they are not actual contradictions. As a case study I examined John’s report of Jesus baptizing in Judea. In one place he says Jesus baptized, while a little later he says it was Jesus’ disciples, and not Jesus Himself. If it was Luke rather than John who had noted that it was Jesus’ disciples, not Jesus Himself, who baptized, people would claim a contradiction between Luke and John. Since both appear in John, however, it is clear that there is no contradiction. It only illustrates the flexibility in which the Biblical authors reported historical events. John so no contradiction at all. I argued that this is illustrative of how we ought to view other supposed contradictions between the Gospels.

I just updated that post to include another example similar to the one above. In John 20:1 John only mentions Mary Magdalene as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection, while the other Gospel authors report a plurality of women (the lists differ as to who is identified). Some see this as a contradiction. And yet in the very next verse John records Mary as saying to the apostles, “We do not know where they have laid him.” While John only names Mary as a witness, he is clearly aware of the fact that there were more present than just Mary. Again, such ways of speaking should alert us not to be too rigid in our interpretation of the Gospels. We cannot impose modern standards of historiography on the apostles and the texts they created.

William Lane Craig has a really good response to those who ask how a just and loving God could command the Israelites to kill every Canaanite (including children). In the same article he makes some poignant distinctions between the Jewish conquest of Canaan and Islamic jihad.

I don’t know about you, but I have always been somewhat bothered by how the apostles interpreted the OT at times. While we are taught (rightly so for the most part) that meaning is to be found in the author’s intention, the apostles seemed to find meaning in the OT that the author could not have possibly intended. At times they seem to throw context and the whole historico-grammatical approach to hermeneutics out the door.

For example, in Hosea God says, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Matthew says this was prophetic of Jesus’ sojourn and departure from Egypt as a child. Nothing in the original context indicates the passage to be prophetic in nature, or have any Messianic application. It was a mere historical statement about what God did in the Exodus.

Or consider Paul’s use of Genesis 12 and 15. God told Abraham his “seed” would possess the land of Canaan forever. While the word “seed” in Hebrew (zera) is singular, the context makes it clear that God was speaking about all of Abraham’s physical descendents. In Galatians 3, however, Paul interpreted the singular “seed” to be a reference to a single person: Jesus Christ. He is said to be seed to whom the covenant promises applied. From this, Paul made a theological claim that by being united to Christ through faith we too become the seed of Abraham, partaking of the promises God made to Him. A very strange use of Scripture indeed. I can guarantee you that if Matthew or Paul was enrolled in a hermeneutics course today, and interpreted the Scripture the way they did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the NT, the professor would give them a failing grade.

So how do we make sense of this? Peter Enns, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, offers some help. He authored an article titled “Apostolic Hermeneutics and an Evangelical Doctrine of Scripture: Moving beyond a Modernist Impasse,” which appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the Westminster Theological Journal. While this is a complicated and vast topic that cannot be adequately tackled in a short paper, Enns did a good job of making some inroads. The paper can be downloaded here. While I would highly recommend that you read it for yourself, I will summarize and reproduce relevant points.

Enns begins by acknowledging a genuine conflict between the hermeneutic of the apostles and the hermeneutic of modern Evangelicalism. Whereas many Evangelicals try explaining away the apostles’ regular departure from a historico-grammatical (HG) approach to hermeneutics, Enns admits that the apostles’ hermeneutic is markedly different from the HG method. While at times they used the HG method, at other times they didn’t.

Enns points out that to understand the way the apostles interpreted the OT, we have to understand the hermeneutical principles being used by their contemporaries. Their hermeneutic was culturally informed. Looking at contemporaneous writings it becomes clear that the way the apostles interpreted the OT is consistent with the rabbis of the Second Temple era.

Not only was the apostles’ hermeneutic culturally informed, but more importantly it was eschatologically informed. Enns writes:

The Apostles had their own reasons for engaging the OT, their Scripture. How they engaged the OT (interpretive methods) and even their own understanding of certain OT passages (transmission of pre-existing interpretive traditions) were a function of their cultural moment. But why they engaged the OT was driven by their eschatological moment, their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God with us and that he had been raised from the dead. True to their Second Temple setting, the Apostles did not arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is Lord from a dispassionate, objective reading of the OT. Rather, they began with what they knew to be true—the historical fact of the death and resurrection of the Son of God—and on the basis of that fact re-read their Scripture in a fresh way. There is no question that such a thing can be counter-intuitive for a more traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture. It is precisely a dispassionate, unbiased, objective reading that is normally considered to constitute valid reading. But again, what may be considered valid today cannot be the determining factor for understanding what the Apostles did.

For example, it is difficult indeed to read Matt 2:15 as an objective reading of Hos 11:1, likewise, Paul’s use of Isa 49:8 in 2 Cor 6:2. Neither Matthew nor Paul arrived at his conclusions from reading the OT. Rather, they began with the event from which all else is now to be understood. In other words, it is the death and resurrection of Christ that was central to the Apostles’ hermeneutical task.
To put it another way, it is the conviction of the Apostles that the eschaton had come in Christ that drove them back to see where and how their Scripture spoke of him. And this was not a matter of grammatical-historical exegesis but of a Christ-driven hermeneutic. The term I prefer to use to describe this hermeneutic is Christotelic. … To see Christ as the driving force behind apostolic hermeneutics is not to flatten out what the OT says on its own. Rather, it is to see that, for the church, the OT does not exist on its own, in isolation from the completion of the OT story in the death and resurrection of Christ. The OT is a story that is going somewhere, which is what the Apostles are at great pains to show. It is the OT as a whole, particularly in its grand themes, that finds its telos, its completion, in Christ. This is not to say that the vibrancy of the OT witness now comes to an end, but that—on the basis of apostolic authority—it finds its proper goal, purpose, telos, in that event by which God himself determined to punctuate his covenant: Christ.

The big question is Can we do what the apostles did? Can we re-read the OT in light of the eschatological Christ event and find Christ where Christ would not be found using the normal HG method of interpretation? Most would say no. Why is it that the apostles could do it, but we can’t? The usual response is that the apostles could do it because they were inspired to do so, whereas we are not; they had apostolic authority to do so, whereas we do not. Enns destroys that argument on several counts. First, it would be all the more reason for us to employ their methods of interpretation. If God inspired them to interpret Scripture in such a fashion, the method must be valid. While we may not be certain that Christ is found in the OT where we think we see Him (since there would be no inspired Scripture to verify that we are right), looking for Him in passages not speaking of Him in their original context could not be condemned as illegitimate. Secondly, if we are to follow the apostles’ teaching, why should we not follow their hermeneutics? Thirdly, rooting the apostles’ ability to handle the Scripture in the manner they did because of their office could actually argue against the legitimacy of their claims to apostolicity. If the H-G method of interpretation is the only valid method, and the apostles did not consistently use it, then they were mishandling the Word of God. That’s hardly befitting of an apostle; hence, they are not apostles. If we reject the conclusions of these three arguments, then we must reject the traditional argument for why we can’t interpret the Bible the way the apostles did.

How does Enns answer this question? He argues that we can use the apostles’ hermeneutical goal, but not their exegetical method. Regarding the former Enns writes:

The Apostles’ hermeneutical goal (or agenda), the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ, must be also ours by virtue of the fact that we share the same eschatological moment. …
A Christian understanding of the OT should begin with what God revealed to the Apostles and what they model for us: the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ for OT interpretation. We, too, are living at the end of the story; we are engaged in the second reading by virtue of our eschatological moment, which is now as it was for the Apostles the last days, the inauguration of the eschaton. We bring the death and resurrection of Christ to bear on the OT. Again, this is not a call to flatten out the OT, so that every psalm or proverb speaks directly and explicitly of Jesus. It is, however, to ask oneself, “What difference does the death and resurrection of Christ make for how I understand this proverb?” It is the recognition of our privileged status to be living in the post-resurrection cosmos that must be reflected in our understanding of the OT. Therefore, if what claims to be Christian proclamation of the OT simply remains in the pre-eschatological moment—simply reads the OT “on its own terms”—such is not a Christian proclamation in the apostolic sense.


Regarding the latter Enns writes:

What then of the exegetical methods employed by the Apostles? Here I follow Longenecker to a degree in that we do not share the Second Temple cultural milieu of the Apostles. I have no hesitation in saying that I would feel extremely uncomfortable to see our pastors, exegetes, or Bible Study leaders change, omit, or add words and phrases to make their point, even though this is what NT authors do. One very real danger that we are all aware of is how some play fast and loose with Scripture to support their own agenda. The church instinctively wants to guard against such a misuse of Scripture by saying, “Pay attention to the words in front of you in their original context.” What helps prevent (but does not guarantee against) such flights of fancy is grammatical-historical exegesis.

But this does not mean the church should adopt the grammatical-historical method as the default, normative hermeneutic for how it should read the OT today. Why? Because grammatical-historical exegesis simply does not lead to a Christotelic (apostolic) hermeneutic. A grammatical-historical exegesis of Hos 11:1, an exegesis that is anchored by Hosea’s intention, will lead no one to Matt 2:15. The first (grammatical-historical) reading does not lead to the second reading. This is a dilemma. The way I have presented the dilemma may suggest an impasse, but perhaps one way beyond that impasse is to question what we mean by “method.” The word implies, at least to me, a worked out, conscious application of rules and steps to arrive at a proper understanding of a text. But what if “method,” so understood, is not as central a concept as we might think? What if biblical interpretation is not guided so much by method but by an intuitive, Spirit-led engagement of Scripture with the anchor being not what the author intended but by how Christ gives the OT its final coherence?

I’ll leave you hanging with that. Check out the article.

For additional resources, check out this excellent lecture by Matt Harmon, Associate Professor of NT Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, and this article by Glenn Miller (I haven’t finished reading it yet, but Miller is always good).

Skeptics make much to do of differences in details between the Gospel accounts, claiming they prove the Bible is full of contradictions, and thus can’t be the Word of God. One popular example is the number of angels at the tomb of Jesus. Was there one angel (Mt 28:2; Mk 16:5) or two (Lk 24:4, 23; Jn 20:12)? Other differences include the discoverers of the tomb. Was Mary Magdalene the lone discoverer of the empty tomb (Jn 20:1) or were there others (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1, 10)? How many others, and who were they (each account gives a different number and grouping of names)? And then there’s the demoniac of the Gadarenes. Was there one demoniac (Mk 5:1-2; Lk 8:26) or two (Mt 8:28)?


 

It’s important to note that none of these examples are contradictions; they are mere differences. A contradiction is to say something is both A and not A at the same time and in the same way. That’s not what’s going on here. We simply have one author providing more details than another author. Adding details someone else left out is not a contradiction. If I hit a 2 base run and a home run during a baseball game, it’s not a contradiction for sports writer A to say I hit a home run and sportwriter B to say I hit a homerun and a 2 base run. One is providing more details than the other, but neither is contradicting the other. One provides more details, but neither has conflicting details.


 

Other passages aren’t so easy to explain, however. Consider Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s servant. Who came to Jesus asking Him to heal the child? Was it the centurion (Mt 8:5), or elders of the Jews (Lk 7:3)? This seems to be a genuine contradiction. Or is it?


 

We tend to force modern writing standards on the Biblical writers. We expect them to be as concerned about including every little detail as we are. When a big news story breaks we spend hours exploring and reporting on every (almost meaningless) facet of it. Every detail must be included, and everything said must be quoted exactly as spoken/written. Not so in the ancient near eastern world. They were more interested in the big picture, not the details; the gist, not the minutae.


 

I was reading the Gospel of John recently when I noticed something that illustrates my point beautifully. John 3:22 says, “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.” Baptized is in the third person singular, the antecedent singular subject being “Jesus.” And yet in John 4:1-2 we read, “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)…. Same author. Same book. Same context. Clealry John did not see any contradiction between these two statements. Notice how similar this is to the story of the centurion. Who came to Jesus? One person: the centurion? Multiple persons: the elders of the Jews? I think the answer to who came to Jesus is the same as who was doing the baptizing. Jesus’ disciples were doing the baptizing, but John could say it was Jesus because His disciples were doing so in His behalf. Likewise, the elders of the Jews came to Jesus, but Matthew can say it was the centurion because the Jewish elders represented him.

 

Or consider John 20:1 again. John only mentioned Mary Magdalene as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection, and yet in the very next verse he records Mary as saying to the apostles, “We do not know where they have laid him.” While John only reports Mary as a witness, he is clearly aware of the fact that there were more present than Mary.


My point is not to try to answer every kind of apparent contradiction in Scripture, but only to point out that what we think is a contradiction in Scripture would not have been viewed as such by the authors of Scripture. We are guilty of imposing modern standards of historiography and discourse on the apostles; they are not guilty of contradictions.

 

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 292 other followers