Tag Archives: inspiration

With so many Translations, how can we know the English Translation we’re using is Accurate?

It is important to be concerned about the accuracy of the Bible translation we’re using, but the fact that the wording varies in modern English translations is no reason to think they aren’t reliable. The Lord Jesus and the apostles considered the Old Testament Scriptures the very Word of God, but they weren’t troubled that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Greek-speaking Jews) differed slightly from the Hebrew text. The Old Testament quotations that sprinkle the New Testament are not word-for-word translations from the Hebrew text. The apostles quoted loosely from the Septuagint. Of the 175 Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament, not one of any length carefully follows the Masoretic Hebrew text. In general they are closer to the Greek Septuagint.

Jesus himself never sought to quote the Old Testament in a rigidly word-for-word way. An example is Luke’s account of His reading of Isaiah 61: -2 in the synagogue at Capernaum (Luke 4:17-21). We don’t know whether Jesus was reading from the standard Hebrew text or not. He may have freely translated it into Aramaic. In any case, Isaiah 61:1 (KJV) closes with the words: “Proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” Luke 4:18 closes with the words, “Preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” The wording is far from exactly the same. Does this mean that Isaiah 61:1 as we find it in the King James Version is not the Word of God or that the words recorded by Luke do not carry authority? This has obviously not been the conclusion of the Christian church through the centuries. We are confident that the inspired words of Isaiah are faithfully recorded and that Luke accurately recorded the words of Christ. A slight difference in the wording doesn’t trouble us, because both passages have the same basic meaning.

We believe the example of Jesus and the apostles serves an important purpose. If the Lord and His disciples didn’t get hung up on a minor difference in wording, we shouldn’t either. If the best available texts seem to call for small changes in the contemporary language we use to express the content they contain, they should be made. Our core concern should be the accuracy with which the inspired concept or idea expressed in the Scriptural text is conveyed.

 

 

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What Are Some Arguments Used to Downplay the Significance of the Gospels?

The arguments used by unbelieving scholars to discredit the Christian Gospels and downplay their significance have changed through the decades as they were shaped by contemporary thinking. Because they conform to the perspective of people who already assume that the story of Jesus can’t be true and welcome any “evidence” that undermines it, they typically get a considerable amount of publicity and attention. (See the ATQ article, Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?) In time, evidence accumulates that makes their arguments ineffective and untenable, so that old, discredited arguments are abandoned and new arguments formulated. The following is a list of some of the most common arguments against the trustworthiness of the Gospels that are being used today:

  • The fact that the Gospels contain accounts of supernatural miracles and healings by Jesus imply they aren’t trustworthy.
  • The Gospels contain only fictional stories about a legendary “god-man” who sprang up out of the group imagination of a Hellenized population of Palestinian Jews who were deeply influenced by paganism and polytheism.
  • The “Jesus legend” is just one of many “dying god” legends contemporary to the rise of the apostolic church.
  • The fact that few ancient non-Christian sources refer to Jesus shows that He either never lived or was mostly legendary.
  • The fact that Paul didn’t directly quote Jesus implies he didn’t consider him a real person. Paul only used the Jesus “myth” to promote his new faith in a (metaphorically) “risen Christ.”
  • The earliest Christians were illiterates who couldn’t have been the source of the Gospels.
  • Since the Gospels were mostly based on oral recollections of witnesses, they can’t be expected to accord with the genuine facts of Jesus’ life.
  • The accounts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry in the Gospels aren’t based on actual historical events as much as they are on the cultural and theological needs of the first generations of Christians.

It is good for Christians to be aware of the kinds of attacks that are being made against the New Testament and the Gospels.

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16 RSV).

If Christians are unprepared to give an account for their hope, they will be ineffective and hesitant witnesses. They might even find that their own confidence in the records left by the witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is undermined.

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Do Their Miracles Imply The Gospels Are Legendary?

When, as the story goes, Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree and saw an apple fall, he already believed that God was ultimately responsible both for the apple’s existence and its fall from the tree. Newton discovered the principles of classical physics because he wanted to know the means by which God made apples fall.

Science assumes that all natural phenomena have natural causes that can be discovered if we look for them. This assumption is called methodological naturalism. There is no inherent contradiction between the use of methodological naturalism and belief in miracles and the supernatural. Isaac Newton formulated the laws of classical physics while holding passionate faith in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible. Many scientists share Newton’s Christian worldview.

Unfortunately, some people have been so deeply impressed with the power of science that they make methodological naturalism the standard for judging all truth and value. This misapplication of methodological naturalism results in the dogmatic rejection of miracles. Most people today have a sense of the importance of methodological naturalism for science. But they also know that science has little bearing on their most important decisions. No one depends on science to choose a spouse or select a career. (See the ATQ articles, Why Believe in God’s Existence, When It Can’t Be Proven Scientifically? and How Can I Prove to Someone that God Exists?) Trying to do so would be like an orchestra replacing a concert pianist with a piano repairman.

Different subjects call for different evidence. If we want to examine historical events, we need more tools than the scientific method can provide. A murder trial, for example, attempts to reconstruct historical events. Every murder is unique, involving specific people and circumstances that can’t be reproduced. Science may be used in the process of clarifying and presenting evidence, but no murder can be repeated and scientifically tested so that guilt can be established with absolute certainty. A judgment of (legal) guilt or innocence is reached on the basis of cumulative evidence, including circumstantial evidence and subjective factors like motive.

Historical evidence, like the evidence in a trial, is not strictly “scientific.” Nevertheless it requires rational standards for analysis and verification. A juror who ignores a vast array of evidence for guilt, because he assumes from the start that the defendant is innocent, violates standards of truth just as much as a scientist who ignores evidence that doesn’t support his hypothesis.

The New Testament skeptic has to account for the sudden rise of a group of believers who centered their lives and hopes in a man they proclaimed was raised from the dead, the Son of God, worthy of worship.

What is the sufficient historical explanation for how a band of first-century Palestinian (predominantly Galilean) Jews came to abandon some of their most deeply held religious convictions—indeed, the central tenet of their traditional faith—and worshipped a Jewish contemporary of theirs as, in some sense, “Yahweh embodied”? Of course, one explanation—the traditional Christian explanation—begins by appreciating how extraordinary the Jesus event must have been to inspire such a radical shift in the faith in his followers. If Jesus made the claims, lived the life, and performed the miracles the Gospels attribute to him, and if Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead as the Gospels claim, and if his earliest Jewish followers personally experienced these momentous events—particularly the resurrected Jesusthen the radical worldview reorientation these followers experienced begins to make sense.” (Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 99.)

Although skeptics have dedicated themselves to finding an explanation, they have failed. (See the ATQ article, What Are Some Arguments Used to Downplay the Significance of the Gospels?)

In fact, their attempts to account for the evidence have often deteriorated into self-deception and transparently weak arguments. (See the ATQ article, Why Do Many Western People Doubt the Accuracy of the Gospels?)

The vast majority of Western people have never stopped believing in miracles.1 The paradigm of metaphysical naturalism is weakening, and there is growing pressure on scholars to look at the actual historical evidence rather than making metaphysical assumptions about what can or cannot happen. As decades pass and evidence accumulates, it becomes more and more clear that the most reasonable conclusion is that miracles actually occurred in connection with Jesus and His ministry, and that the historical tradition contained in the Gospels is reliable.

  1. For example, in 1989, George Gallup Jr. reported that 82 percent of the American populace affirmed that, “even today, miracles are performed by the power of God.” So too, a 1998 Southern Focus Poll found that 83.1 percent of its respondents believed that “God answers prayers,” with 33.6 percent reporting that they had personally experienced having “an illness cured by prayer.” Not only this, but it is undeniable that Western culture at the present time is experiencing a significant surge of people publicly reporting experiences of healings, angelic or demonic encounters, and so on. Whatever else one makes of this, at the very least it suggests that the “modern, Western worldview” is not nearly as committed to naturalism as scholars such as Bultmann, Harvey, Funk, and others have suggested.
    The stark clash between what naturalistic scholars say the Western worldview should entail, on the one hand, and what the majority of Western people in fact believe and experience, on the other, suggests that when scholars proclaim that the Western worldview is incurably naturalistic, their intent is not so much to describe what the Western worldview is as it is to prescribe what the Western worldview should be. (The Jesus Legend, p. 74)  Back To Article
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How Were Documents Selected For The Biblical Canon?

To gain canonical recognition, a book was expected to pass two basic tests. First, it had to have a history of “continuous and widespread approval amongst Christians” (J. W. Wenham, Christ And The Bible). Second, it was expected to demonstrate that it had either been written by an apostle or specifically approved by the apostles.

The fact that the Muratorian Canon (approximately AD 170) listed all of the books presently in the New Testament except for Hebrews, James, and the two epistles of Peter, is another demonstration of the early, broad-based support for the Canon.

Another example (and many others could be given) is provided by the brilliant theologian Irenaeus who also wrote in the second century. He quoted the four Gospels extensively and included quotations from all of the New Testament books except Philemon and 3 John. Actually,the fact that a few books were received officially by the church at a later date is more a demonstration of the church’s discretion and caution than it is an indication that these books are in some way unreliable.

A well-known theologian once said that the church no more created the New Testament Canon than Newton created the basic principles of physics. The earliest writings of the church fathers demonstrate their confidence in the authority of the New Testament Scriptures.

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Is the Old Testament “Less Inspired” Than the New?

Early in church history a powerful movement called Gnosticism denied that the Old Testament was authoritative or even relevant to Christians. (See the ATQ article, What Was Gnosticism?) This movement taught that the Old Testament was the product of an inferior deity, and refused to accept the Old Testament as part of the canon of Scripture. One of the most influential early second-century Gnostic leaders, Marcion, accepted only the gospel of Luke and the writings of Paul in his canon.

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There are remarkable differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament, but these differences don’t imply that the Old Testament is not inspired and authoritative. In fact, the New Testament clearly affirms the inspiration of the Old (Matthew 5:18; 26:56; Mark 12:24; Luke 16:17; Acts 13:14-48; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:25).

Rather than describing the Old Testament as “less inspired” than the New Testament, it would be better to describe the relationship of the two Testaments in terms of progressive revelation. Just as human parents don’t reveal the same things to their toddlers that they reveal to teenagers, God taught basic truths to the ancients, and when the “fullness of time” had come (Galatians 4:4) He taught things that only later generations were prepared to receive. God’s revelation to the human race wasn’t given all at once in its fullest form to the earliest people who received it. Rather, it was revealed gradually through the course of history, with later truths completing and fulfilling earlier revelations without contradicting them (Hebrews 1:1-2; Romans 15:4). Humanity has been given as much truth as it has been able to understand within a timetable determined by the Creator (John 16:12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The revelation of God in the Old Testament, including the establishment of a theocracy under the law, was necessary to prepare our race to see its need for redemption (Romans 3:19-20) and its inability to achieve it on its own (Hebrews 9-10).

The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a full understanding of the redemption that the Lord Jesus Christ would provide. They didn’t have a clear understanding of individual survival after death or the manner in which the faith of Abraham would bring blessing to all the peoples of the world (Genesis 12:1-3; 28:14). Truths only implied by the earliest chapters of the Old Testament were defined much more clearly by the prophets (Psalm 110; Isaiah 11:10; 49:6) and brought to clarity in the New Testament (Matthew 8:10-12; 22:42-45; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8-16; Hebrews 1:13 ).

  1. Gnosticism was an immense peril for the church. It cut out the historic foundations of Christianity. Its God is not the God of the Old Testament, which is the work of an inferior or even evil being. Its Christ had no real incarnation, death, or resurrection. Its salvation is for the few capable of spiritual enlightenment. The peril was the greater because Gnosticism was represented by some of the keenest minds in the church of the second century. The age was syncretistic, and in some respects Gnosticism was but the fullest accomplishment of that amalgamation of Hellenic and Oriental philosophical speculation with primitive Christian beliefs, which was in greater or less degree in process in all Christian thinking. (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, Scribners, p. 53.) Back To Article
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