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|Apologetic Questions and Unapologetic Answers|
Q & A’s Concerning Biblical Inspiration
John Oakes, PhD
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Reliability of the Biblical Text 2
2. Archaeology, History and the Bible 46
3. Supposed Inconsistencies in the Bible 65
4. The Resurrection of Jesus 89
5. Biblical Prophecy 97
6. The Book of Daniel 112
7. Genesis 1 and 2: Science and Creation 123
8. Evolution 156
9. The Flood 165
10. Miracles 170
11. The Relationship Between Christianity and Other Religions 174
12. General Apologetics 200
13. Philosophical/Theological Questions 210
14. The Da Vinci Code and Related Topics 221
15. The History of Christianity 226
16. General Biblical Questions 241
“Always be prepared to give an answer.” This is a sort of a biblical rallying cry—a motto of the Christian apologist. It is found in 1 Peter 3:15-16:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
The context of this passage is that of 1st Peter. The book is written to people who are experiencing persecution and suffering for doing good. Those who follow Jesus are admonished to be prepared to give an answer to the questions which the world will throw at them (and I would add, to the questions we throw at ourselves). Not just any answer will do. God’s people are admonished to give respectful, reasoned answers so that they may maintain a clear conscience before God and their hearers and ultimately, so that their hearers can come into a saving relationship with God. According to Webster’s Dictionary, apologetics is “the branch of theology which defends Christian doctrine on the grounds of reason.” The passage above is a call for followers of Jesus to be apologists. This book is intended to help believers toward that goal.
I became a Christian over twenty-five years ago while a graduate student in chemical physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Partially because of my major, I became a sort of an answer man for young believers around me almost immediately. At about the same time, I was inspired to pursue Christian apologetics by the work of one of my heroes, John Clayton. About fifteen years later I began work on my first book, Is There a God. When I was asked to run a Christian apologetics web site in the year 1999, one of the first things I began to do is to accept questions from visitors to the site and to provide answers. The questions and answers below are culled from the hundreds which have come to the site www.evidenceforchristianity in the past six years. Some of these questions come from skeptics, others from believers who have nagging doubts. In each case, I have tried to look at all sides of these questions. I certainly am not providing “the answer.” Sometimes I give what I believe is the correct answer, but sometimes I provide food for thought and leave it to the reader. In editing the questions for this book I have tried to retain the feel of the immediacy of the original question and answer, mainly correcting grammar and incorrect statements.
John Oakes, PhD
San Diego, September, 2006
In the answers below, my book Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of Christian Evidences is abbreviated as RFB, the book Is There A God? Questions of Science and the Bible as ITAG, Daniel, Prophet to the Nations as Daniel, and From Shadow to Reality as FSTR. My web site, www.evidenceforchristianity.org is referred to as EFC.
Chapter 1 Reliability of the Biblical Text
I have increasingly heard the argument that many of the sayings of Jesus (the Lord's, prayer for example) had already been recorded in earlier writings by other people. Those who make this argument suggest that Jesus simply borrowed them. Is this true?
In order to answer this question, I would need specific examples. Without any specific examples, let me at least take a stab at the question in general. There will always be those who see it as their personal mission to try to undermine belief in Jesus as the Son of God. People try to claim that he sinned. The problem is that there is no record of him sinning. People try to claim that the apostles made up the stories of Jesus' miracles and so forth. The problem with these arguments is that there is no evidence to support the claim that he did not work miracles, but plenty that he did (see EFC ch. 2). When theologians run out of possible attacks on the deity of Jesus, it is not surprising that they try to attack him by claiming that nothing he said was original, and that he was simply mimicking those who came before him.
I am sure that a great number of the things which Jesus said had already been said by someone before him. Jesus is famous for saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). Surely, Jesus was not the first to notice this proverbial truth, nor the first to teach it to his followers. Besides, Jesus often consciously quoted from the Old Testament. It is likely that Jesus also used well-known sayings of the Jews of his day to illustrate his teachings, and perhaps the proverbs of neighboring Greek and Persian culture in his teaching. If historians of other cultures find such parallels in the sayings of Jesus and those who came before him, that alone will do nothing to discredit either the teachings of Jesus or the veracity of the New Testament writers. However, there are definitely some sayings of Jesus which will prove to be unique. For example: "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:46), or "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30) and "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6). The fact that a careful researcher can scan ancient documents and find statements which are somewhat similar to things said by Jesus does not mean that he stole his sayings, and it certainly does not prove that he is not the Son of God. The question is not whether Jesus ever, consciously or unconsciously, quoted a previous person. The question is whether he was who he claimed he was. If Jesus is "The resurrection and the life," (John 11:25), what difference would it make if some of his sayings had been said by someone else before him? This attack on Jesus is a smoke screen, plain and simple.
As to whether or not the Lord's prayer was a quote by Jesus, verbatim from someone before him, I would have to say that I am very skeptical of this claim, unless someone could show me evidence. My guess (which is just a guess) is that someone found one particular phrase in the Lord's prayer recorded elsewhere, rather than the whole thing. However, even if it were true, it does not take away from the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, the Bread of Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life, and so forth. He proved his right to make these claims by raising Lazarus from the dead, by feeding five thousand, by calming a great storm (see RFB ch. 1). Even if it were true that some famous sayings of Jesus were actually quotes from others before him, I fail to see why this would detract from his deity.
Every one knows the story of Noah and his ark. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the fist written story ever found. This epic describes how Gilgamesh took two of each animal plus his family into an ark to avoid a world-wide flood sent by the angry gods. The story was written down between the years of 2750 and 2500 B.C. It was most likely passed by word if mouth before it was written. My question is this: Is the story of Noah a stolen or borrowed myth?
In the end, it will be difficult to prove the case either way. It seems undeniable that the Genesis account and the Gilgamesh Epic are parallel. Details such as the Noah figure sending out birds to know when it would be safe to leave the ark point to this. The question is who borrowed from whom, or are they separate accounts of one actual event? What we should do is ask what is the most reasonable explanation? When I read the Gilgamesh Epic’s version of the flood, I detect obvious elements of mythology, but not so with the Genesis account. Based on the massive and I believe incontrovertible evidence that the Bible is the inspired word of God, I believe that the flood actually happened and that the story recorded in Genesis is an accurate account of the events surrounding the flood. The fact is that almost every ancient civilization had a story of a great, world-wide flood. In fact, the stories are so wide-spread and general, it creates the impression that these accounts are the human records of some sort of actual event in the distant past. If this is true, there are two possibilities. Either the Epic of Gilgamesh borrows from the same genuine record as the writer of Genesis, or it is a separate but garbled mythologized account by the Sumerians/Akkadians of the actual events. I believe the second choice is the more likely.
One might argue that this is circular reasoning. The skeptic might point out that I am assuming that the Bible is the inspired word of God in order to prove that it is the inspired word of God. That is not the case. I am simply pointing out that the evidence for the Bible being a reliable account of past history is overwhelming if one compares it to myths such as the Gilgamesh Epic. This known reliability predisposes me to believing the biblical account is closer to the actual events. Many scholars have analyzed both stories in attempts to prove which might have been derived from the other. I believe the case in inconclusive and one must reach one's own conclusions. However, given the solid evidence that the Bible is inspired by God and given the fact that there is no reason at all to believe that the Gilgamesh Epic is inspired by any type of god at all, I would go with the biblical account. You, of course, must reach your own conclusions.
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a large number of manuscripts which have been found in a series of caves in the general area around the ruins of the desert community of Qumran. Qumran was a settlement in the steep and arid hills at the Northwest end of the Dead Sea. Although there is some argument from scholars, most believe that Qumran was a community of Essenes, an ascetic sect of Jews who were waiting for the Messiah and who had rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem. It has been proposed that due to the upheavals at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, these manuscripts were carried to a number of caves in the general area of Qumran so that they would not be destroyed and eventually abandoned there.
The Dead Sea documents include a number of complete scrolls on vellum as well as many fragments and even some manuscripts on copper and other materials. They contain many of the writings of the Essenes and other Jewish sects, including a number of apocalyptic and theological treatises. Most significantly for Christians, the scrolls include a number of fragments and even some complete scrolls of Old Testament books. This is particularly significant to the case for the accuracy of the current Hebrew text because before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known manuscripts of the Old Testament in Hebrew were from AD 900 and later. The oldest complete manuscript in Hebrew was the Leningrad Codex from the eleventh century.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have been dated by experts from about 250BC to around AD 50. This discovery moved the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament back over one thousand years, spanning as much as two-thirds of the time from when some of the books were written and the oldest previous available manuscript. So why is this so important? In general, the Dead Sea Scrolls are very similar to the Masoretic Text, which is the oldest previously available text. This version of the Jewish Bible was assembled by the Masoretes, a group of dedicated Hebrew scholars in the second half of the first millennium. In most cases in which the Dead Sea manuscripts differ from the Masoretic Text, they bear similarity to the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament which was completed in the third and second centuries BC.
The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they provide strong support for the belief that our present text of the Hebrew Old Testament is very similar to the original writings. The text of Old Testament had been copied again and again over the centuries. Scribes inevitably make copying errors. It is also possible for those copying the manuscripts to make changes on purpose. The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate what we thought we knew already, which is that the Jews were fanatically careful in their work of preserving the Jewish Bible, giving us even greater confidence that we have available to us the very words of God. For further reading, see EFC ch. 6.
Is the Old Testament plagiarized from the Zoroastrian scriptures?
Quite simply, no. Many unsubstantiated theories are thrown about by scholars, looking for a controversial idea on which to build their reputation. This is one of these attractive but unfounded ideas. Zoroastrianism is a pseudo-monotheistic religion which includes fire-worship. Its theology is dualistic. This means that it is based on a belief that the universe is in a battle between more or less equal forces of good and evil. The Zend Avesta is the principle scripture of Zoroastrianism. The religion was founded by Zarathustra in present-day Persia. Zarathustra was probably a real person who lived in about the seventh century BC. The traditional dates for Zarathustra (Greek: Zoroaster) are 628-551 BC. The Zend Avesta is supposed to be the philosophy and sayings of Zarathustra, although parts of the document may derive from earlier writings, and some was written as late as the first century BC. The Gathas are part of the Avesta. These are poems supposedly composed by Zarathustra. The history of the text of the Zend Avesta is difficult to follow, as the scriptures of Zoroastrianism were collected gradually over many centuries, taking its final form under Sassanid emperor Shapur II (AD 309-379).
There are a few problems with the theory that Judaism is derived from Zoroastriansim. First, the theology of the two religions is in diametric opposition. Judaism is avowedly not dualistic in its concept of God. Second, Judaism’s roots go back farther than Zoroastrianism. Most of the Old Testament was written before Zoroaster lived. It is not logical to think that the Jews borrowed their theology and teachings from a person who was born after Moses, David, Solomon and Isaiah died. There is another important reason to reject the idea that the Old Testament writers plagiarized the writers of the Zend Avesta. I have looked at some of the so-called parallels in the teaching and find them not to be convincing. It is a simple matter to scan the entire scripture of two religions and to find ideas which are similar at face value. Finding parallel sayings or teachings does not prove one borrowed from the other. Logically, if anyone borrowed from anyone, Zarathustra borrowed from Moses. However, if we look at the history of Zoroastrianism, it is more likely that its theology was borrowed from nascent Hindu theology, not from the Jews. The parallels between early Hindu and Zoroastrian thought and language are fairly obvious, as scholars have pointed out.
To summarize, the idea that Judaism derives its theology from Zoroastrianism is attractive for those who make it their goal to undermine Christianity. However, common sense as well as the evidence tells us that this is simply not the case.
Who were the books of the New Testament written by and what was the relationship of these authors to Jesus?
In some cases, it is hard to establish with certainty who wrote the individual books of the New Testament. Many of the letters of Paul were "signed" by him, making it fairly certain, but even this is not absolute proof. The early church fathers settled on a consensus of the authors of almost all the New Testament books by the second century. How authoritative these designations are is debatable, but given that we have this based on the testimony of people who were only a couple of generations from the original writers, their testimony is fairly strong. You will have to do your own research on the arguments for the authorship of individual books. Most any commentary will supply the details. Below is a list of the traditionally accepted authors of the New Testament Books:
Matthew The apostle Matthew
Mark John Mark, friend of Peter, companion of Paul on his first missionary journey.
Luke Luke, doctor, amateur historian and traveling companion with Paul.
John The apostle John
Acts Luke, the author of Luke
Romans-Philemon The apostle Paul
James James, the brother of Jesus
1,2 Peter The apostle Peter
1,2,3 John The apostle John
Jude Jude, the brother of Jesus
Revelation The apostle John.
The author of Hebrews is the most hotly debated. Even the early church debated the identity of the author of Hebrews. Bottom line, we do not know who wrote this book. You should be very skeptical of anyone who identifies the author of Hebrews with confidence. The authorship of 1,2,3 John, Jude, and to some extent Revelation are fairly controversial. There is some debate on the authorship of the other books, but most conservative scholars accept that the author identified above is likely the actual writer of these books.
All the authors mentioned above knew Jesus personally, with the exception of Luke. The writer of Acts and Luke was a gentile who came into contact with Christianity through the missionary work of Paul. Luke was a very careful historian who apparently interviewed eyewitnesses to the events.
I am presently taking a Comparative Religion course on the New Testament and have been struggling with some of the themes that have surfaced so far. Our course text is The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to Early Christian Writings by Bart Ehrman. This author argues that the Book of Acts presents varying accounts of the conversion of Paul. In chapter 9, Paul's companions heard a voice but saw no one while in chapter 22, he claims that they saw the light but did not hear the voice. Ehrman also finds contradictions in whether the bystanders stood up (ch. 9) or fell down (ch. 26), or whether Paul got instructions from Ananias or Jesus directly, without going to Damascus. Ehrman also finds contradiction between Acts and Galatians with regard to Paul’s meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem. He relies heavily on quoting out of context and in citing “scholarly opinion” which he doesn't bother to delineate. Unfortunately, my professor relies on similar tactics. I believe such “scholarly opinions” are very biased, but he raises questions I cannot adequately answer. In addition, my professor argues that the Pastoral Epistles, 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus are pseudonymous letters; in other words that Paul did not write them. He even questions whether Paul wrote Ephesians Colossians and 2nd Thessalonians based on writing style, which seems dubious since we have only a limited sample of Paul’s writings. What do you say about this debate? How certain can we be that Paul wrote these books? And what about the words of Jesus, which seem for sure inspired, versus narratives about the birth of Jesus. What basis do we have for assuming all of these are “breathed by God?” The argument that one writer calls another Bible writer inspired (2 Peter 3:15-16) seems weak to me. I want to be able to separate what I believe by faith from what I believe because of the evidence. Can you help me here?
It sounds that you have a good handle on the specifics. Most of these supposed contradictions are very easily worked out if one simply considers how both accounts might be justified. For example, when Paul went to Jerusalem as described in Acts 9, he visited Peter and James, but not the other apostles, which explains Paul’s statement that he did not meet with the apostles until fourteen years later. Similarly, the accounts of the vision on the road to Damascus do not contradict, but give complementary information. These supposed proofs that the Bible is full of mistakes fall on their face as soon as one gives reasonable benefit of the doubt to the Bible writers. I try to listen carefully to each criticism of the Bible, as I do not want to be a hypocrite when I critique the opponents of Christianity. However, each of the supposed contradictions you mentioned from Ehrman are explained quite easily by common sense.
Really, it is the big picture which is most important, and that is what you bring up in your interesting question. How do we really know every single word of the New (or for that matter the Old) Testament is inspired? The answer is that it is obvious that we will never be able to prove, sufficient for a court of law, that every single word in the Bible is inspired by God. I can provide general evidence, for example from prophecy fulfillment and from type/antitype fulfillment (see