Answering Questions about the Bible, Apologetics, How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Doctrinal Non-contradiction

Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at different aspects of the test of Non-contradiction and the role that it has played in determining what has or hasn’t “made the cut” and found its way into the Christian Scriptures.  In “Cultural Understanding”  we explored how our comprehension of ancient societies influences our perceptions of the documents they produced and how what appears contradictory to us may not have been contradictory at all!  In “Logical Non-contradiction”, we explored the difference between a contradiction that is logically impossible (like there being “only three men” in the room in one account and there being five in another) and the apparent contradiction created as different historians give an account to varying audiences.  This week, we’re going to continue our series on non-contradiction with a look at the issue of doctrine – and why contradictions in this field have almost uniformly led to the discarding of candidates for the Canon.

Turn on your television.  Go ahead.  It happens to be drawing close to Christmas at the time of this writing and I have begun (with great enthusiasm) to anticipate the inevitable flood of documentaries on “The Real Jesus”.  One of the mainstays of such documentaries is an attack upon the consistency of Gospel accounts – usually with some reference to the doctrinal “spin” produced by the eye-witnesses of the events and later disproven in the gnostic gospels (most of which were written nearly 400 years after the events and, you guessed it, by people who didn’t witness them).

I’m not about to argue that there aren’t some apparent doctrinal inconsistencies within the pages of the Christian Scripture (emphasis upon the word “apparent”).   Any reasonably intelligent human being will note that, in a quick “skim” through, the God of the Old Testament  seems wrathful and self-centered while the God of the New Testament is loving and fatherly or that the Old Testament was largely about rules while the New Testament appears to teach freedom from these rules.

So why sit here and defend doctrinal consistency when such clear and apparent contradictions exist?  Quite simply because these, like the contradictions demonstrated over the course of the previous two weeks, are just that: “apparent” contradictions.  The truth is, many of the anomalies we see when we merely “skim” the pages of Scripture begin to disappear as we delve deeper into its pages.  They exist only when we isolate specific portions of the Bible from the rest of the volume (the Books of the Law, for example, from the Books of History).  The issue is one of context, not contradiction.

It should be obvious that neglecting the context of a passage is dangerous (we’ve all had our own words taken out of context from time to time), but the temptation to do just that is overwhelming.  After all, which one of us doesn’t want to appear to be on top of current scholarship?  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the issue with a couple of case studies centering on the tricky apparent contradictions mentioned earlier.

This week, however, we’ll conclude with the generally accepted (but sometimes questioned) rule that if texts which are otherwise sound (are scientifically and historically accurate, display the cultural understanding of eye-witnesses, and are logically consistent) fail to be doctrinally consistent, they don’t qualify for inclusion in the Christian Canon.

Devotions, Retail Ready

A Whole New Wardrobe

(The following excerpt is taken from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce”, available for purchase on Kindle for $7.99 or in print from Amazon for $9.99.)

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” – Isaiah 64:6

I looked up from my conversation as a sandy haired cowboy strode through the double doors, his clothes covered in muck. In farming and ranching country, we get an awful lot of muck covered customers (many wearing that special men’s cologne “Eu de Cow”), but this poor gentleman looked as if he’d fallen into a pond of it and rolled around a few times.

“I have to be somewhere in an hour and I don’t have time to go home. Would you help me with some clothes?”

His tone was urgent and I readily walked with him to the clothing department where we began the process of selecting an entirely new wardrobe. Retiring to the changing room, he tried everything on at once, then folded his dirty clothes and headed for the check stands where I faced the distinct challenge of ringing up his purchase.

Doubtless, the two of us were quite a site as I attempted to remove each of the security tags from his garments. Our de-tagger was firmly attached to the counter and he had to perform the work of a contortionist in order for me to remove each security device! Having completed the sale, I gave him one final look over, then released him: a new man.

Scripture tell us that we, too, became “new men” when we placed our faith in Christ. Our old man has been crucified with Him and we, like my customer, have exchanged the muck-covered garments of our sin for the spotless new wardrobe of His righteousness.

Challenge: Are you still dressed in the righteousness of Christ or are you struggling with the temptation to put on the “muddy” garments of your own best efforts once more? This week, find someone to partner with you to help keep you accountable to God and encourage you to rely on His work for you rather than upon your own efforts!

Apologetics, College Ministry, Missions Monday, Study Helps

Josh McDowell Ministry

As an agnostic college student, Josh McDowell was more than willing to respond to the challenge of his Christian friends to defeat their faith on an intellectual level.  After all, if Christianity were false (a worthless religion), it should be easy enough to disprove!  What Josh found, however, was entirely different.  As he investigated the claims of Christ, he discovered that the evidence was deeply in favor of the faith he sought to deny.  The discovery changed his life… and he has been sharing the story ever since.

The Josh McDowell Ministry is centered upon making a case for the Christian faith and Josh and his team have assembled a wealth of resources to help anyone who is interested in actively seeking answers to life’s difficult questions.  From agnostics (those who really just don’t know whether God exists and, if He does, whether He really cares) to confirmed believers, the Josh McDowell Ministry has a little something for everyone!

Not sure about the Christian faith?  Then Answers to Skeptic’s Questions is the link for you!  Josh addresses questions like, “Why should I believe your interpretation of the Bible?”, “Why does a good God allow evil to exist?”, “How do you explain contradictions in the resurrection story?”, and more.  From the broadly philosophical to specific questions about Biblical teaching, you’ll find some of the most common (and best) questions about the Christian faith answered right here.

More interested in practical issues?  Take a look at Answers for Teens where Josh addresses topics ranging from parents and self-image to sex and abuse.  Or, visit the resources page where you’ll find everything from books to free downloads on the subjects that matter most.  Prefer to watch and listen?  This link will give you access to recordings of Josh’s testimony, the latest ministry videos, and even a podcast you can enjoy on your way to school or work!

Resources are great, but Josh also recognizes that the message of the Gospel is one of relationship – both between God and men and between people as individuals.  To this end, he is actively involved in building positive relationships between Christians and Muslims through A Bridge to Understanding.  Take a moment to view the video “Love Thy Neighbor” and check out ways that you can become involved in sharing the Good News with those who are seeking to know God.

Want to be more involved?  Ministries like this don’t exist without the help of regular staff and dedicated volunteers.  Click on the embedded link if you’d like to explore opportunities to serve.

Answering Questions about the Bible, Apologetics, How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Logical Non-contradiction

Last week, in “Cultural Understanding”, we took our first look at non-contradiction – a test which has historically been applied to help determine what does or doesn’t deserve a place within the Christian Scriptures.  We discovered (with the help of some archaeological “digging”) that not all apparent contradictions are actually contradictory and considered the importance of taking the time to uncover all of the facts (or at least as many as possible) before passing judgment on conflicting texts.  We also learned the importance of being open to our initial judgment being proven wrong – just as any good archaeologist or historian would be.  This week, we’ll take our discussion a bit further as we examine the role played by eye-witnesses and the importance of logical non-contradiction within the pages of the Bible.  Our focal point?  The New Testament.

As we discussed last week, some of the apparent discrepancies in Scripture result not from genuine contradictions, but from our lack of knowledge regarding ancient cultures.  A prime New Testament example of this principle can be found in the chronology (timeline) of the Gospels.  Take a moment to flick through their pages and you will quickly notice that the events don’t always take place in the same order in each account.  Nor does every account contain the same details of each event.  While some might be tempted to discard the lot as “contradictory”, this is far from the case.

Unlike modern biographers, the goal of ancient writers was not to present a chronological account of the life of an individual, i.e., to tell their tale from birth through death, but to convey a point about that life.  Each historian considered not just the raw events (as modern journalists aspire to do), but their implications for the lives of their chosen audience.  When audiences differed, so did the material presented.  The result is that two authors each giving an account of the same historical figure might include radically different details and in a distinctly different order – yet both be quite accurate in their reporting.

This isn’t a case of “spinning” the events in favor of one particular view or another, but of selecting the most pertinent material for a given audience – much as a professor might share the same concepts in an High School class or a college class, but with different “supporting” information.  For example, because his audience was primarily Jewish and was deeply familiar with the Torah, Matthew focuses his Gospel on the ways in which Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophesy.  Mark, on the other hand, was more interested in sharing with a Gentile audience who would have been bored stiff by such details.  Instead, he focuses his account upon Christ’s practical influence upon the lives of those who surrounded Him.  The result of these considerations (as well as others) is that we find differences between the accounts such as Matthew telling the story of two men beside the Jericho road (Matthew 20:29,30) while Mark relates the tale of only one (Mark 10:46).  This apparent discrepancy in numbers is not a contradiction, since Mark does say that Jesus healed “one man” (which is entirely true) and not that Jesus healed “only one man”.

Sound like a bit of verbal wrangling designed to get Christians out of a sticky position?  Not at all!  In fact, we all do the same thing on a daily basis, but (likely due to the fact that most of what we say doesn’t have the potential impact of Scripture) don’t think twice about it.  Take for example, the statement that, “The four of us went to gym class.”  Likely, there are more than four people in your gym class, but if the focus of your dialogue is upon you and your three best friends, your phrasing will reflect that.  Your statement isn’t a lie, a contradiction, or a twisting of the truth even if there are thirty people who actually attend the gym class at your school – the four of you (the stars of the story) did go to class.  The same principles apply to Scripture.

While cultural context and a healthy dose of logic are really all that are needed in order to resolve many of the seeming conflicts contained within the pages of the Bible, clear, provable contradiction (like one book saying there were only two men present while another says there were five) has always been considered sufficient cause to discard any claimant to Divine authority.

Next week, we’ll take a look at one more form of non-contradiction which has played a key role in the formation of the Christian canon: doctrinal non-contradiction, but for now, feel free to share your comments in the box below!

Devotions, Retail Ready

Shoplifting the Hard Way

(The following excerpt is taken from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce”, available for purchase on Kindle for $7.99 or in print from Amazon for $9.99.)

Read: Matthew 6:25-34

“For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on… but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” – Luke12:22b, 30b-31

Shoplifting puzzles me. But shoplifters puzzle me even more. While I met more than a few during the course of my retail career, there were several who had elevated their thievery from base robbery to an opportune art form. Capable of removing merchandise from our store with skill and creativity, I sometimes felt that I ought to have been giving out awards rather than urgent calls for management. And such was the case on this particular afternoon.

I had been casually chatting with my customers as they made their way through my line, enjoying the small-talk if only for the fact that it filled that awkward silence between the merchandise being placed on the counter and my request for payment when a gentleman approached my counter with a large supply of garden chemicals. He placed them on the counter without looking at me and I proceeded to ring them up while attempting to make friendly conversation. Each time I would say something to him, he would respond with a mumble and, presuming that he had a speech impediment of some sort, I didn’t think twice about his lack of engagement.

I had finished the sale, accepted his cash, and was in the process of counting back his change when I got my first full look at his face. I had to do a double take since his cheeks were puffed out as though he were a chipmunk. As he left I stared curiously wondering just what rare disease could cause a person to be so sadly deformed.

He had not made it through the front door when I had my answer. As the light hit him, it also glinted off several objects protruding from between his lips. In a flash, I realized that he was shoplifting a mouthful of nails. I confess that I was too surprised to do anything about the matter. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder why, with his large bulky jacket, he had chosen to shove them all in his mouth instead of his pocket! It would have been so easy to escape unnoticed if only he had done the obvious thing.

And therein lies the moral of our story: it seems to be a standard human fault that most of us make things more difficult than we need to. Even as those who have professed faith in Christ, we tend to spend our time storing up money and possessions, things which we will need in the future. Yet God has promised to take care of these very things if only we will trust in Him! This doesn’t mean, of course, that we never plan for the future, but it does mean that our plans must always be subject to His plans and that we can rest in the knowledge that even when things don’t turn out as we envision, God still has things fully under control!

Challenge: Are you doing things the hard way, focusing on making provisions for yourself and your future? If you are, commit to letting go and letting God. Only He can be fully trusted to meet our needs!

College Ministry, High School Ministries, Missions Monday

Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Formed in 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) is focused on providing young believers with an opportunity to develop their God-given athletic skill in an environment which encourages Christian growth and interaction.  Today, on nearly 8,000 campuses across the nation, FCA is offering High School and College students and opportunity to join together and make a difference both on and off the playing field… and you can be a part!

The website is extensive, so here are a few of my favorite links.  I recommend that you start by signing The Competitor’s Creed, then sign up for the Daily Impact Play devotional where you can explore Scripture from an athlete’s point of view!  You can even check out the FCA Magazine where you’ll find everything from news to inspiring stories about Christians in sports.

Want more?  Check out FCA’s sport-specific fellowship sites.  Pages for baseball, cheerleading, cyclists and triathletes, golf, hockey, lacrosse, motocross, skateboarding, soccer, softball, wrestling, surfing, and a variety of other outdoor sports offer more great ways to participate in a community of Christian athletes!

Looking for something to do in the “off season”?  Take a moment to check out one of FCA’s sports camps – a great place to improve your skills while enjoying Christian coaching and fellowship!  Or get your whole team involved through a team camp!

Not sure if there’s an FCA group meeting on or near your campus?  Enter your zip-code and find a fellowship near you!  There’s plenty to see, so take some time to explore the site.  You’re sure to be blessed as you improve your athletic skills, gain a deeper knowledge of Scripture, and become rooted in the Body of Christ!

Answering Questions about the Bible, Apologetics, How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture: Cultural Understanding

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at the role that “The Test of Value” has played in establishing the Christian canon.  We’ve looked at both science and history and spent some time examining what they can and can’t tell us about the world which surrounds us.  We’ve considered their importance in forming an accurate picture of world events and taken a look at ways in which they help us establish the truth or falsity of an account.

Today, we’ll shift our focus slightly as we begin to delve into yet another test for Holy Writ: that of non-contradiction.  We’ll examine some apparent logical and doctrinal inconsistencies within the pages of the Bible and consider the part that non-contradiction plays in determining what stays and what goes.  But before we get started, let’s take a moment to examine the role of cultural understanding and the ways in which our comprehension of other societies (like those discussed in “Archaeology and Historical Accuracy”) can influence our perception of the Biblical account.

To begin with, it is important to recognize that both Christians and other earnest seekers of the Truth have often found what appear to be “contradictions” within the pages of Scripture – places where two or more accounts are not in agreement with one another.  Such contradictions (if they really are contradictions) would be sufficient cause to discard the passage of the Bible in which they are found and (in some cases) the Bible as a whole.  For this reason, it is important that we not take such textual disagreements lightly.  At the same time, it also pays not to be too hasty in our judgment.  (Wouldn’t it be a shame to throw out something perfectly useful just because we didn’t understand how it worked?)  Things are not always what they seem and a sincere investigator must take the time to learn the facts before he comes to a conclusion.  Many times, the facts which are most relevant are the cultural ones.

Take, for example, the accounts of the reigns of the Israelite and Judean kings from the books of Kings and Chronicles.  An astute observer will notice that the length of their reigns is not always the same from one book to another.  Even other Old Testament accounts seem to leave the actual length of rule in doubt and, for years, scholars were stumped by this discrepancy.  Clearly, both accounts couldn’t be correct – so which one was and why?

It took some digging (literally) to discover that the time-keeping issue unearthed by modern scholars wasn’t actually a discrepancy at all.  The apparent conflict originated not in a logical contradiction, but from a cultural oddity: the two kingdoms, while being adjacent to one another, operated on two different calendar systems – both of which accurately portrayed the reigns of the kings according to the standards of the culture.

In the accession system (used by Israel throughout its entire history), if a king reigned for the last month of a year, he was counted as having ruled for the entire year.  In the non-accession system, however, only full years of a reign were considered.  During the rule of the kings, Judah began with the accession system, switched to the non-accession system, and then switched back – leading to an apparent (but not actual) inconsistency with the Israelite account.  The difficulty then, is not one of contradiction, but of having attempted to understand two separate ancient cultures in light of modern practice.

Such details go a long way to confirm the inerrancy of Scripture.  Had the accounts been written hundreds of years after the events had taken place, a different time keeping system would have been in use.  It is likely that the author would have utilized this more “modern” method – leaving the accounts of the kings’ reigns to be proven inaccurate (and inauthentic) at a later date when the details of accession and non-accession time-keeping were uncovered

Meanwhile, an accurate cultural understanding goes a long way towards smoothing over many of the apparent discrepancies contained within the Christian canon.  The moral of the story?  Before discarding the Bible (or any portion of it), take the time to gain an understanding of the culture in which the text in question actually originated.  Like the scholars who discovered the Israelite and Judean calendars, you may be surprised by what you unearth!

Devotions, Retail Ready

This is Worthless

(The following excerpt is taken from “Retail Ready: 90 Devotions for Teens in the Workforce”, available for purchase on Kindle for $7.99 or in print from Amazon for $9.99.)

Read: Philippians 2:5-13

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

It was clear that not everyone who was standing around my table was actually listening to what I had to say. Some of them had the nerve to admit that they’d just listened to my pitch, but weren’t paying attention. Would I please tell them what the advantages of the club were… just one more time?
Others, however, weren’t so courageous. One lady, in particular, had heard my explanation of our member card and its benefits at least three times before signing up, but even then, she didn’t seem to understand the card’s purpose. When she went to check out and was told that the Garden Club Card was not a general discount on everything in the store, she was enraged! She returned to my table, threw the card at me, and in a raised voice proclaimed, “This is worthless!”
Of course, the card really wasn’t worthless, it just didn’t do exactly what she wanted it to. Sadly, many people come to Christ with similar misconceptions: under the impression that a relationship with Christ is going to change their world from thorns to roses. When it doesn’t, they get angry and give up!
The truth of the matter is that we live in a sinful world. If we’re not suffering the effects of our own mis-deeds, we’re suffering the effects of someone else’s. So long as we live on this planet or in this universe, things will go wrong. People will die, jobs will be lost, bills won’t be met, cars will be wrecked, major medical needs will be had, and natural disasters will occur. Knowing Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior won’t change that.
This doesn’t, however, mean that a relationship with Christ isn’t worth anything! While knowing Jesus won’t magically change your world into a place of constant harmony and happiness, it does change the way you look at the world in which you live. And this leads to joy and peace. Those who accept Christ as their Savior no longer need to feel that everything is falling apart simply because things don’t go the way they thought they should. Instead, we can navigate life’s storms in peace with the knowledge that everything that comes our way is filtered through God’s fingers first. Each challenge or difficulty we encounter has been allowed for the purpose of refining us and making us more like our Lord. God has promised us that in the end, everything in our lives will work out for good. And this is a comforting thought!

Challenge: Is your trust in God or in what you hope that He will do for you? There is a big difference between the two!

Get Involved, Missions Monday, Prayer

Samaritan’s Purse

If you’d asked me several months ago to tell you what came to mind when someone said “Samaritan’s Purse”, my response would have been “Operation Christmas Child”.  Since 1993, 77 million shoeboxes filled with gifts, treats, and basic necessities have been distributed to impoverished children around the world.  Each box, faithfully packed by Christians just like you and me, brings with it both the Gospel message and a genuine hope for the future.

But did you know that Samaritan’s Purse is also actively involved in providing disaster relief around the world?  Join their Volunteer Network and you too, can be involved in rebuilding homes in Japan and Haiti or providing relief to victims right here in the U.S.!

Through World Medical Mission, Samaritan’s Purse is actively placing Christian doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical personnel in mission clinics worldwide.  These short-term servants are playing an integral role in bringing basic medical care to the underprivileged as well as providing the education necessary to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS.  Visit their site to share their mission and Support a Physician!

If you’d like to try something closer to home, check out the newest addition to the Samaritan’s Purse family, “Operation Heal Our Patriots”.  Dedicated to helping U.S. combat veterans and their families recover from the trauma caused by long absence and the horrors of war, “Operation Heal Our Patriots” is providing Christ-centered marriage and financial counseling to our wounded warriors.

There’s plenty more to see, so take a moment to browse the site.  Then, commit to making a difference!

Answering Questions about the Bible, Apologetics, How Do Christians Determine What They Accept As Scripture

How Do Christians Determine What They Accept as Scripture: Archaeology and Historical Accuracy

Last week in “The Test of Value”, we began to take a look at the influence that accuracy (especially scientific accuracy) has played in determining whether Christians accept or reject a book as Scripture.  This week, we’ll continue the theme by examining the issue of historical accuracy and the role that archaeology has played in determining what does or doesn’t merit a place in the Bible.

Before we begin, however, we must take a moment to understand what the field of archaeology can and can’t offer us in regard to determining historical truth.  It is important to recognize that archaeology does not deal directly with history, but with what remains of history.  The story which artifacts tell must be deduced from their surroundings and, sometimes, due to the differences between modern cultures and ancient ones, these deductions are inaccurate.  (If you want a great example of an argument which has arisen as the result of such deductions, take a moment to do an internet search for “Qumran” (the ancient community located near the spot where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).  You may be surprised at what you find!)

As our knowledge of the ancient world expands, so do the possibilities for interpreting its remains.  What at one time was a “proven fact” can quickly be discarded as a misinterpretation of the evidence.  This isn’t always the case, but it does happen frequently enough to leave room for doubt.  The result is that while archaeology can do much to confirm details of an account, it is not always a source of absolute truth.  Its evidence must be weighed, often in the light of the evidence from other fields of study, before we arrive at a conclusion.  In a sense, archaeology is the handmaiden of history – illuminating our understanding of recorded history by bringing its remnants to light.

One of the most common errors made in regard to these remnants is the “argument from silence”, i.e., to argue that something (or someone) did not exist simply because no evidence of its existence has ever been found.  While this might sound reasonable at first, the argument falls to pieces upon further investigation.  For years, it was argued that the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament were a fictional group of people.  No remnant of their society had been found anywhere near the expected Biblical location and no mention of them was made in any other ancient literature.  If God really had promised their land to the Israelites, the promise had been an empty one.

That is, until the early 1900’s when Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered an impossibly large cache of clay tablets confirming that the Hittites had existed!  Since then, archaeologists have unearthed many remnants of their society.  The lack of evidence once thought to disconfirm the claims of Scripture was turned into a treasure trove which confirmed Scripture.

So what role does archaeology play in validating a book as part of the Christian Bible?  To begin with, it does provide us with known facts.  Archaeology has uncovered much evidence to support the Biblical record (evidence of places and people named within the pages of Scripture) and archaeologists have done a wonderful job when it comes to illuminating our understanding of ancient cultures.  As the picture becomes more complete and more gaps are filled, we find ample evidence that the writers of the Bible did live at the time and in the places they claimed.

So what happens when a book that claims to be Scripture is disproven through archaeology or other historical documentation?  The same thing that happens when a volume is proven scientifically inaccurate: it is discarded.  It has been discredited as the Word of God and does not merit a place within our Holy writ.