Saturday, May 20, 2006

Southern Baptists and Landmarkism Part 1

Recently, I have published a booklet on the history of Landmarkism in the SBC in the lead-up to the Convention in June. There are only 1000 copies in print due to the printing being donated by an individual in a local church, and they are being distributed by other individuals throughout the SBC. Therefore, in order to make the full text available to as many as wish to read it, not just "the chosen few," whoever they may be (I honestly know of only a handful of those who have received it), I am posting the content on a separate URL.

For those interested, you can read it here:

I am posting it a bit at the time and will endeavor to have it completed by sometime next week.

Fact & faith

Zeteo Eurisko said:

“This is circular on two levels. First, this is the classic argument that the Bible is God’s Word because the Bible says it is God’s word. Second, with more detail, you are saying that the error-prone versions of the Bible we have now are descendants of divinely inspired autographs because those inspired autographs (which we don’t have) say they are divinely inspired.”

i) I wasn’t attempting to mount an argument for the inerrancy of Scripture since that was not your question at this stage of the discussion.

Your question was not, “Why do I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture?” But, “Why do I believe in the errancy of the copies?” or “Why don’t I believe in the errancy of the copies?”

Indeed, your question took the inerrancy of Scripture for granted and then proceeded to ask why I didn’t extend that principle to the copies.

I’m answering you according to the way you choose to frame your own question. If, for the sake of argument, you assume the inerrancy of Scripture, and then use that as leverage to demonstrate an inconsistency between affirming the inerrancy of Scripture and disaffirming the inerrancy of the copies, it is scarcely circular for me to answer you at your own level. I’m merely answering you at the level at which you chose to pitch the question.

Of course you don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but, for purposes of your argument, you traded on that assumption in order to generate a point of tension in Evangelical belief.

ii) And, of course, I share your operating assumption as a matter of principle, and not merely for the sake of argument.

That said, why would I believe in the inerrancy of the copies? On the one hand, this is not a Scriptural claim. My rule of faith does not commit me to that proposition.

On the other hand, there is no extrascriptural evidence for this claim. So I have no reason, one way or the other, to subscribe to inerrant copies.

iii) Any Christian is going to use the Bible as a reason for believing certain things. That’s what makes it a rule of faith.

However, as Jason also pointed out, to use our rule of faith as a reason for believing certain things does not imply that we have no reason for believing in our rule of faith.

To the contrary, we wouldn’t use the Bible as our rule of faith unless we had good reason for believing in Scripture.

iv) Quine described a human belief-structure as a web of believe. We believe certain things on account of another belief. I believe y because I believe x, and x entails y.

So one belief can function as evidence of another belief. As a result, we have first and second-order beliefs.

That doesn’t preclude our having separate evidence for x and y alike. Or for x alone. Or for y alone.

I can have good reason for my first-order belief, while my first-order belief also functions, in turn, as a reason for my second-order belief.

v) Also, while the self-witness of Scripture is insufficient reason to believe it, this is a necessary reason.

There would be no reason at all to believe that God was speaking to us unless God identified himself as the speaker.

Now, a speaker can make a false claim, but there has to be a claim on the table to either believe or disbelieve, prove or disprove.

Unless the Bible laid claim to divine inspiration, it wouldn’t even be in play as a revelatory claimant.

v) We don’t say the autographa were inspired because the autographa make this claim. Rather, we say the autographa were inspired, in part because the copies make this claim on behalf of the autographa, and the textual integrity of the copies is more than sufficient to conserve the original claim intact.

“This strikes me as a remarkably safe position. Anything that can be observed and tested, such as errors in our extant texts, can be attributed to errors in transmission.”

One of the problems with this discussion thus far is that you have developed a rather canned critique of your former faith. And you jimmy everything your Christian opponent has to say into this preconceived grid. You are only hearing what you expect to hear or want to hear, not what was actually said.

You need to be a better listener. You’ll recall that my reply to Dagood was far more targeted. I cited a specific argument (from Tov) for the principle of conjectural emendation. And I cited specific evidence for textual variants in the numerical figures for the comparative Biblical data.

So this is not a “safe” answer. This is, rather, a well-documented answer.

“The actual autographs, which can never be observed, are glorified as perfect and inspired. The part of the process we see today – the transmission – is clearly controlled by men.”

You are failing to draw some elementary distinctions:

i) There is nothing artificial about distinguishing between copies and originals. This isn’t distinctive to Scripture.

An original may or may not be error-free, but a hand-written copy is likely to contain mistakes that don’t go back to the original.

All a Christian apologist is doing is to apply a general principle to the special case of Scripture.

This may strike you as convenient, but that doesn’t make it suspect. Christians have a perfect right to defend the Bible by appeal to commonplace principles which are equally applicable to scriptural and extrascriptural documents alike.

ii) Some documentary phenomena are more prone to textual corruption that others. Numbers are quite vulnerable to mistranscription, and once miscopied, are difficult to catch and correct after they have entered the textual tradition.

We do not invoke mistranscription to account for every apparent difficulty or discrepancy in Scripture.

iii) Belief in the inerrancy of the autographa is not predicated on the distinction between copies and originals.

Rather, that belief has its own particular and positive lines of evidence.

The distinction between copies and originals merely serves a negative purpose in demonstrating that certain problems with the extant MS record are entirely consistent with inerrancy of the autographa.

This doesn’t prove the autographa to be inerrant, but neither does it prove them to be errant. That’s the point.

“Rather than extrapolating backwards and concluding the whole development of the text (including the authorship) could reasonably be explained by the same process, once we are beyond our ability to observe, the supernatural is invoked as the explanation.”

As a former Christian you ought to know that this is a very contrive characterization of what Christians believe and why.

i) Christians do no “invoke” the supernatural as an explanatory stopgap whenever observation falls short.

a) Rather, they believe the supernatural, in part because they believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms the supernatural.

b) They may also have a personal experience of the supernatural, or know some trusted acquaintance who had.

c) They may also have historical, scientific or philosophical arguments for the supernatural.

The distinction is categorical rather than quantitative. Not that we lack enough evidence to account for a given phenomenon given the same observable process, but that more evidence would be the wrong kind of evidence because the phenomenon in question belongs to a different domain.

“It is a faith-based position against which argumentation is likely useless.”

That’s another invidious characterization. You implicitly oppose faith and reason.

Although there are exceptions, deconversion stories follow a stereotypical pattern. A nominal Christian grows up within a very insular, anti-intellectual and/or legalistic Christian tradition, like fundamentalism or Pentecostalism. As soon as he goes to college, he loses his faith.

What we often end up with is a postgraduate version of atheism arrayed against a Sunday school version of Christian theism.

Now, the apostate or backslider may had good reason to rebel against certain deficiencies in his religious upbringing.

But exposing the intellectual limitations of your Sunday school teacher or small-town pastor or youth minister is a far cry from disproving the Christian faith.

That would make as much sense as disproving atheism by disproving the village atheist.

If you feel the need to compare and contrast the alternatives, you need to compare a post-graduate version of atheism with a post-graduate version of Christian theism.

BTW, I’m not saying that you personally are guilty of this. But it’s a common problem. A debate between a college-educated twenty-something against his teenage alter-ego.

Obviously a 25-year old version of “Zeteo” can argue circles around a 15-year old version of himself. That’s hardly a fair fight.

“Granted, but I am not claiming to have knowledge of the mind of God. Protestant theology does claim to know how God has worked.”

Yes, but you’re raising an objection that is not directly addressed in Scripture, so a knowledge of God’s mind is not terribly germane to the answer.

“What do you do, then, when our best methods of recovering the original still result in 800,000 = 1.1 million? I still have not had an answer to that question.”

Actually, I thought I already answered that question.

In the face of certain textual variants, we may have insufficient data at our disposal to say which figure is correct, or whether either figure is correct.

The state of the MS evidence is, at this juncture, insufficient to resolve the conflict.

Lower criticism is unable to retrieve the original reading in every instance.

But these are penny-ante details. No article of faith is at risk because we can’t say for sure if the original figure was 800,000, 1.1 million, or something else.

“I think this statement – and your argument from incredulity that follows it – regarding the ridiculous results of God constantly intervening into the lives of men is more in your problem domain to answer than mine. I do not believe that God has ever intervened. If he has, the results you describe apply as much to your claim of inspired scripture as they do to your example of how ridiculous it would be for God to constantly inspire our speech. One is not more or less unbelievable than the other.”

i) This all-or-nothing approach is highly artificial and irrational. If divine “intervention” is necessary in some situations, but unnecessary in others, how does the fact that God won’t “intervene” more often than he needs to a problem for my position? This is not even an apparent problem.

ii) The distinction between divine speech and merely human speech is a principled distinction, not an ad hoc distinction.

This is involved in the very notion of special revelation. To extend that process to every single scribe would not extend the principle, but destroy the principle.

Moving along:


Now this cuts to the chase. I am beginning to realize that a large component of my disbelief has stemmed from my fading belief in the supernatural. I explained this from a philosophical perspective on my blog here, but that discussion is ancillary to this one (and it needs re-writing!). As a Christian music leader, I would sing in one of my favorite songs, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you." I would really like to see and know God, but He’s frankly not there for the observing. (Again, see the blog article if you want a fuller opinion.)

Revealed knowledge – the Bible – should provide observable evidence of its unified divine origin. In most of the studies that I have done on my own, I have not found (or, perhaps, not understood) this evidence. But I won’t do you the disservice of assuming your argument. To what lines of evidence would you point me that demonstrate scriptural inspiration?

I recognize that this is a very broad question, and I will be satisfied with resources (books, websites) rather than an in-depth response.


This query raises a number of issues.

For starters, the evidence is no better than the rules of evidence. Among other things, you say the following on your blog:


Miracles are acts that must be experienced to believe. Reason cannot be used to compel a person to believe in them since by their very definition they are contrary to reason.

Thus to believe in the miraculous (or the supernatural), I have to experience it directly. I do not believe I ever have. I have prayed throughout my life to witness the supernatural or a miracle, because I believe that this is a huge barrier to my belief. I am one of those for whom God has allotted a small measure of faith, and I need, like Thomas, to see before I believe. I'll pass on the extra helping of blessing granted to those who believe without seeing to gain the smallest foothold in the world of belief. For now, though, I find it hard to believe in the supernatural or in miracles.

A review of my original post reveals my position that the supernatural can only be understood through experience. We have two means of acquiring knowledge as human beings: reason and experience. The supernatural is something that by definition defies reason -- the only explanation for the supernatural is something outside the reasonable, natural world. There does not exist a process rooted solely in reason that can have us understand the resurrection of a dead man. Thus, I make the case that experiencing a miracle is the only means by which we can acquire knowledge of a miracle or supernatural event. Having not experienced the miracles - including the resurrection of Christ - I claim that there is no means through reason that one can gain knowledge of them, and thus belief in them. Therefore, I do not believe in the supernatural, having neither experienced it nor been given reason to believe in it.


i) You assert that “by definition,”’ the supernatural (or miraculous) defies reason; hence, direct experience is the only fallback position.

You make this assertion as if it were self-evident that the supernatural defies reason. Why you think so is very unclear. So say a miracle is unreasonable because it lies outside the “reasonable” (i.e. “natural”) world is viciously circular.

Let us also keep in mind that you are imposing an extrinsic framework on Scripture, then judging the Bible by that extraneous grid.

The natural/supernatural dichotomy is basically a secular schema to begin with.

From the Biblical perspective, “natural” events are also acts of God.

From a Biblical perspective, angels and demons are natural rather than supernatural beings, for they, too, are merely creatures—just like plants and animals and man.

From a Biblical perspective, the whole “interventionist” model is synthetic and deistic, as if the created order were a box, so God must poke a hole in the box and parachute in from the outside to be involved in mundane affairs.

At the back of your mind you seem to be operating with the deistic model of a clockwork universe.

God winds up the clock, and it runs on its own except when the watch is running fast or slow, and which point God must interfere to make repairs or reset the watch or rewind it.

This is a completely unscriptural image of God’s relation to the world. God is more like an author than a watchmaker. Indeed, the Bible uses literary metaphors for God.

So a more Biblical model would be something like Dante’s relation to the Commedia.

Dante is the author. He exists outside of the book. He wrote the book.

But he also wrote himself into the book as the main character.

ii) From this faulty premise you say that the only alternative is experience, in which case you can only believe in a miracle if you personally observe a miracle.

Even if your premise were true, I hardly see how your conclusion follows.

A miraculous event is like any other event in being an event. If we believe in the occurrence of other events on the testimony of others, then there’s no a priori reason why we should automatically discount testimony to the miraculous.

iii) You are also conflating your categories. You say “we have two means of acquiring knowledge as human beings: reason and experience...There does not exist a process rooted solely in reason that can have us understand the resurrection of a dead man.”

But our understanding of death is a truth of fact, not a truth of reason. A result of experience and observation, not reason alone, if reason at all.

I’ll finish with a few other comments on your post. You say:

“There is no means of reasoning your way into believing these unreasonable claims without, as mentioned before, sacrificing your intellectual honesty by accepting the Bible as true from the outset.”

You also say:

“My discussions of the "Moral Argument" were intended to comprise a rejection of it. I listed Ravi Zacharias' claims as those with which I disagree. I will grant that an absence of God does change the way many people look at Law, Hope, and Meaning. Nonetheless, a human desire for absolute law, hope for the future, and meaning to our lives does not necessitate God, as RZ seems to argue in the linked sermons and in his book Can Man Live Without God. This amounts to wishing God into existence because he would be the last piece of our law/hope/meaning puzzles. I reject the argument as wishful thinking.”

But if atheism leads you to disavow ultimate meaning or moral absolutism then why be intellectually honest?

Secularism has sawed off the branching you’re sitting on.

“My point: of all the arguments for the existence of God, the only one that leads a person to the God of the Bible is the argument from Miracles. Moral arguments, cosmological arguments, and teleological arguments can lead a person to a God-concept or a moral absolute, but not to the God of the Bible.”

There are two problems with this claim:

i) It disregards the argument from prophecy and typology.

ii) True, the theistic proofs do not coincide with the God of the Bible. But they may intersect with the God of the Bible.

The God of special revelation is the same God as the God of general revelation. Scripture gives us a more highly specified description of the same God.

Moving along:

“My point about the cosmological argument was that the very concept of causation depends entirely on the meaning of time. The foundation of the cause/effect relationship is removed when time cannot be used as a descriptor. With space and time unequivocally linked since Einstein, there is no meaning to the phrase "before the beginning of the universe." To describe what happened before the universe ( e.g., to describe the cause of the universe) is to describe what happened before time. Again, you cannot have a concept of "before" without the concept of time. Thus, the cosmological argument dissolves into meaninglessness as soon as you begin to describe the cause that existed before the universe.”

This is way too facile.

i) Remember that words like “before” and “after” are literally spatial makers, not temporal markers.

We find it convenient to conceptualize temporal relations by using the metaphor of spatial divisions.

But this is figurative. And we could substitute a different spatial metaphor to express the same idea.

Instead of saying that God existed “before” the world, or “preexisted,” we could just as well say that God subsists “apart” from the world.

You’re getting carried away with metaphors.

ii) The Kalam version is an a priori argument prized on the distinction between an abstract actual infinite and a concrete potential infinite.

As such, its soundness is irrespective of a posteriori considerations.

iii) The universe can still have a point of origin or first moment.

All you’ve done is to relocate the original problem. To say that time began with the universe doesn’t nothing to explain how time began, why time began.

“For the sake of brevity, let's grant that the Bible we have is exactly what was written by the original authors, all the books included in it are exclusively the correct ones with no omissions, and that it is generally accurate in describing testable historical events ( e.g., city locations, who was a ruler and when, wars, etc.). This still does nothing to establish a precedent to believe the Biblical authors when they make claims about the supernatural. Fallacies could have been correctly reproduced throughout history in a document that records a mostly accurate secular history of events interwoven with tales of the supernatural. Just because the book was reproduced correctly does not mean that what is being reproduced is true. Just because the book describes wars and rulers to within reasonable limits of accuracy does not mean that when it begins to describe the supernatural, we should believe it on these points as well.”

Once again, you’re moving way too fast:

i) It’s reasonable to infer that if a writer is accurate where he can be tested, then he’s probably as accurate where he cannot be tested.

It is not as if an otherwise reliable writer suddenly becomes unreliable when he changes the subject or says something we cannot confirm.

Remember that the Bible writers had no advance knowledge of what corroborative evidence would survive the vicissitudes of time.

So it’s not as if they were in a position to plant a few easily verifiable claims so that they could trade on that to make some false, but unfalsifiable claims.

ii) It isn’t possible to compartmentalize the Bible into a record of natural and supernatural events.

iii) To quote, as well as add to, something I said elsewhere:

Different men are impressed by different types of evidence.

Some men are more empirical, others more philosophical, still others more existential. There are many possible reasons for believing in the Bible.

Existential readers are impressed by its psychological realism, by the way in which the men and women depicted in Scripture act just like you’d expect real men and women to act in real life situations.

They are also impressed by the way in which they can find themselves in Scripture, by the “shock of recognition” as it offers an uncannily accurate diagnosis of their own condition. As they identify with the spiritual experience of David or Paul.

Likewise, they are impressed by the work of grace in the lives of the saints, who model their lives on Scripture.

Empirical readers are more impressed by patterns of prophetic and typological fulfillment as seemingly divergent OT motifs suddenly converge in the NT on the person and work of Christ.

For example:

T. D. Alexander, The Servant King (Regent 2003).

Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock (Kregel 2004).

They are also impressed by the way in which Bible history coincides in time and place with extra-Biblical history, as borne out by Biblical archeology and the like.

For example:

Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (IVP 1999).

_____, The Birth of Christianity (Eerdmans 2005).

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns 1990).

Kenneth Kitchen, On the Historical Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003).

Or, to take a couple of detailed examples, the synoptic problem affords us an independent check on how Matthew and Luke react one of their sources (assuming Markan priority). We can see for ourselves how extremely conscientious and conservative they are in the minor changes they make to Mark.

Or, for another example, Andreas Köstenberger has an excursus on “Johannine Asides” in his Encountering John (Baker 2003), 250-52.

Now, if John were just making up scenes and speeches as he went along, he would not include these parenthetical comments. Rather, he would incorporate the interpretation directly into the narrative.

These editorial asides only make sense if the composition of the Fourth Gospel is a two-stage process in which he first records what was actually said and done, as he saw it and heard it, and then glosses the record for the benefit of readers who weren’t there and wouldn’t be privy to the explanatory context.

Philosophical readers are more impressed by the explanatory power of Scripture in its philosophy of history.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Christocentricity of the Old Testament

Much to my surprise, my short article on the Covenantal hermeneutic which responded to a question by Bobby Grow has received a very gracious response from the local blogosphere. While I am wholly convinced that this has no explanation in me as a writer or exegete, I think that this is partly because we don’t often read expositions of these particular texts in today’s literature–published or electronic. And when we do read such exegesis, it often fails to be christocentrically-focused.

But the Old Testament is bursting at the seems with overwhelming richness concerning the treasures of Christ. Dispensationalists would certainly agree. However, they often fail to recognize the Christocentricity of certain Old Testament texts.

Therefore, for the benefit of both Dispensationalists and Federalists, I’d like to turn our attention to quite an amazing Christocentric Old Testament text (one in which we may produce an exegesis that both Dispensationalists and and Federalists would agree with):

Zecariah 2:10-13 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.” Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.

The book of Zechariah is one altogether Christ-centered book. It reaches it’s climactic peak when ten chapters later it proclaims, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” The Apostle John rightly recognizes this wonderful prophecy as being fulfilled in Christ (John 19:37).

There are several important things to note from the Zechariah 2 passage:

1. God’s people–his Church, the “daughter of Zion” (as opposed to the “daughter of Babylon,” 2:7)–are to sing and rejoice. Though they were presently in distress, they were to rejoice. Though their lives met many trials, they were to sing.

2. But this rejoicing did not lack reason. Doctrinally uninformed worship fails to make God the true object of worship. Theology always leads to doxology. If your theology does not lead you to a doxology, then the problem lies either in the theology itself or in your heart that fails to respond appropriately to God’s truth. But, by the same token, many attempt to skip the step of theology and immediately enter doxology; their worship, as a result of skipping this crucial step, is ignorant and misplaced. Who can worship a God that he does not know?

Thus, God immediately gives his people a reason to rejoice and be glad: for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. The immediate fulfillment of this promise was found in the dedication of the Temple and the subsequent regular observing of God’s institutions. But even this text itself hints at something infinitely greater: the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

John states in the beginning of his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is in the Incarnation of Christ, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), that God’s glory is most displayed.

3. Two persons of the Trinity are both undeniably present in this text: “I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. …And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.” It is the Lord who is dwelling, but it is the Lord of hosts who sent him.

A similar distinction is made further on in the prologue of John:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God. God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Christ the Word, the “only unique God,” who is “at the Father’s side” and “with God” (v. 1), is the single means of knowing God. Outside of Christ, there is not one means of relating personally with the Father. Apart from Christ, we would be doomed sinners with dashed hopes. But since God has made his dwelling among us in Christ, we can sing and rejoice!

And the fact that Christ was sent by the Father is unambiguously evident: and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. Christ testified to this fact on numerous occasions and coupled his assertions with sufficient proof. And yet, despite this, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).

3. God’s portion and inheritance will be his people. And he will once again choose Jerusalem that his name might be glorified in it (1 Peter 2:9).

4. While God’s people will “sing and rejoice,” all flesh is command to be silent, for the Lord–and I love this imagery–has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Knowing God initiates in the command to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). But, for God’s people, it does not end here. Knowledge of God should result in jubilant praise.

However, the reprobate who have a heart of stone and no will or ability to please or praise God (Romans 8:7-8) are unable to enjoy obeying this command. They can be silent; indeed, they will be made silent, made to clasp their hands to their mouths before the enthroned Judge Christ as they bow and confess his Lordship (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). But they will not be given the gift of regeneration, and consequently they will have no love or enjoyment. Their silence will not result in praise; the silence will only call their attention further to the tormenting flames as the experience firsthand the glory of God manifested in his holy wrath.

Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). To live a life that intellectually explores the Scriptures but fails to exalt and exult in the revealed God of the Scriptures is nothing short of a tragedy. It is for this reason, among many others, that we must continually preach Christ from all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27), that those who know him might know him better, and that those who hate him might come to see and savore his love.

“Christ is the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the meeting-place of all the waters in the world, so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet” -John Flavel

Evan May.

Inerrancy & autographa

Zeteo Eurisko said:

“Thus, back to my honest query for you. Adequacy is not the question.”

Adequacy is the question when it’s a question of copies. Inerrant copies don’t figure in the traditional definition of inerrancy.

“Inerrancy is.”

Once again, you were originally asking for a definition. The definition of inerrancy doesn’t extend to the copies.

I don’t mind if you want to ask a different question, but that’s an accurate answer to the first part of you question.

“The question remains unanswered: why would God bother to directly inspire authors and not take an intervening role in preserving the text?”

Several issues here:

i) The source of Protestant theology is revealed theology. We don’t do theology by positing what we think would be an ideal state of affairs, and then positing the conditions to realize that ideal.

One basic reason we ascribe inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies is that Scripture ascribes inerrancy to the autographa and not to the copies.

ii) We do believe that God had a providential role in the preservation of the text. But he did not will to preserve a textual tradition identical to the autographa.

iii) Since your question is speculative, the answer will be speculative.

There is certainly a difference between having errant copies of errant originals, and having errant copies of inerrant originals.

This is especially the case if it’s possible to recover the original with a high degree of certainty from errant copies.

And this is the more so if (a), due to the redundancy of Biblical teaching, as well as (b) the trivial nature of most textual variants, no article of the faith was lost as a consequence of a fallible transmission process.

It is simply unnecessary to have inerrant copies if you can retrieve the original to a sufficient degree of accuracy using ordinary methods of transcription and critical reconstruction.

iv) Indeed, for God to inspire every scribe would blur the distinction between special revelation and ordinary providence, divine speech and human speech.

This would defeat the purpose of having revelation in the first place, since it would become impossible to demarcate the line between inspired and uninspired speech, to know when one took up where the other left off.

Are we to suppose that if Bertrand Russell were quoting Scripture to disprove Scripture, God would have to inspire Russell’s citation, so that Russell would be divinely inspired every time he quoted the Bible?

What about a paraphrase or summary? Would that also have to be inspired?

Even before the Fall there was a difference between God speaking and Adam speaking, where one ended while the other began.

“Asking the question from another angle: if the preservation of scripture is clearly the work of fallible men, could not the authorship be as well?”

This question is ambiguous. Are you asking if the ascription of authorship could be fallible, or are you asking if the Scriptural authors could be fallible?

“Most importantly, how do we tell the difference?”

i) If you’re posing the first version of the question (authorial attribution), then that’s a matter of internal and external evidence regarding authorship.

ii) If you’re posing the second version of the question (inspired authorship), then that goes to the various lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

The hillbilly infidel

I see that I’ve been accorded the priceless honor of being blogspotted by Reginald Finley.

He takes offense at something I posted without, however, explaining what was offensive about it.

This proves my motto that the nicest thing about being a rationalist is that you never have to give a reason for your rationalism.

A freethinker is someone who is free not to think.

If you want to know more about Reggie, I’d recommend that you spend some quality time combing through the archives of Frank Walton’s blog, where much illuminating material is contained therein.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

How to make a bad situation worse


The first and most immediate impact of the president's amnesty/guestworker plan will be a huge increase in taxes on the American middle-class. 11 million illegals - plus unknown numbers of guestworkers and other low-income migrants - will become eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, for Medicaid, for unemployment insurance, for Section 8 housing, and so on and on through the menu of the American welfare state.

Libertarians may retort: Well these migrants would not be so costly if we abolished EITC, Medicaid, Section 8, etc. True enough. But these migrants will also qualify for the vote. David Boaz estimates that 9% of the 2004 electorate was economically and socially libertarian. I have no idea if that is accurate, but whatever the figure may be, I think we can guarantee that the number will plunge precipitously if the president and Senate succeed in adding millions of low-income, government-dependent, non-English-speaking, affirmative-action-eligible voters to the rolls.

Those business lobbies pushing for more cheap labor are adding a huge future liability to the public finances of the United States. The amnesty/guestworker plans in the Senate accommodate that demand. It's a little like the prescription drug benefit: a pleasant freebie for an influential constituency today at a huge, concealed cost to the taxpayers of tomorrow. This is not moderation; it is innumeracy.



Zeteo Eurisko said:

“Why do you guys on this blog project such arrogance towards the legitimate questions posed by skeptics? Do you not even recognize that the Bible stating that 800,000 = 1.1 million should raise a query or two? It should be noted that your response is almost all attitude and commentary with very few actual answers to the questions raised. Nonetheless, here is another one: how do you define inerrancy? If you say that the scriptures were inspired in their orignial autographs, what prevents a God who inspires men to write from inspiring men to preserve what was written?”

i) Let’s get real for a moment. Dagood wasn’t asking innocent questions. He wasn’t seeking information.

What he did was to contrive a tendentious multiple-choice exam consisting in a series leading, trick questions designed to make the Bible look bad no matter what answer a Christian examiner selected. The whole thing was rigged.

So let’s not pretend that this was ever about asking innocuous questions to solicit informative answers.

ii) As far as the “arrogant” tone is concerned, in much of my reply my wording was a verbatim reproduction of his very own wording.

So is my tone arrogant, but his tone is not—even though I’m merely reproducing his tone? How does that distinction work, exactly?

iii) But if you’re so concerned about the tone, remember that not all of the T-bloggers assume the same tone.

For example, Jason Engwer is a model of charity. So what do you think of Jason’s replies?

iv) Actually, I gave very direct answers to the major “questions” raised by Dagood.

As to your own question:

a) The inerrancy of the copies has never figured in the inerrancy of Scripture or the traditional doctrine of inspiration.

b) Nothing “prevents” God from inspiring the scribe. But it’s unnecessary. Life is generally governed by ordinary providence.

Our MSS of the OT and NT are quite adequate to the task.

Dagood's deadwood

“I see a sad tendency (on both sides of the fence, but primarily on the Christian) to “toss out” any conceivable rejoinder to an issue, followed by a sense of satisfaction that the argument was rebutted, succeeded by surprise that the opponent didn’t ‘bite.’”

No surprise that Dagood didn’t respond. He, Loftus, Morgan, and the ex-exbeliever have a history of picking a fight with Christians, then leaving the table before the game is over as they see their pile of chips melting away while they play one losing hand after another.

“Frankly, if the Bible is the sole divine revelation, from the sole source of Truth, I am disappointed that Christians would be willing to reduce the standard of its viability down to ‘any possibility’ rather than what is more likely.”

This is a straw man argument. Neither Jason nor I have argued for any outside chance over what’s more likely.

But I’m not disappointed by Dagood’s straw man argument. He never fails to rise to my low expectations.

“Imagine coming home and seeing your son, baseball bat in hand, a broken window, and a ball rolling around the living room floor. An obvious portrayal of the previous moments comes quickly to mind.”

Imagine concocting a fictitious, self-serving illustration as a substitute for a real argument.

“The clearest example of this is in the debate on inerrancy. An inerrantist will hold to any possible resolution of any contradiction, as if this would satisfy inerrancy. Resolutions that are bent, twisted and contorted to fit that particular moment, and just as quickly discarded in the next discussion.”

The clearest example of this is in the debate on errancy. An errantist will hold to any possible irresolution of any alleged contradiction, as if this would satisfy errancy. Irresolutions that are bent, twisted and contorted to fit that particular moment, and just as quickly discarded in the next discussion.

“Honestly? No body except other inerrantists are buying it. We understand their natural bias to manufacture a resolution.”

Honestly? Nobody except other errantists are buying it. We understand their natural bias to manufacture an irresolution.

“We see the double standard. What is ridiculed in the Qur’an is revered in the Bible.”

What double standard would that be? Muhammad sends his doubters to the Jews and the Christians to verify or falsify his prophetic claims.

So we take him at his word. We judge him by his very own standard.

How is that a double standard?

“A great example of this is David’s Census.”

Ah, yes, the musty chestnut of David’s Census.

“Oh, good. A copyist error. Then can anyone show me the copies that had a ‘3’ rather than a ‘7?’ What? There AREN’T ANY? Then how can I possibly say this is a ‘copyist’ error? And which one (2 Sam. Or 1 Chron.) was the ‘copyist error?’ I wonder if apologists ever get tired of trying to explain these situations for God.”

“If this is a copyist error, and I claim that John 3:16 is a copyist error, how can you possibly argue against it?”

Dagood is such an ignoramus. He knows nothing about OT textual criticism generally or the text-critical status of Chronicles in particular.

He also doesn’t know the difference between NT textual criticism and OT textual criticism. The two are not interchangeable.

i) To begin with, the technical term for this exercise is conjectural emendation. This is not a conservative apologetic ploy. No one is freer when it comes to emending the text of the OT than the liberal scholars.

Not only is Dagood clueless about conservative scholarship, he is equally clueless about liberal scholarship.

ii) Conjectural emendation is a standard feature of OT textual criticism. As the world’s leading OT textual critic explains in the standard work on the lower criticism of the OT:


Scholars are aware of the fact that conjectural emendations are hypothetical…Justification for conjectural emendation comes, first and foremost, from the recognition of the imperfections of the available textual evidence. Only a very small part of all the readings that were created and copied throughout the many generations of the transmission of the text are known to us. Many readings have been lost, among which were necessarily readings that were contained in the first copies. Since the evidence that has been preserved is arbitrary from a textual point of view, it is permissible to attempt to arrive at the ancient texts by way of reconstruction.

The extent to which the evidence is random can be illustrated from the Qumran discoveries. Various emendations, made in the manner described above, before these texts were discovered, have now been found actually to exist in the Qumran texts, as shown in Table 1 below. If the Qumran scrolls had not been discovered, these proposed emendations would have remained mere conjectures. The fact that they have been attested in the Qumran texts removes them from the area of conjectural emendation and confers on them the status of variants readings similar to that of all other readings. If more ancient texts like the Qumran texts are discovered, the circle of witnesses for the understanding of the biblical text will be wider and the need for suggesting new emendations will diminish.

E. Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992), 353.


Beyond the general evidence is the evidence particular to Chronicles. As one archeologist explains:


Recent studies have shown that the Chronicler did not modify his sources at will. Rather, some of his sources arose from a different Hebrew tradition from that of the MT. In addition to the Massoretic tradition preserved in the MT, there also existed a “Palestinian” tradition of the texts of the Pentateuch and Samuel-Kings. It is now clear from comparison of Chronicles with the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek translations of the Pentateuch that the text Chronicles used was more like these texts than the MT. Similarly, comparison of Chronicles with parallel passages in Samuel-Kings from 4QSam(a) and 4QSam(b) and 4QSam(c) and the LXX show that the Chronicles text is more like these than the MT versions of Samuel-Kings. The Palestinian text tradition can be identified in the Lucianic LXX, Chronicles, the DDS fragments, and the Jewish writer Josephus. In short, the Chronicler faithfully used the sources he had.

1,2 Chronicles (Broadman (1994), 23.


Continuing with Dagood’s obscurantist doodlings:


And how can we “round” these numbers to get to these two figures (1.3 Million vs 1.57 Million)? Look:

2 Sam. 1 Chron.
Israel – 800,000 1.1 Million
Judah – 470,000 500,000


But as another scholar explains:


According to v9, the figures in Israel and Judah are 8000,000 and 500,000 respectively, while in 1 Chron 21:5 they re 1,100,000 and 470,000 (or, in the LXX, 480,000; cf. BHS) respectively. To complicate matters further, “both Josephus and the Lucianic texts of Samuel show 900,000 for Israel and 400,000 for Judah in Samuel.”

R. Youngblood, EBC 3:1098.


In other words, there are several variant readings in play. So we have specific textual evidence that the numerical transcription is unreliable in our extant MSS.

Continuing with Dagood:

“Further, one should address the capabilities of a nation in 1000 BC with a possible army of 1.3 Million men. To say they would be a world-power is underestimating the capabilities.”

Except that the Hebrew word (‘elep) has more than one meaning, so which sense we assign in any given occurrence is context-dependent.

As both Baldwin and Youngblood point out, the word in v9 probably means a “military unit” or “contingent.” Cf. 1 Sam 4:2.

As to 1 Chron 27:24, Thompson explains:


If one were to read these verses in isolation, they would imply that Joab was to blame for the census and that David was innocent. But this is an allusion to the account in chap. 21 where Joab acted under David’s orders (21:2).

Ibid. 187.


Regarding the different pronominal forms, Ornan “is a regular variant for” Araunah. Cf. Thompson, 162.

Moving along:

“There was a legend about a census during Kind David’s reign that resulted in a punishment on the people. At various times, and various places the legend modified, based upon who was telling it. Three different authors wrote it down. Being human, and hearing the legends from humans, they wrote different accounts.”

This is another textbook example of Dagood’s inexhaustible ignorance.

If you had three independent accounts, each retelling the same “legend,” then there would be the possibility of mutual contradiction inasmuch as each writer didn’t know what the others wrote.

Like suspects separately interrogated, they never had a chance to get their stories straight.

But this disregards the literary dependence of Chronicles on Samuel. As Thomson explains:

“It seems clear, and it is generally agreed, that the Chronicler’s primary source was the books of Samuel-Kings in the Palestinian tradition,” ibid. 23.

The Chronicler already knows the account in Samuel. What is more, his audience knows the account in Samuel.

So some of the differences are deliberate editorial differences rather than inadvertent mistakes.

There is more theological complexity to the Chronicler’s account because he is heir to a literary tradition, taking Samuel-Kings as his point of departure, and also because he is writing from a post-exilic perspective. So his is a more subtextured account, having, as it does, the additional layering of the Exile to furnish retrospective insight in the history of the Davidic monarchy.

For instance, the Chronicler introduces Satan as an intermediary. This does nothing to bring the earlier account into conflict with the later, but merely augments the earlier account with an ulterior dynamic. Cofactors are complementary, not contradictory.

“If it weren’t in the Bible, every person would agree it was ‘human error’ every time. That is why simply coughing out some words that would align one part of one clause of one story, while disregarding the more likely probability of human error is not persuasive.”

If the Bible is like any other book, then the Bible should be treated like any other book. Dagood’s inference is only probable because he begs the question in favor of unbelief by assuming all along that the Bible is just like any other book.

His contention is only persuasive if you accept his prejudicial assumption.

Suppose we back up and begin with a different operating assumption. Is it possible that there is a God? If so, is it possible that such a God would reveal his will to man?

Suppose God revealed himself in a book written some two to three thousand years ago.

If such a thing had happened, would a modern reader never be at a loss for an easy explanation?

Of course not!

An author always assumes more than he says. He assumes a shared background of common knowledge.

We, in reading the Bible many centuries after the fact, lack that cultural preunderstanding. There will be gaps in our understanding of how certain things go together.

It’s the same if you’re reading Dante or Shakespeare. Heck, it’s even the same if you’re reading a modern author like Wittgenstein.

I could run through some of Dagood’s other examples, but it’s not my job to do his research for him. His whole case is based on culpable ignorance of the standard exegetical and text-critical literature.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Upcoming Movie About Mary And Jesus' Birth

BK of the CADRE Comments blog has linked to this story about an upcoming movie on Mary and Jesus' birth.

The Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic vs. The Foreign-Eschatological Hermeneutic

Bobby Grow Says:
May 17th, 2006 at 1:22 am

Interesting discussion! Although I find it highly problematic, for the Covenant/Amil side to argue for a “normative” NT hermeneutic, as it appears, Evan, you’re endorsing/forwarding. In other words it seems that the Covenant exegete assumes that he/she has been able to discern a uniformed hermeneutic merely by observing the “way” NT author’s “used” the OT. How is this possible when the NT authors in fact used many different interpretive principles, i.e. midrash, atomization, spiritualization, allegory; and further they used different “text-types”, i.e. LXX and Hebrew Text, in a seemingly “ad hoc” kind of way (albeit under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit–which of course we aren’t privy to). If this is true how do you Evan, make the arguement that you do, of approaching the OT through the NT lens in a normative way?

1. The Pendulum swings both ways. The Covenantal hermeneutic interprets the Old Testament in light of the New testament. The Dispensational hermeneutic interprets the New in light of the Old. Both camps must defend their hermeneutical methods. We don’t simply assume a Dispensational hermeneutic until we find something better.

2. The nature of the hermeneutic lies in the nature of the Testaments of the Covenants: the New Covenant is new, better, more clear. And the revelation of the New Covenant (the New Testament) more clearly presents Biblical truth. Which Testament more clearly presents the doctrine of the Trinity: the Old or the New? Which Testament more clearly presents the deity and person of Christ: the Old or the New? Which Testament more clearly presents justification by faith: the Old or the New? The resurrection of the saints? The second coming of Christ? This isn’t to state that the Old Testament is deficient in these categories (the more we dive into the Old Testament, the more we note its richness in presenting doctrinal treasures). Rather, this is simply to recognize a Biblical fact: the New Covenant Testimony brought clear revelation in categories where the Old Testament gave but a glimpse.

3. Much of the Covenantal hermeneutic isn’t so much “the way NT authors used the OT,” but simply being fair to a text in its own context. Dispensationalists habitually rip OT prophecies from their redemptive-historical context and force them into a foreign eschatological context. It’s almost as if Dispensationalists believe that the prophets couldn’t find a topic to speak about: one moment they’re talking about restoration from the exile; the next moment they’re talking about folks disappearing out of their clothes on an airplane.

4. When Jesus claims that all of the Scriptures speak of him, he means it.

5. But, it must be noted that the Covenantal hermeneutic is not some knee-jerk, arbitrary dogma of “spiritualize any Old Testament prophecy whatsoever.” Rather, we deal with texts on their own merit. We want to be fair to what the text itself states, and we exegete them on a case-by-case basis (and for this reason, I am glad that Bobby posed a text rather than simply speaking generically).

As an aside, often the Dispensational interpretation of certain passages is hardly “literal,” but “literalistic.” That is, the application of the text is something terribly foreign to the historical context. Take Daniel 9, for instance. Daniel, in searching the Scriptures, realizes that the 70 years Jeremiah predicted were about to come to a close (9:2). And while he prays in response to this (his prayer, by the way, is permeated with covenantal references to God. Keep that in mind when you read that one whom Dispensationalists believe to be the antichrist will “confirm a covenant with many,” 9:27), Gabriel appears to him in a vision (9:21), and he tells him that “seventy sevens” and “sixty-two sevens” (references to sabbatical weeks, Lev 35:1-4) are decreed to follow (9:25). That is, a total of 490 years (an ultimate Jubilee, Lev 24:8), the messianic age. But the Dispensational interpretation of this text (the supposedly “literal” interpretation) forces an at least 2000 year break (or “an indeterminate gap of time”) between the end of the sixty-ninth and seventieth week, a disjunction which the text no where posits. This is directly contrary to the Dispensationalist’s professed “literal” hermeneutic! And this forcing of something into the text which is not present (something that used to be called “eisegesis”) has terrible consequences: confusing Christ with the antichrist!

For example how does the Amil/Cov deal with a passage like this:

“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. 11. It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. 12. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” –Isaiah 11:10-12 NKJV

How does the amillennialist interpret this to correspond to the “church”? The passage clearly makes a distinction between ethnic Israelies and Gentiles (the church—just like Rom. 9—11 does). This seems to, indeed, be a crux-interpretum (“difficult interpretive passage”) for the amillennial interpreter. In other words there are “two” returns spoken of in this passage. They are both post-exilic, i.e. the first one referencing the return in Ezra-Nehemiah–but what of the “second” return? This seems to be speaking yet proleptically to a “future” time in the “last days”. If you say the “second” gathering is referencing the “church” this seems precarious given the reference to the “gentiles” in vs. 10, and not only that, but its primary referent (i.e. the people of the second gathering) and elucidation is made clear vs. 12b. Again making a distinction between the “Nations” and the “nation” of Israel (i.e. the remnant).

I would argue that this second gathering indeed finds correlation, yet future, at the time that Christ sets up the “physical” side of the Davidic Kingdom (I’m Prog. Disp.), thus initiating the Messianic Age and His thousand yr reign (Rev. 20).

Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing your response . . .

1. Just as a quick note: there is nothing “millennial” about this text. Even if an Amillennial interpretation fails, that does not justify the assumption that this passage is connected with Revelation 20. There are so many components in this text that are absent in Revelation 20, and vice versa.

2. If Bobby will permit, I’d like us to instead look at a parallel promise. This prophecy shares the same language of the Isaiah 11 text, and, no doubt, Bobby would connect this text as well to Rev 20, but this text has something which the Isaiah 11 text does not have: a New Testament interpretation. Here we go:

Amos 9:11-12 In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the LORD who does this.

How did the Apostle James interpret this passage when he needed to address an issue relevant to the Church?

Acts 15:13-20 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’ Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

James viewed this prophecy as being fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection and in the reconstitution of his disciples as the new Isreal. Notice that both Jews and Gentiles are present, which should not only answer Bobby’s question, but prove that the prophecy had been fulfilled.

When James applied this text to the Church, was he “spiritualizing” the Old Testament text? Was it some knee-jerk, “read it figuratively!” mentality that drove James to this interpretation, or was he rightly reading it though a Christocentric lens?

“After this” tells us that the prophecy referred to what God would do for Israel after the exile. Dispensationalists assert that “after this” refers to “after the age of the church.” But this is foreign to the Acts 15 context. Paul and Barnabas were seeking guidance on a matter that was immediate to them: must Gentile converts be circumcised? And James, in addressing this topic, was not pointing to a distant future millennial age. Rather, his interpretation of the text led to an application to their very present concerns.

The Dispensational interpretation of this text is hardly the “plain meaning.” It completely ignores the context of Acts 15 and puts a subject into the mouth of James for which he had no concern when he spoke these words.

Evan May.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Another strike out

Dagood tries to shore up a sagging argument from a previous post:

“The first thing to note is that Paul himself never refers to receiving any letter or authority from the high priest, in his description of his own testimony. (Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:32)”

Given the difference in genre between a letter and a historical narrative, we wouldn’t expect the same detail in a letter.

“In fact, if one studies what Paul said in his letters compared to what the Gospel writers wrote, or what Acts records, it is amazing the different contrast. According to Acts, after Damascus Paul went to Jerusalem within a short period of time. (Acts 9:27) According to Paul, Barnabas did not introduce him until 17 years later!”

No, that’s not what Paul says. In Galatians he records two separate trips to Jerusalem (1:16-2:1).

Dagood is such a fuzz-brain.

“What was Paul, a Pharisee, doing in cohorts with the high priest, a Sadducee?”

The question answers itself. He was in cohorts with a Sadducee because the Sadducee was the high priest.

The high priesthood was a divine institution, whoever the incumbent.

Also, the Pharisees and Sadducees needed each other: the Pharisees needed their opponent’s power while the Sadducees needed their opponent’s popularity. You work with the people in power.

“Would a Pharisee align themselves with a Sadducee? Not likely. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not hardly.”

They were using each other. Quite likely.

“Strike one.”

Yes, strike one against Dagood.

“Now look at the political climate. Damascus was not part of the Roman Empire.”

How does Dagood know that?

He summarizes a story from Josephus. But Josephus never says Damascus was exempt from Roman control.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Luke and Josephus disagree. All that would prove is a conflict between two 1C historians. It wouldn’t prove who was right and who was wrong.

The notion that Damascus was no longer under Roman rule is sometimes inferred from the absence of Roman coins from Damascus between AD 34-62.

But as one scholar observes, “Roman coins are extremely rare even under Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero,” M. J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2005), 822.

So this is an argument from silence, and an especially weak version of the argument from silence.

According to Josephus, Syria had been a Roman province since 64 BC. Because Damascus included a Nabatean colony, they had an ethnarch or leader of the ethnic community to represent their parochial interests, but that alone would by no means remove it from Roman control.

Cf. Harris, ibid. 822; Longenecker, EBC 9:369-70.

Actually, the fact that Acts 9:24-25 and 2 Cor 11:32-33 both have Paul escaping arrest by the same ingenious means is exactly the sort of independent coincidence that you would expect of two historical records.

“Strike Two.”

Against Dagood.

Dagood then elaborates on his original argument, with heavy helpings of colorful hyperbole.

But rhetoric is no substitute for evidence, and I’ve already dealt with this objection, both above and in my earlier post.

“Strike Three.”

Against Dagood.

“Who, exactly, was it that wanted Paul killed after his conversion? The answers seem to be all over the board.”

“An obvious reading of Acts 9:23 is that the “Jews” conspired to kill him. But Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:32 that it was the governor of Damascus that wanted to arrest him. Nothing about any Jews.”

This is such a simple-minded objection. Any extradition will require at least two parties to execute the transaction. There’s the party seeking the extradition of the fugitive, as well as the local authority which must cooperate in granting or facilitating his apprehension.

Dagood is so clueless.

“A further oddity is that the author of Acts records Ananias (the healer of Paul’s blindness) as being a Disciple. (Acts 9:10) Yet the author records Paul saying that Ananias was a devout observer of the Law and respected by all the Jews. (Acts 22:12) Which was he? Could one be a Christian AND respected by the Jews? Then would the Jews have persecuted Christians? Or Paul?”

This fails to distinguish between the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem and the Diaspora Jews in Damascus.

“Strike Four.”

Agreed. Dagood struck out—as usual.


In order to maintain historicity in Acts one would have to maintain that a Pharisee aligned with a Sadducee (unlikely) to write a letter (dangerous, fatal and unnecessary) to perform an act that was either not occurring at all, or occurring regularly anyway.

In conclusion—Acts is not history. It does not conform to what Paul wrote. It does not conform to what we see in history. If a person is going to accept any explanation, no matter how contrived and contorted, to make it fit, I can do nothing about it. And what I see is a bias toward a proposition, and an insistence on maintaining it regardless of the probabilities.

That’s O.K, but I do not see a neutral jury buying it.


Having rebutted his specific allegations, once again, what about his court room analogy?

The defense team calls an expert witness on 1C Greco-Roman history (Luke). Their witness is a 1C Greco-Roman historian who lived in very the time and place he is reporting on. He also has a wide circle of informants.

The prosecution team also calls an “expert” witness on 1C Greco-Roman history (Dagood). Their witness is a 21C lawyer living in the U.S.

Whose testimony would a neutral jury give greater weight to?

Monday, May 15, 2006

The bodily resurrection of Christ

Dagood tries to reinterpret 1 Cor 15 along visionary lines.

He begins by arguing that Paul was a visionary. But this is arguing for something which was never in dispute.

Moving along:

“First we need to look at Paul’s own writings. This was a man who thought people (arguably himself) could either in-body or out-of-body “project” to the Third Heaven and could hear things not permissible to tell. (2 Cor. 12:1-5). If someone said that today, would it be thought of as a physical event, or a spiritual vision?”

Here, context is key.

“Paul stated he had so many exceedingly great revelations, he could even become conceited. (2 Cor. 12:7) If someone said that today, would it be a physical revelation, or a spiritual vision?”

Once again, context is key.

“Paul believed that Jesus spoke directly to him in actual words. (2 Cor. 12:9; 1 Cor. 11:23; 1 Cor. 7:12. Acts 18:9).”

i) This is probably true with reference to 2 Cor 12:9.

ii) But 1 Cor 7:12 and 11:23 have reference to dominical tradition. See Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 525,866-67.

iii) Also, 1 Cor 7:12 doesn’t say Jesus spoke to him. It says the very the opposite. Perhaps Dagood is mistaking v12 for v10. Pity a lawyer who can’t read the fine print!

iv) The divine speaker in Acts 18:9 is not identified, although it could be Jesus. Since, however, Dagood regards Acts as a historically worthless account written by someone who was not a traveling companion to Paul, how is this probative?

v) This poses a dilemma for Dagood:

a) If Acts is unreliable, he can’t use it to interpret Paul and thereby support the hallucinatory hypothesis.

b) But if Acts is reliable, then Dagood should be a Christian.

“He did not receive a Gospel from men, but from revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11) If someone told you that Jesus actually spoke to them in English words, would you think it actual, or a vision?”

Revelation and visionary revelation are not interchangeable.

“When did Paul get all this information from Jesus? Certainly not prior to his conversion. Apparently not at his conversion. Paul speaks of growing information, and learned experiences throughout the progression of his books. Paul was continually getting revelation, and quotes from Jesus. Now, is the Christian maintaining that Jesus physically re-appeared and discussed these things with Paul? Popping in and out on various occasions?”

This is simplistic. Paul got his gospel from several sources. There was his inspired reading of the OT. There was his divine commission. But he also received some elements of dominical tradition from his contact with the church of Jerusalem. Cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, 88-9; R. Longenecker, Galatians, 24; M. Silva, Explorations in Exegetical Method (Baker 1996), 157-58;

“Why would we, when Paul himself admits in belief of possible “out-of-body” experiences in which a person can enter Paradise, and hear inexplicable things? Paul admits that his comings and goings are dictated by these revelations. (Gal 2:1) Was that a physical appearance?”

i) I guess he means 2:2. Another sloppy citation.

ii) Once again, revelation and visionary revelation are not interchangeable.

“If someone said that today, would we think the new information, the new revelations were spiritual visions, or Jesus physically appearing?”

Depends on the actual wording and context.

“What does Paul say about his own conversion? Not much. He says he was persecuting the church of God, and then God revealed His son “in me.” (Gal 1:16) What little study I have done, indicates the Greek word apokalupto is an internal revelation, not external. In means exactly that—“in” as within the limits of space. Paul does not claim, here, that Jesus was externally revealed to him, but internally revealed in him. In fact, Christians today would use this same language, without even thinking of the implications of a physical appearance.”

Actually, as Silva explains, Paul probably chose this verb for its eschatological overtones. Ibid. 172-73.

“And (with one exception) that is it on what Paul writes about seeing Jesus. Now let’s look at what the author of Acts records.”


“[Side note: Why I doubt Acts as being historical. Acts. 9:1 has Paul asking the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus to take prisoners back to Rome. A Pharisee, asking a Sadducee for a letter of authority in a city in which the high priest had no authority whatsoever. In fact, if found with the letter, it is very likely the high priest would be killed for trying to exert power outside his domain by the Romans. An unlikely request for an unnecessary letter that is only trouble.]”

i) To begin with, 9:1-2 (once again, Dagood’s citation is imprecise) does not specify a formal right of extradition.

But it would only be natural for Paul to have an official letter of reference.

In addition, patronage and favoritism were the social glue of the ancient world.

ii) Beyond this, there is evidence that Roman conferred the right of extradition on the Jewish state (1 Macc 15:21), and such a right was reaffirmed with special reference to the high priesthood by Julius Caesar (Josephus, Anti. 14:192-95).

If Dagood were not such a slob, he could find the documentation in Bruce’s commentary on the Greek texts of Acts (233).

“Does Paul see Jesus? Nope. He sees a light and hears a voice. (Acts 9:3) It should be noted that Paul did not recognize the voice; let alone any claim to recognize a face that wasn’t seen. The people with him did not see anyone.”

If he doesn’t see Jesus, then how is this an argument for the hallucinatory theory of the Easter appearances? Dagood’s contention is self-defeating.

“God himself now says that Paul has a vision. (Acts. 9:12) A straight reading of the text would be that Paul saw a light, and later saw a vision of some sort.”

The vision in 9:12 is not the Damascus Road encounter. And it says nothing about a flash of light followed by a vision. So this is by no means a straightforward reading of the text.

Dagood is conflating two different events.

“But perhaps the author of Acts is adding their own bend to the story.”

Why does Dagood use a plural pronoun (“their”) with a singular noun (“author”)? Does Dagood suffer from double vision?

Maybe he doesn’t have a real copy of the book of Acts before him. Perhaps it’s just a visionary copy.

“ Let’s see how the author records what Paul says happened. Nope, again we have a bright light and a voice. (Acts 22:6-7) No mention of Jesus.”

No mention of Jesus in 6-7 because Jesus is mentioned in v8. Either Dagood needs a new pair of glasses or else his visionary copy of Acts lacks v8.

“Think on this for a moment. This is a fellow that has so many revelations; he has a problem with pride. He talks regularly of Jesus teaching him directly.”

This, as we’ve seen, overplays the actual state of the evidence.

“Yet the one thing he does NOT say is ‘Jesus appeared to me on the road.’”

i) All three conversion accounts single out Jesus as the divine speaker (Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15). Dagood is such a buffoon.

ii) Anyway, even if, ex hypothesi, Jesus did not appear to Paul in a vision, then how, again, is this pertinent to the hallucinatory theory/

“According to Acts, immediately after recounting his tale of seeing this light and hearing this voice Paul DOES refer to a later instance in which Jesus appeared to him. In a trance. (Acts. 22:18) If Paul deliberately and particularly refrains from stating he saw Jesus at this event, how can the Christian claim to know more than Paul? “

Which event? The Damascus Road encounter? As I just said, Jesus is specifically identified as the object of the sighting.

“When Paul tells the tale to King Agrippa (same thing. Lights. Voice. No Jesus) he refers to it as a vision. (Acts. 26:19)”

i) Obviously wrong. See 26:15.

ii) Yes, a vision. Subjective or objective?

“If someone said this today, would you believe that Jesus actually physically appeared, or that this was a spiritual vision?”

If the vision affected other eyewitnesses, as did the Damascus road encounter, then it would be a physical event.

“Taking all of this into account, if there was nothing more, we would be done. Paul speaks as if these were visions; Acts speaks as if these were visions.”

Note the persistent equivocation of terms. Objective vision or subjective vision?

“So now we come to the lone applicant for a physical appearance—1 Cor. 15:8 Paul says Jesus appeared to Peter first (the Gospels say some women) and after that to Peter (the gospels have two unknown followers) then the Twelve (the Gospels only have eleven.) Paul records Jesus then appeared to over 500 (not in the Gospels) and then to James (not in the Gospels) and then to all the apostles (possibly in Matthew. You know—where some of them doubted.) Then, finally to Paul.”

We’ll pass on this tendentious summary.

“When? When did Jesus make this appearance to Paul? Before Paul’s conversion? This is extremely problematic, because it would mean that Paul saw Jesus post-mortem, and was not convinced.”

A non-issue.

“At Paul’s conversion?”


“This is contrary to both what Paul says in Galatians, and what Acts records as having happened.”


“Yes, I know the Sunday School stories all have Jesus appearing in the flash of light. Just not what the authors record, even though the author immediately records events of Jesus appearing at a later time.”

Actually, Dagood’s grasp of the Bible has not advanced over Sunday School. If anything, it’s regressed.

“The only possible remaining time, is some period after the conversion event.”

Name two or three Pauline scholars who takes this position. What are their arguments?

“Which starts to create problems.”

Yes, bad interpretations have that effect.

“If Acts is going to be considered History, Paul records having visions of Jesus while in a trance.”

“Visions of Jesus in a trance.” I thought Dagood only gave one example of that. Where did the plural sneak in?

“When Paul uses the word ‘appear’ in 1 Cor. 15, he could easily be meaning that as in ‘appear in a vision.’”

If you turn a blind eye to the context.

“Remember, this is the fellow that believes people can have auditory visions in the Third Heaven; it is not out of the realm of possibility, that he can hold to visual visions in this world.”

Actually, that’s quite a leap for exegetical purposes.

“We are always informed that ‘Scripture must interpret Scripture.’”

This is a slogan. A more correct formulation would be to interpret a writer according to his own usage as well as the given context.

“ If every other verse points in one direction, and one points in another, we are to look at the anomaly and see how it fits to all of the other instances.”

Except that every other verse does not point in one direction. This is an exaggeration, based on slipshod exegesis—if you can even call it exegesis.

“Every other verse points to Paul believing he had spiritual visions in Jesus. Spiritual Revelations. Spiritual conversations. Some while in a trance.”

Repeating an overstatement and retailing equivocations doesn’t make the claim any truer than before.

“If, in 1 Cor. he says Jesus ‘appeared to him’ and elsewhere these appearances are visions, the most natural conclusion is that Paul is talking about visions.”

Nothing like a valid conclusion from a false premise!

“In fact, in order to get the results desired, the Christian must abandon the normal claim of Scripture interpreting Scripture!”

Abandoning a popular slogan. Hardly the same thing as grammatico-historical exegesis.

“If the Christian is claiming Paul is stating a physical appearance, when did it occur, and why was it not recorded?”

Several confusion at work:

i) Paul never wrote a gospel. The epistolary genre is quite different from the narrative-historical genre.

ii) The case for the bodily resurrection of Christ has never been predicated on Paul’s conversion experience. That’s a red herring. Even if it were a subjective vision, this would be wholly indifferent to Luke 24 or Jn 20-21.

iii) Dagood is assuming, without benefit of argument, that Paul would use his conversion experience as an interpretive grid for the nature of the resurrection. That’s a non sequitur.

Paul never turns his conversion experience into a hermeneutical paradigm for the nature of the resurrection.

If we want to know what Paul thought of the resurrection, you don’t try to infer this from his experience as a seer, or the use of a verb in his account of the Damascus Road encounter.

Rather, you study his explicit and extended teaching on the subject in the totality of 1 Cor 15.

“I have compared these visions to Virgin Mary appearances, and wondered why Christians hold Paul’s visions as actual, but not the Virgin Mary’s. I have been informed they are nothing alike. Let’s see.”

What Dagood then proceeds to do is to studiously ignore all of my detailed argumentation, and, instead, appeal to his new-fangled argument for the commonality between Marian apparitions and Pauline visions.

I have now responded both to Dagood’s old argument as well as his new argument.

He, by contrast, has not even replied to my original rejoinder.

But that’s fine. His silence is an admission of defeat, which is why he tried to mount a new argument—one that is, unfortunately for him, not more successful than the last.

Who Broke the Covenant?

Daniel Morgan has been arguing in my comment section that God has failed to keep his covenant promises with Israel. This is an audacious claim indeed, for all over the Bible God is praised for his “covenant faithfulness.” Daniel argues that Israel kept its end of the deal, but God failed to keep his end.

I responded with a quick comment giving the overview of Covenant Theology: how all of the Old Testament covenants pointed to and were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now Daniel states:

It appears we are talking past each other. I never said I noticed something no one else had. What I pointed out is indeed plain and obvious: that the promises, PLURAL, of the OT covenant were in fact failed promises. I’m specifying the words, “If X, then Y”, where the people in the covenant keep X and God doesn’t keep Y. It’s pretty simple.

You’re doing the same thing that the followers of Jesus did in post-72AD, reading into these promises as only about Christ, when, of course, the covenant had been established via circumcision and laws and was holistic and self-containing. God promises all these people if they do X then God will do Y, and in looking back, since Y isn’t done, the blame automatically goes to the people, that they somehow didn’t keep the covenant, although right up until the time of Titus’ invasion, the Temple was still functioning, and Jews were still orthodox–some promise to “establish them”. How were they supposed to interpret the plain words of the OT as “an obscure figure will arise and you need to forget all the plain meanings of the prophecies and read them symbolically”?

It’s like a lot of things in theology–easily accessed 2000 years later upon hours of scholarly study of a NT canonized around these very issues (like natural selection–the pieces that don’t fit are excluded).

Address the “If X, then Y” portions, Aaron. Nowhere in the laws and regulations of the OT was there an “X” which lines up with “believe in Jesus and repent of your sins and etc.” Why else does modern-day Judaism continue unabated? The plain words of their own books give them no indicator…it’s all these obscure prophecies, but no “X” conditionals.

1. When it comes to the covenants, there are two hermeneutical camps: the dispensational school and the covenantal school. The dispensational school sees a future, literal fulfillment of these covenants: in the future, God will restore the nation of Israel under David’s throne and fulfill physically his covenant promises.

But what matters is not what we think was in God’s mind when he made these covenants, but what God actually had in mind when he made them. What were his intentions? And dispensationalism, sadly, misses the point. It turns texts that are so obviously pointing forward to Christ on their heads (Daniel 9). To transform a text that speaks of the Messiah into a text that speaks of the Antichrist is no small error!

And, by the way, the covenantal hermeneutic isn’t some arbitrary rule of “whenever there is a literal promise, interpret it symbolically.” Rather, Covenant Theology is based upon consistent and contextual exegesis of the relevant passages. There really is no point in you and I arguing back and forth in generalizations. Let’s go to the text of Scripture, shall we? And let’s exegete those promises which you think God failed to keep.

2. You’re assuming the inspiration of the Old Testament, but not the inspiration of the New Testament. You are not fully embracing the internal critique of the Christian worldview. From my perspective, God inspired both testaments, so the Apostles’ explanations in the New Testament are God’s explanations.

3. On a side note, you assume that X was fulfilled. You state, “right up until the time of Titus’ invasion, the Temple was still functioning, and Jews were still orthodox.” But does that mean they fulfilled their side of the covenant? Re-read texts like Matthew 23 again, and the major and minor prophets.

Joel 2:13 Rend your heart, and not your garments.

Hosea 8:13 They offer sacrifices given to me, and they eat meat, but the Lord is not pleased with them.

Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. Like Adam, they have broken the covenant–they were unfaithful to me there.

Furthermore, the theme of books like Jeremiah and Ezekiel is plain: Israel has broken the covenant, therefore God, in his mercy, promises a New Covenant, a covenant which they will not break:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Jeremiah 31:31-33 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This isn’t something that the New Testament authors made up. This came straight from the Old Testament. Re-read the book of Hebrews, and notice the texts the author uses to prove his case. What does the author of Hebrews state concerning this Jeremiah text?

Hebrews 8:13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

4. Daniel states, “It’s like a lot of things in theology–easily accessed 2000 years later upon hours of scholarly study of a NT canonized around these very issues (like natural selection–the pieces that don’t fit are excluded).” Oh please, do you really expect me to take you seriously when you embrace the Dan Brown hermeneutic when it comes to the canon? I suggest that you reconsider your premature assertion that God failed to keep his promises while Israel was perfectly faithful if you cannot even get your historical facts straight when it comes to the New Testament canon.

5. Daniel raises an objection that is at least 2000 years Old. This isn’t something that is “easily accessed 2000 years later” alone. This is an objection that the Apostle Paul himself addressed:

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel

6. Everything in the Old Testament, including the Old Covenant, points to Christ:

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Hebrews 9:10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of the new order.

1 Peter 2:6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Daniel assumes the negation of this fact in his arguments, and thus he abandons the internal critique. But, again, I suggest that we cease arguing in generalities and look at the actual texts. It is one thing for Daniel to assert that these promises necessitate a literal and physical fulfillment; it is another thing for him to defend his assertions exegetically.

Evan May.

The Muslim conundrum

In the early days of his “prophetic” career, Muhammad made claims like these (in three different translations):

YUSUFALI: And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.
PICKTHAL: And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah - a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil).
SHAKIR: And We sent after them in their footsteps Isa, son of Marium, verifying what was before him of the Taurat and We gave him the Injeel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Taurat and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard (against evil).

YUSUFALI: Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.
PICKTHAL: Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers.
SHAKIR: And the followers of the Injeel should have judged by what Allah revealed in it; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors.

YUSUFALI: If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, We should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to gardens of bliss.
PICKTHAL: If only the People of the Scripture would believe and ward off (evil), surely We should remit their sins from them and surely We should bring them into Gardens of Delight.
SHAKIR: And if the followers of the Book had believed and guarded (against evil) We would certainly have covered their evil deeds and We would certainly have made them enter gardens of bliss

YUSUFALI: If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil.
PICKTHAL: If they had observed the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto them from their Lord, they would surely have been nourished from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them there are people who are moderate, but many of them are of evil conduct.
SHAKIR: And if they had kept up the Taurat and the Injeel and that which was revealed to them from their Lord, they would certainly have eaten from above them and from beneath their feet there is a party of them keeping to the moderate course, and (as for) most of them, evil is that which they do

YUSUFALI: If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt.
PICKTHAL: And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers.
SHAKIR: But if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to you, ask those who read the Book before you; certainly the truth has come to you from your Lord, therefore you should not be of the disputers.

YUSUFALI: Nor be of those who reject the signs of Allah, or thou shalt be of those who perish.
PICKTHAL: And be not thou of those who deny the revelations of Allah, for then wert thou of the losers.
SHAKIR: And you should not be of those who reject the communications of Allah, (for) then you should be one of the losers.

YUSUFALI: And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."
PICKTHAL: And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.
SHAKIR: And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One, and to Him do we submit.

There’s a certain artless charm in Muhammad’s naïveté. In his ignorance of the Bible, the church, and the synagogue, he appeared to believe, in all sincerity, that what he was preaching was the very same message you could find in the Bible.

And in his incautious innocence, he made the Jews and Christians—the People of the Book—his judges.

If you had any doubts about his prophetic vocation, go to the Jews and Christians for confirmation.

As time went by he became aware of his mistake. This accounts for the discrepancy between the earlier Meccan surahs and the later Medinan surahs.

Now, this presents the Muslim with a conundrum. On the one hand, there’s no positive evidence that Muhammad is a true prophet of God.

On the other hand, there is also positive evidence that he was a false prophet.

This presents the Muslim apologist with an acute difficulty. If what Muhammad said was false, then he’s a false prophet; but if what he said was true, then he was also a false prophet.

For if he truly said the Bible was the standard of comparison, then he’s convicted by his very own yardstick.

How can a Muslim apologist get around this?

i) To the extent that the Muslim world is a closed society, the issue never comes up. Ignorance is the best defense.

ii) And where ignorance is an insufficient disincentive, the law of apostasy will take up the rear. Beheading for conversion is a wonderful deterrent.

But there are times, such as Muslims living in an open society like the United States, when ignorance and coercion are not a readily available.

In this case, the only move a Muslim can made is to deny the identity between the Bible that Muhammad was talking about and the Bible we have today. And this can be done either by attacking the (a) text of Scripture or else attacking the (b) canon of Scripture.

But both moves raise more problems than they solve.

Regarding textual criticism:

i) There is, at this point, a fundamental asymmetry between Islam and Christianity. For the text of the Koran could be word perfect, yet that would not suffice to either prove Islam or disprove Christianity.

On the other hand, the text of the Bible must thoroughly corrupt for Islam to be even possibly true.

So the Muslim apologist is already beginning at a distinct disadvantage.

ii) Then there’s the question of when the Bible was corrupted. Where’s the window of opportunity? Where’s the evidence?

In principle, a Muslim could say this occurred before Muhammad came on the scene. Recently, Muslims have seized upon the writings of Bart Ehrman, a renegade Christian, to advance their claim. But there are two problems with this appeal:

a) Ehrman’s argument has come under sustained and mounting criticism:

b) In addition, it’s self-defeating for a Muslim apologist to say the Bible was hopelessly corrupted before Muhammad was born, for if it were irremediably corrupt in his own time, then he’d hardly be sending doubters to Jews and Christians to vouch for his prophetic credentials.

iii) And it will hardly suffice to say the NT was hopelessly corrupted after he died, for he died in the 7C AD. By then you had copies of the Bible all over the known world. There would be no way to recall all these copies, destroy them, replace them with doctored copies, and reissue them. Not only would that be impossible to do, but even if it were possible, it would be impossible to cover up.

iii) And let’s keep in mind the degree of corruption that is necessary to reconcile to Koran with the Bible.

Among other things, the Koran denies the divinity of Christ, as well as the crucifixion, and therefore denies the Resurrection.

Actually, the Koran seems to be inconsistent on the death and resurrection of Christ, but surah 4:157 has been privileged as the paradigmatic passage, against which opposing surahs are harmonized.

So, in order to square the Koran with the Bible by appealing to textual corruption, one must suppose that the original text of Scripture never taught the divinity of Christ, the crucifixion, or the Resurrection.

And yet the deity of Christ, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection are pervasive themes in all our copies of the NT. Was all this interpolated after the 7C AD?

iv) Yet another problem confronting the Muslim apologist is that, to my knowledge, the Koran never accuses Christians of corrupting the NT.

A most, it accuses the Jews (or Medinan Jews, in particular) of corrupting the OT.

And even in that respect, the charge seems to be, not that they tampered with the text, but that they misquoted or misrepresented the content.

v) Yet another problem with this appeal is that textual criticism is a doubled-edged sword. For the text of the Koran is also a matter of acute and ongoing dispute:

On this score, Muslims have a habit of quoting conservative Muslim scholars on the textual history of the Koran while quoting liberal scholars on the textual history of the Bible. Note the double standard.

Regarding the canon, they have a parallel problem.

i) The 7C Hijaz was surrounded by Christian cultures in Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, representing the eastern Roman Empire, along with Ethiopia and her colonies (e.g. Yemen) at the other end.

Study any standard monograph on the NT canonics (e.g. B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament; F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture).

Was there ever any 7C canon of the Eastern Church in which you had no witness to the deity of Christ, or his crucifixion and resurrection?

ii) And it will hardly sufficient to say that Christians of the 7C Hafiz represented some heretical sect, for, if so, Muhammad would scarcely refer doubters to a heretical sect of Christendom to confirm his message.

iii) There is also a tension between the appeal to a variant text and a variant canon.

Appeal to textual corruption assumes that we’re dealing with the same canon, so that the only way of harmonizing the Bible with the Koran is to allege textual corruption.

But if we’re not dealing with the same canon, then there’s no need to allege textual corruption in order to harmonize the Bible with the Koran. Not, at least, if the canon in use by 7C Christians of the Hijaz is so idiosyncratic as to omit any reference to the deity of Christ, or his crucifixion and resurrection.

So the appeal to either a variant text or a variant canon or both is a purely opportunistic exercise on the part of a desperate Muslim apologist.

iv) There is, in fact, something of an internal relationship between canonics and lower criticism.

On the basis of textual criticism alone, David Trobisch takes the position that the NT canon was standardized by the mid-2C.

He has done this on the basis of certain standardized features in the MSS tradition, such as the number and order of the NT books, titles, nomina sacra, and the use of codices.

To quote a few of his arguments:

“It does not matter when or where the MS was written, whether it is a majuscule or a miniscule, whether the text was written on papyrus or on parchment; and it does not matter whether the text is taken from the Gospels, the letters of Paul, or the Revelation of John. Any MS of the NT will contain a number of contracted terms that have to be decoded by the reader: the so-called nomina sacra, sacred names,” The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford 2000), 11.

“Aside from the characteristic notation of nomina sacra there is another fascinating observation concerning the canonical edition: from the very beginning, NT MSS were codices and not scrolls,” ibid. 19.

“The arrangement and the number of NT writings in the oldest extant MSS of the Christian Bible provide the most important evidence for describing the history of the canon. Methodologically, varied sequences of the writings in the MSS demonstrate that the writings circulated separately at first and were combined to form different collections later. This statement may also be reversed: if the same number of Gospels, letters of Paul, general letters, &c., are presented in the MSS in the same order, it follows that these MSS are based on an established collection,” ibid. 21.

“The four oldest extant MSS [Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, & Ephraemi Rescriptus], which at the time of the production presented a complete edition of the NT, were produced during the 4-5C,” ibid. 24.

It seems that none of the four MSS served as a master copy for any of the others and that they were produced independently. Furthermore, each of these four MSS constitutes a compete edition of the Christian Bible. They all contain the writings of the OT followed by the NT,” ibid. 25.

“By comparing the sequence of the writings in the four oldest extant editions of the NT, the four collection units of the MS tradition are easily identified: The four-Gospel Book, the Praxapostolos [i.e. Acts], the Letters of Paul, and the Revelation of John.”

“Because most of these MSS were produced after the 5C, at a time when the number of the 27 canonical writings had been firmly established, the division of the NT into collection units does not attest to different stages of the canon. The reason for such a division is probably a purely practical one. Smaller books were easier to bind, transport, and read. In case of loss or destruction, only the affected volume had to be replaced. Moreover, readers were not equally interested in each of the four units; some were clearly more popular than others,” ibid. 26.

“Examining the titles of the NT writings, one of the first observations is that they are transmitted with few variants. They are structure the canonical edition in this way: Gospels, Praxapostolos [i.e. Acts], letters of Paul, and Revelation of John,” ibid. 38.

“The titles serve to group the individual writings into collection units. The organizing function is clear for those letters that are numbered: the letters to the Corinthians, Thessalonians, and Timothy, and the letters of Peter and John.”

“Three additional groups are easily discerned: the four Gospels, the seven general letters, and the letters of Paul. The titles of the remaining two writings, Acts and Revelation, contain a genre designation in their first part, just like the titles of the three groups do,” ibid. 41.

“The archetype of the collection most probably was entitled he kaine diatheke, ‘The New Testament.’ Due to their fragmentary character, the oldest MSS do not preserve the title page. The uniform evidence of the extant tradition, however, strongly suggests that this was the title of the archetype,” ibid. 43-44.

Trobisch attributes subsequent debate, not to an effort to arrive at a consensus regarding the canon, but to a retrospective argument over the preexisting canon, as codified by standard editions of the entire NT then in circulation. Cf. Ibid. 34-35.