Can We Trust the Gospels?

Can We Trust the Gospels

Can We Trust the Gospels? The Historical Basis for the Christian Faith

Many Christians are unaware of the unique nature of the Christian faith. Since most world religions are not based on historical events, and their beginnings cannot be anchored in any verifiable history, Christianity is unusual. And among those few religions that are based in historical events, the character of the founder, the manner in which the events supposedly happened, and the lack of verified supernatural signs makes Christianity completely unique.

When someone asks why you are a Christian, your answer shouldn’t be merely because of an experience or a perceived benefit, such as joy, peace or hope. Many adherents of other religions testify of experiences and benefits. No, your answer should be something along the lines of, “I believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, proving that he is the Son of God as the Bible reports.” That is, our faith should rest entirely in a verifiable historical event, because that is how Paul explained it in 1 Corinthians 15. If the resurrection didn’t happen then Christianity is not true. If it did, nothing can stand against it.

The historical reliability of the Bible matters. But how does the average Christian learn the historical facts about the Bible, especially the Gospels without having to wade through highly academic works?

A new book by Cambridge University professor, Peter Williams, provides a handy reference for the multitude of verifiable historical facts in the Gospels. Can We Trust the Gospels?(Crossway, 2018) is the distillation of many years of research in New Testament studies by one of the foremost scholars in the world. This little volume of 160 pages will amaze the reader with details he has never noticed before in the New Testament. In addition to explaining the testimony about Jesus from non-Christian sources, Williams displays the many ways in which the Gospels demonstrate that they could not have been written later than the first century in another part of the Roman Empire.

Although we live in an age when we have easy access to advance information about anywhere we go, we still tend to be surprised by aspects of geography and culture whenever we travel. Now imagine if someone asked you to write a story about events in a distant place you had never visited, and you were not allowed to use the Internet for research. Even with the wonderful libraries we have today, you would struggle to get all the information together to write a detailed story that fit what a local person would know. This is because of the many aspects of your destination you would have to get right, and getting only most of them right would not make a story sound authentic. You would have to investigate its architecture, culture, economics, geography, language, law, politics, religion, social stratification, weather, and much more. You would even need to ensure that the characters in your tale were given names that were plausible for the historical and geographical setting of your narrative. All this requires effort and is not easily done.

Right down to details of architecture, culture, economics, geography, language, law, politics, religion, social stratification, weather, and more, the Gospels do not shy away from a full-orbed, comprehensive description of life in first century Palestine surrounding the events on which they are focused. Even the mention of names in the Gospels reveals that only someone who lived in that society at that time would have known the common names of the day. Williams reminds us that there was no internet to look up details of the world of Jesus. Many of the details are never mentioned anywhere else in ancient literature, so knowledge of them would have had to have been from firsthand experience.

Knowledge of the location of tax collectors, local botany, unusual customs, local languages, the personalities of characters in the Gospel accounts, and many other particulars are shown to be still further evidence of the reliability of the NT. Williams presents a kind of cumulative case apologetic to show that criticism of the historical reliability of the Gospels is laughable. It is simply too far-fetched to argue that they were written later and in another place.

This little book will be a tremendous help to the average Christian who wants to strengthen her own faith in the Scriptures and a valuable resource to put in the hands of someone searching for answers. I highly recommend it!


Acceptance of LGBT Increasingly a Requirement to Participate in Any Aspect of Society and Academia

kruger-photo-2015Michael Kruger, a world-class scholar on the New Testament and the canon of Scripture, brings to our attention the decision by the Society of Biblical Literature to disallow the Christian publisher, InterVarsity Press, from displaying their books at the annual meeting in November in San Antonio, TX. This includes Kruger’s excellent books on the canon. The reason? IVP decided to maintain their policy of upholding their employees to maintain a biblical view of marriage.

The SBL membership is a mixture of Christian and non-Christian scholars who study the biblical text at the highest academic levels. While there is strong disagreement over interpretation of Scripture, the two sides in the SBL have generally coexisted, even as the number of evangelical scholars has grown through the years. This move can be interpreted as nothing but an attempt to exclude traditional Christian belief regarding sexuality from even being discussed.

This is well worth the read to understand the growing intolerance of the “tolerance” warriors of the “intellectual left.”

What Jesus’ Temptation Teaches Us About Our Own

Now I have to ask you: If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did not presume to face the forces of evil in the world without a profound knowledge of the Bible in mind and heart, how could we try to face life any other way? It’s true that this takes a great deal of time and effort. Worship, daily reading, meditation and memorization, singing, listening to teaching—all of these are necessary to become as acquainted with the Scripture as we must be.
Tim Keller, Encounters with Jesus

The Role of the Bible in Theology and Apologetics

bibleSince the time of the Reformation, Christians have summarized their beliefs about the Bible in four words. These attributes of Scripture form an acrostic, SCAN, which stands for sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible contains everything we need to know for salvation and living in a way that pleases God (2 Pet. 1:3). Nothing needs to be added in order to make up a lack in it. It is a finished, complete document that communicates all that Christians need to know about God in order to be rightly related to him and to live godly lives in this world (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Sufficiency also means that Scripture is the final word from God (Heb. 1:1-2). Just as Jesus in the final revelation of God, and is the living Word of God, the Bible objectively declares all that God wants us to know about him. This is why nothing can be added or deleted from the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). While tradition can help us understand how faithful Christians of the past have understood the Scripture, and gives us a pattern for faithful Christian living, the Bible is the final arbiter of truth.

  1. The clarity of Scripture means that the teaching of Scripture about salvation and godly living can be understood by all who seek to study it in belief. This does not mean that everything in Scripture is equally clear, for there are some parts that are difficult to comprehend. It does mean, however, that God has not hidden the meaning of his revelation behind vague and esoteric language. Most of the Bible is written in rather plain, straightforward language. It is pictured as a lamp that lights one’s path (Psalm 119:105), leading clearly to truth and understanding.

Clarity also means that we do not need a religious expert to interpret the Bible for us. Every Christian possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit, who leads us into truth (John 16:13). This does not mean that we can determine the meaning of the Bible for ourselves, or that we don’t need to build on the theological understanding of Christians of the past, but rather it means that the Bible is not incomprehensible to us unless a priest or religious authority tells us what it means.

  1. The authority of Scripture means that the Bible is revelation from God himself, and that we are obligated to listen to it and obey it. Whatever the Bible speaks about is the truth, and it should arbitrate between competing truth claims. This does not mean that other human endeavors do not help us know our world, but if they contradict a clear statement in Scripture, the determination of truth lies with Scripture. The reason for this is that the Bible is the very Word of God, so it possesses the authority of God himself.

The authority of Scripture implies that it is also trustworthy, without error, and reliable. This has been challenged in countless ways by science, history, archaeology, philosophy, and others, but the Bible has always proven itself to stand the scrutiny of the human mind. Unbelievers want to elevate their own reason and authority over the Bible, but this has failed them every time. Whatever man considers to be wiser than God is shown to be foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-21)

  1. The necessity of Scripture means that apart from God revealing himself to us, we could not know God. While many things about God can be known by general revelation, what can be seen in the created order (Rom. 1:19-20), the Scriptures are necessary for us to know that Jesus died and rose again to save us. God is divine, perfect and infinite. We are creaturely, fallen and finite. God is so different from us that we would have no way of knowing him. But God condescended to reveal himself so that we might be restored to him. God has spoken to us in a way that is clear, translatable, objective, and able to be preserved.

If God had not revealed himself in the Bible we could not possibly know all the story of redemption that he has worked on our behalf. Because he has given us his Word, we can know the full riches of his gift of salvation through Christ. The necessity of God’s Word for salvation means that unless someone brings the Word of God to unbelievers they won’t know how to be saved (Rom. 10:13-15).


In order for us to defend the Christian faith, we must know what the Bible teaches about itself, and what Christians have always believed about it. The Bible is the bedrock of all that we believe and serves as the foundation for all that we call knowledge. It is important that we firmly grasp the truth about Scripture, especially in light of the many misconceptions and challenges raised against its reliability.

In addition, it is important for Christians to read and know the Bible on a personal level. It does no good to defend the Christian faith, share the gospel, and proclaim the truth of the Bible if we are not daily reading and meditating on it ourselves. The Bible is not a fact book to memorize; it is the revelation of the living God that is to be understood, believed, and lived. Only then will have the transformative effect that it is meant to have. The Scriptures transform more than just our knowledge; they completely renovate our hearts and minds, our words and actions, and our very being.

This is one reason why earlier in this study we learned that one of the best ways to become a good apologist and evangelist is to know the Scriptures and sound doctrine thoroughly. When we eat, sleep, and breathe the Scriptures, our senses are sharpened to discern and refute arguments that are false and idolatrous (Heb. 5:11-14). The Holy Spirit uses our knowledge of the Scriptures to give our minds the sharp ability to know what to say at the right time. As you consider the role of the Bible in apologetics, it is my hope that you will become a thoroughly biblical apologist.

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 2

File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_BoulogneThe Bible did not fall from heaven as a finished product placed in the hands of men. Neither was it, like the claims of both Mormonism and Islam, translated from golden plates found in a hillside or cave. Rather, God communicated to human authors in various ways, and guided their writing so that what was written was what God wanted to reveal to them. While 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us what Scripture is, the clearest passage that describes this process is found in 2 Peter 1:16-21.

In this text we see that those human authors who wrote the books of the Bible did not do so on their own initiative (2 Pet. 1:19-21). They did not decide to sit down and write sacred texts. Rather, as the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts and minds they wrote divine thoughts, mediated through their personalities and styles. The end result is Scripture that accurately communicates what God wanted to say, with humans as the instruments of God’s revelation. The word translated “carried along” or “moved” is also used to describe the effect the wind has on sails. The wind blows into the sails, which moves the ship forward. Peter is saying that as the Holy Spirit initiated revelation to the authors of Scripture, they wrote under His influence and guidance.

One question often raised pertains to the reliability of the Bible after all these years. Many critics charge that we could not possibly know what the original words of Scripture were because of errors in the copies. Two examples help dispel that notion. First, the Old Testament was carefully preserved by trained scribes in Israel whose main duty was to preserve the ancient texts. Their success in this is demonstrated in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in Israel. Among the scrolls found was a copy of Isaiah that was dated to about 100 B.C. Before this discovery, the oldest known copy of Isaiah dated back to 900 A.D. The difference in the copies, then, were about 1,000 years apart. Scholars were amazed to find that these copies were virtually identical to each other, showing very little difference. The only differences were minor spelling mistakes that did not in any way affect the meaning of the text of Isaiah.

The New Testament manuscripts are equally reliable. When we compare the almost 6,000 Greek manuscripts that date back to the 2nd century A.D., they are more than 95% identical to one another, and the remaining 5% of differences are spelling variations and simple errors made by later copyists that can be clearly identified as copy mistakes. None of these differences affect the teaching or doctrine of the Bible at all. In addition to Greek copies, we possess more than 20,000 early copies of the New Testament in many other languages also, including Latin, Syriac, Coptic (from Egypt), Gothic, Armenian, Nubian (from Sudan), and many more. All these show remarkable consistency over the centuries.

The conclusion to this is that the Bible is extremely reliable, even though parts of it are 3,500 years old. That means that when we confess that the Bible is our source of truth for doctrine and life, we can hold it confidently. So, what role does the Bible play for Christians and their doctrine?

In the next post, we will look at the Reformation principles of Scripture that make it central to the Christian faith.

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 1


2945978650_d15a7f6130The doctrine of Scripture is one of the most important doctrines to know in depth since the Bible serves as our foundation for knowing what we know. The Bible is also the target of many attacks on Christianity, so the better we know how it was written, what it says about itself, its historical nature, and place in Christian theology, the better we will be able to defend all of the Christian faith.

What IS the Bible?

There are many ideas about what the Bible is. Some believe it is like many of the rest of sacred religious books from around the world—pious people’s reflections on their experiences of the divine. Others believe the Bible is simply a collection of myths that some people mistakenly take to be divine. The Christian view, however, is that the Bible is the revelation of God about himself and his divine plan to redeem the world. The Bible, then, is the very Word of God to his creatures for the purpose of establishing a relationship with him. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that the words of Scripture are the very words of God breathed out by God himself. This is what we call the doctrine of Inspiration. God the Holy Spirit moved human authors to write his words so that each word, and the final finished product are exactly what God wanted to be written and without any errors. This is what we call the doctrine of Inerrancy.

Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, all his power and authority are invested in it. The Bible is not a dead book or an inert substance that has no power. Rather, the words of Scripture, being the very words of God, have incredible power to expose, convict, and transform the human heart (Heb. 4:12). Unbelievers often think that Christians merely follow the instructional teachings of a lifeless 2,000-year-old book of facts and commandments. In reality, Christians follow the living God who has spoken through his Word, which is a living and powerful document. When we defend the Bible, we should do it with this in mind.

Our relationship to the Bible is not like reading instructions on assembling a bicycle, but rather is like reading a personal, handwritten invitation by the President of the United States to dine weekly with him at the White House. Such an invitation would contain some instructions, of course, but its primary intent would be to invite you into a relationship with a kind and powerful ruler who wants to invite you to serve him in a prestigious position.

Sometimes unbelievers will fault Christians for believing in the Bible while missing this very point. Christians don’t believe the Bible because they want to live with as many rules as possible. No, Christians believe the Bible because they have discovered that it lays out the path to a restored relationship to God. And the Bible goes further, clearly teaching how we can participate in God’s great work of redemption in this life, and how we can have peace and joy for all eternity in the next life.

Another detail about the Bible many unbelievers don’t know is that, while it is a single book, it is also a collection of sixty-six books with a unified message. It is a library of books bound by a single theme of redemption. The Bible was written over the course of 1400 years by more than 40 authors, and yet is unified in its message. The Old Testament was written over a 1,000-year span, and the manuscripts were carefully preserved by the Jewish people to ensure accuracy. The New Testament was written over a 50-year span and was carefully preserved by the Christian church. (The reliability of the Bible will be covered in more detail in a later lesson).

In addition, the books of the Bible are comprised of many writing styles, or genres . In the Old Testament these include law books (Genesis-Deuteronomy), history (Joshua-Esther), poetry and wisdom literature (Job-Ecclesiastes), and prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). In the New Testament we have Gospels, or biographies (Matthew-John), history (Acts), epistles (Romans-Jude), and apocalyptic literature (Revelation). Each of these genres serves a different purpose in the unfolding story of redemption.

This is important, because unbelievers often know nothing about how the Bible came to be. They know that the Bible is old, but don’t know much else about it, except that there are miraculous stories written in it. The Bible is actually an amazing piece of literature in its own right, in addition to being the revelation form God so we can be rightly restored to him. One of our goals in apologetics is to get unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves. Countless unbelievers through the ages have been save simply by reading the Bible for themselves.

In the next post we will look at the way we got the Bible and its reliability.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 2

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” ( calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible. I return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

Part 1 can be found here.

Puppet3. Liberals don’t believe what the Bible says about itself.

Pavlovitz’s third point is the worst case of false dilemma I have ever encountered. Is there no third option between the writers of Scripture as “God-manipulated puppets” and regular humans beings in a rarified state of mind recording their experiences of the divine? Notice he doesn’t interact at all with any semblance of an evangelical view of inspiration. It’s either zombie secretaries or muses.

The apostle Peter testifies that the writers of Scripture did NOT take the initiative to write Scripture, but were rather moved by the Holy Spirit as wind moves the sails of a boat (2 Peter 1:21). Pavlovitz does speak of the primary Author of Scripture as the initiator but it seems to make no difference in his view of Scripture. He offers no solution for how the Bible can be God-breathed, yet also the work of human authors. His doctrine of inspiration is so thin a mouse couldn’t skate on it.

The overall impression I get from this point is that we need to dial down our belief in the authority of God’s Word—if he didn’t dictate it, we can’t take it all too seriously.

4.  Liberals don’t believe that the Bible has any objective meaning.

Pavlovitz makes a common mistake in this point. He confuses objectivity with neutrality. He is right that we can never shake off entirely our personal biases to be neutral, but that says nothing about whether I can objectively understand the Bible or interpret it objectively. Just as Pavlovitz had an objective meaning when he wrote this article, so God has an objective meaning to his words, and in his omnipotence knows how to communicate clearly.

Pavlovitz’s statement, “But until then, [when we reach maturity in the faith] most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image” smacks of relativism. He makes it sound as if widespread confusion on the meaning of the Bible is automatic and hard to escape. In saying this, he is denying the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit. He never tells us what the process of maturing is that sets us free from our own biases.

Has Pavlovitz reached this mystical plain? If not, why is his view of Scripture any better than mine. If he has reached maturity, maybe he can shine a light on the path so the rest of us can shake off our old fashioned ideas. This point smacks of cultural arrogance and triumphalism. Thank goodness someone like Pavlovitz has ascended the ladder of neutrality to tell us that that no one can ascend the ladder of neutrality. This is the relativist’s dilemma. If he is right that we are all blinded by our individual perspectives, then his own view is the result of a blinded perspective and it should carry no more weight than that of a farmer in Tibet.

This point reveals most clearly the influence of postmodernism in his thinking. At the root of it is a denial that God has spoken and that he has done so clearly. If God has not revealed, then this denial of neutrality leaves us all trapped in our own biases, with no chance of finding shared meaning. If however, God has revealed himself clearly, this postmodern gobbledygook is exposed for what it truly is.

 5.  Liberals don’t believe the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us.

The final point is the coup-de-grace. The Bible is not God we are told. It is words about God. Well, first of all, no one of which I am aware has ever mistaken the Bible for God. Second, as mentioned earlier, the Bible is not words about God, it is the revelation of God to man. There is a huge difference here.

Pavlovitz diminishes the Bible by saying it is a testimony about God. This is the neo-orthodox wedge. Karl Barth and all his neo-orthodox followers can be easily identified by the wedge they drive between God and the Scriptures. The Bible testifies about Jesus who is the true Word, they tell us. The Bible is the record about God, they claim. All this amounts to a Bible that does not need to be inerrant, because as long as it testifies to God, it fulfills its purpose, and the purpose is the only thing without error.

When Pavlovitz says that “the words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail,” he reveals his rejection of the Bible’s own testimony about itself. Excuse me, Mr. Pavlovitz, God created language. He tells us that his revelation is clear. Of course God is greater than his revelation to us in the Bible, but it is not therefore inadequate or ambiguous. The Reformation doctrines of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture hold that the Bible is both sufficient to communicate to us everything necessary to know about God, and that these things are clear.

To claim that God is too big for words is to deny God’s ability to communicate. Pavlovitz’s strawmen are too numerous to detail here. For example, who has ever claimed that words can contain God? No one; that’s who. Yet, the effect of this statement is to encourage the idea that the Bible can’t accurately tell us about God.

To sum it up, Pavlovitz’s view of the Bible is nothing short of liberalism rehashed with a dash of neo-orthodoxy and a pinch of postmodernism thrown in for good measure. And make no mistake, it is a view of the Bible that is deadly to faith. It undermines the Reformation doctrines of Scripture—its sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity. Nothing will kill a church faster than this view of Scripture, because it undermines every other doctrine along with it. Look at the last 100 years in the mainline liberal denominations. One hundred years of steady decline. Look at the last 50 years in neo-orthodox churches. Fifty years of steady decline.

Why? Because a diminishing of the doctrine of Scripture results in the destruction of every other doctrine. Pavlovitz’s article probably reveals the growing consensus of the evangelical church in light of the modern pressures of evolution, homosexuality, multiculturalism, world religions, and other forces. If evangelical Christians are not careful they will find themselves without conviction about any of their beliefs and defenseless in the face of attack.

Genuine believers cannot admit what Pavlovitz wants us to admit because his strawmen don’t represent what most Christians believe. Rather, he ought to admit that what he is proposing reflects quite accurately a 21st century liberalism that is death to the church.

5 Things I Wish Liberals Would Admit About Their Rejection of the Historic Christian Faith, Part 1

buck-teethNineteenth-century theological liberalism is all the rage in evangelical Christianity these days, although it is never identified as such by those who peddle it. It appears, rather, as “enlightened,” modern, thinking—Christianity for the 21st century—respectable, so the world will not think we are odd anymore. Liberal theology is a real thing, not some imaginary boogey man used by Fundamentalists to scare their followers away from new Bible translations and contemporary music (although it is that too).

The essence of theological liberalism, according to Gary Dorrien, a world-renown liberal theologian at Union Theological Seminary, is the belief that Christianity needs no external authority. Therefore, as Friedrich Schleiermacher argued in the early 19th century, the essence of Christianity is an experience of God, a feeling of absolute dependence on the divine. Liberal theology opens the door for higher criticism of the Bible since the reliability of Scripture and the historicity of the events recorded in its pages are inconsequential. The Bible’s importance is to help us have an experience of God. The details are irrelevant.

One of the consequences of liberal theology, surprisingly, is a kind of anti-intellectualism that fights against any attempts to prove the Bible correct. While conservative scholars seek to find answers for the challenges raised by higher critics, liberals pooh-pooh these attempts and typically side with the critics. Liberals believe wholeheartedly in Immanuel Kant’s division between the noumenal and phenomenal. Kant (1724-1804) declared that the phenomenal world (the observable world) could be known, but the noumenal world (God, the self and the “thing-in-itself”) could only be believed. He was trying to make room for faith in a world that was increasingly skeptical of anything that could not be subject to the scientific method. As a result, you can believe whatever you want about religious matters, but they cannot be counted as knowledge.

The net effect of all this in liberal theology is that declarations by those in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) are taken as gospel truth without question. And for most liberals, the soft sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) are just as revered. Therefore, for the liberal, the Bible and Christianity must always make way for whatever the “sciences” declare. This leaves little room for anything of historical Christianity. The liberal must focus on religious experience, because that is all he has left. This is anti-intellectualism at its worst, because if the essence of Christianity is religious experience, no experience or belief can be shown to be wrong, because neither is based on the Bible being reliable or authoritative. This leads to rather fuzzy thinking, because critique and discernment are no longer allowed, since the standard on which they are based has been undermined.

Taken to its logical end, this ultimately leads to the kind of pluralism that admits any sincere religious experience, regardless of the subject’s stated religion. Not every liberal goes this far, but neither does he have any grounds to object when someone does choose pluralism. Christianity becomes just one religion among many, useful only to the extent that it leads to an ineffable encounter with the divine. Cue Rob Bell.

This is exactly why J. Gresham Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism almost 100 years ago, and why it still stands as an unanswered challenge to liberals. Machen argues persuasively that liberal theology is not even Christianity, because it denies every major belief that makes Christianity unique. In short, liberal theology is a parasite that attaches itself to a church, denomination, seminary, or otherwise and eventually kills the host by sucking the life-blood out of it.

John Pavlovitz’s article, “5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible,” ( is a perfect example of the kind of fuzzy thinking and anti-intellectualism that was characteristic of the 19th century version of liberalism. Pavlovitz wants to enlighten us about the Bible so we won’t be so gosh-darned old-fashioned. His five wishes parrot the theses of many of the most popular left-wing Christian writers in the last decade, including Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Stanley Grenz, and Greg Boyd.

Since Pavlovitz calls Christians to “admit” certain ideas about the Bible, I will return the favor and call on him to admit what his article assumes about the Bible. These assumptions amount to a rejection of orthodox Christianity’s basis in an authoritative Bible.

  1. Liberals believe the Bible is a merely human book that contradicts itself.

Pavlovitz’s first error appears almost immediately when he claims that the Bible is not a book, but a collection of books. This is a false dichotomy. The Bible is both a library and one unified book. The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments are considered in one category as early as the writing of 2 Peter 3:15-16, and throughout the history of the church (as evidenced in WCF 1.2). He is correct that the various genres of Scripture require genre-sensitive interpretation.

However, when he writes, “we don’t approach each book the same way,” he introduces ambiguity into the discussion. What does he mean by this? Do we approach some books authoritatively, and others merely as histories not intended to be taken as historical? Because his writing is so vague it’s hard to know what he is implying. It would help if along with recognizing genre differences he would emphasize that all of Scripture is authoritative.

His final paragraph of his first point seems odd to me. While it is true that sometimes those who believe in “literal” interpretation don’t account for literary differences in genre, to say that Christians need to be freed from the confusion of literal interpretation seems to be a way of saying that we don’t always need to accept Scripture at face value, even when it speaks plainly.

His last sentence is problematic, too. I’m not sure what he means when he says that the Bible is a record of God. The Bible is only secondarily that. It is first and foremost a revelation of God. One of the net effects of liberalism is that the Bible, like the sacred books of all other religions, is reduced to a mere record of the religious experiences of its adherents. Whether Pavlovitz means this or not is unclear. Believers should be cautious, however, to guard against the reimagining of the Bible as simply a record.

  1. Liberals believe that because some passages are difficult to understand, we probably shouldn’t claim to know the true meaning of any passage.

I sympathize with Pavlovitz’s second point. Many Christians do, in fact, use verses out of context, and interpret the Bible the way they want. But these practices are clearly in violation of the way Scripture itself says it is to be interpreted.

Ironically, while Pavlovitz calls for a better reading of Scripture, his article reflects either a rejection or ignorance of hermeneutics and progressive revelation. Of course there are ambiguities in Scripture, but he doesn’t remind his readers at all that there are ways to arrive at the true meaning of a passage. God has not left us to doubt the correct meaning of most of Scripture. It is, as Pavlovitz says, a complex book, but it is not without definite meaning.

This essay will continue in Part 2.

The Natural World Has God’s Name Written All Over It

The whole of created reality, including therefore the fields of research with which the various sciences deal, reveals the same God of which Scripture speaks. The very essence of created reality is its revelational character. Scientists deal with that which has the imprint of God’s face upon it.

Created reality may be compared to a great estate. The owner has his name plainly and indelibly written at unavoidable places. How then would it be possible for some stranger to enter this estate, make researches in it, and then fairly say that in these researches he need not and cannot be confronted with the question of ownership?

Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (P&R, 2004), 125.

Van Til’s point and illustration are in full agreement with Psalm 19:1-6 which remind us that every day the natural world is shouting, recounting, bubbling forth and advertising (the basic meanings of the Hebrew verbs in v. 1-2) the glory of God. As Van Til further says, “man is without excuse if he does not discover God in nature.” By this he does not mean that nature is God or that any god can be found in nature. Rather, he means that everything in creation is essentially revelational. And that revelation is clear. This means that the Christian holds to the perspicuity (clear and understandable nature) of both natural revelation and biblical revelation. This is exactly Paul’s point in Romans 1:18-20. The end result is that man is without excuse for his unbelief. No one will be able to say, as atheist Bertrand Russell once claimed he would say if he saw God after death, “Not enough evidence God, not enough evidence!”

Thank You for Telling Me About God. Now Leave Me Alone To Worship My Idols.

I was reading in Daniel this morning when I saw something I had never seen before (don’t you love how the Holy Spirit does that!), and I couldn’t read any further. After Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2), in which a rock (Christ) destroys the Babylonian empire and all empires that followed, an amazing thing happens. In the very next verse (3:1), Nebuchadnezzar crafts a golden idol of himself for all to worship. The very next verse! In other words, immediately after declaring to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (2:47), Nebuchadnezzar rushes out to fashion an idol of himself.

This becomes a pattern in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. After being warned of impending judgment by Daniel in chapter 4 for his pride and self-sufficiency, Nebuchadnezzar has the gall to look over Babylon and praise himself for what he had “built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty” (4:30).

How like Nebuchadnezzar I am! In the same day that I am overwhelmed by the greatness and worthiness of God, I can turn and pride myself in some achievement, glory in my own greatness, or bow before the idol of my desires. I am really no better then Nebuchadnezzar, because like him, I am human and depraved. Like him I can hear the truth, stand in awe of it, praise God for it, and walk away and seek my own glory.

This is nothing more than my proclivity for making myself and my desires idols to be worshipped. Thank you very much for the truth, God, now leave me alone so I can worship myself. More and more I see this tendency as the foundational problem in my struggle with sin. And discovering this has been the path to freedom, for if I can identify the root of my sin, I can kill the fruit by hacking at the root. The grace of God in forgiveness and empowerment means that I CAN see this idolatry dislodged from my heart.

Let’s keep hacking at the root idolatries in our lives until Jesus comes!