Textual Transmission in High Gear

This post was prompted by some comments a friend recently posted on Facebook. I am not sure this will address her specific concerns, but her comments were similar to objections that are often raised against the reliability of the Bible. One thing she said was that she couldn’t trust every word of the Bible because it has been translated too many times and too much is missing. While I don’t know what she thinks the number of translations have to do with the reliability of the text, it is commonly believed that the transmission of the text from the original to the present was like a game of telephone. You may know this as the game where a group of people forms a line and the first person in line whispers a message in the ear of the next, and so on down the line until the last person gets the message. When the message the last person gets is compared to the original, it bears little resemblance. Likewise, it is thought that the authors of the books of the Bible wrote their autographs, which were then translated into another language, and then another, and so on until we get our English Bibles. In fact however, the transmission of the Old and New Testaments was nothing like the telephone game.

While it is true that the original documents, called autographs, are lost to us, we have good reason to believe that what we do have is a reliable copy of what they wrote.

 

OT Hebrew Texts

The writers of the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Tanakh, wrote in Hebrew, except for some portions of Daniel, which were written in Aramaic. The Pentateuch, or Torah, which contained the first five books, was written around 1400 BC. The last of the OT books, 2 Chronicles, was probably written around 450 BC. While the number of available manuscripts (handwritten copies) is much fewer than that of the NT, this is because of the meticulous approach Jewish scribes took to textual transmission. When a scroll became worn out, it was copied with great care and then destroyed. This is not to say that there are not ancient copies, however. Until 1948 the oldest extant copies were Masoretic manuscripts dating to about 900 AD. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, copies were found dating to about 100 BC. Where complete books were found, the differences were few and inconsequential. Moreover, support for the reliability of the Masoretic text can be found in an ancient translation. As Geisler and Nix point out,

Perhaps the best line of evidence to support the integrity of the Masoretic Text comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX). This work was performed during the third and second centuries BCE in Alexandria, Egypt. For the most part it was almost a book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter reproduction of the MT, containing common stylistic and idiomatic differences. Furthermore, the LXX was the Bible of Jesus and the apostles, and most New Testament quotations are taken from it directly.[1]

English Bibles are translated from their original languages. While the translation committees, to better see how a particular passage was understood by other cultures, use ancient translations, there is no case in which the English translation is the end of a chain of previous translations. The same can be said of the New Testament.

Koine Greek was the language of first century Roman world.

There have been some skeptics who have suggested that the New Testament documents were not written until the second or third century AD. However, the very language of the manuscripts argues against this.

The basic language of the New Testament, however, was Greek. Until the late nineteenth century, New Testament Greek was believed to be a special “Holy Ghost” language, but since that time it has come to be identified as one of the five stages in the development of Greek itself. This koine Greek was the most widely known language throughout the world of the first century.[2]
What this means is that to suggest the NT documents were written 100-200 years after the fact is like saying Shakespeare’s works were not written until the 1800’s. It implies an attempt to deliberately deceive the reader by using an archaic language style.

NT Greek Texts

            Further support for the reliability of the NT documents comes from the number of available manuscripts. These include those in Greek as well as some of the earliest translations, known as versions. “The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations by patristic writers.”[3]

As noted above, in addition to the manuscripts, the NT documents can be reconstructed from quotations from the early Church Fathers. “Not only did the early Fathers cite all twenty-seven books of the New Testament, they also quoted virtually all of the verses in all of these twenty-seven books. Five Fathers alone from Irenaeus to Eusebius possess almost 36,000 quotations from the New Testament.”[4] With such a wealth of sources, relying on a chain or translations is not only unnecessary, it would be frivolous. Moreover, if such a method had been employed, any scholar of Greek or Hebrew would have the resources to check its accuracy from the ancient sources.[5]

With respect to the “missing” parts, again I am not sure of what my friend was referring to, but there are some who think there must be missing books, or “lost books” of the Bible. I will address this by summarizing an argument put forth by Greg Koukl.[6] Views of just what the Bible is can be boiled down to two: it is either divine revelation, inspired and preserved by God, or it is a collection of literature that reflect the beliefs of the Christian Church. If some books are excluded from the canon (the authoritative list) it is either because God did not inspire or preserve their inclusion, or the Christian Church rejected them because they did not reflect their beliefs. In either case, there are no lost or missing books.

While I have offered no arguments here that the Bible is inspired or inerrant, I have shown that inspiration or inerrancy is not undermined by the textual transmission.

[1]
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 198-99.

[2] Ibid., 166

[3] J. Ed Komoszewski, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 82, quoted in Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 96.

[4] Geisler, 217.

[5] For more information on New Testament manuscripts, see www.csntm.org

[6] http://www.str.org/articles/no-lost-books-of-the-bible#.VXXjklxVhBc

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 2

P R I N C I P L E # 1

Twilight of the Gods

Building Immunity

  1. Summarize the sociological research on young people who report having doubts or questions. Do you know anyone with doubts who is struggling to find answers? Are you struggling yourself?

The research showed that about a third of those surveyed reported abandoning Christianity because of unanswered questions, feeling as though the questions themselves are out of bounds. I was recently in a dialogue with one young man who seems to be struggling to find answers to his doubts. However, knowing human nature, it occurs to me that it is simplistic to think this is purely a matter of unanswered questions. Often these questions coincide with temptations of this world, sometimes along with new freedom to indulge these temptations. The unanswered questions become a way to justify the ensuing behavior.

Principle #1 Identify the Idol

  1. How is the biblical word heart often misunderstood? What is its correct meaning?

In contemporary usage, heart is used to refer to emotions. Its biblical meaning is the innermost being, the mind, will, emotions, character, and spiritual commitments.

  1. “Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God or gods.” Because this is a common line among atheists today, you should know how to respond. Based on the text, what could you say?

Based on the text, I would point out that the atheist, like everyone else, holds something to be of ultimate concern. For them, it is not God. However, based on the advice of Greg Koukl, I would ask, “On the proposition ‘God exists,’ what do you say? Is it true, false, or do you withhold judgment?” If they say “true,” they are theists. If they say “false,” they are atheists. If they withhold judgment, they are agnostic. Note that if they are atheists, they have a belief about God. It is that there is no such being. The problem comes from an equivocation on what it means to “believe in God.” Classically understood, this meant more than merely assenting to the fact of his existence. It meant faith, or trust. Now it has come to mean “I acknowledge God exists.” This would be a good place to practice Columbo tactics and ask what they mean when they say they are atheists.

  1. What are the two advantages of using the biblical term idols for both secular and religious worldviews? (The second one is under the next subhead.)

One advantage is that it levels the playing field by showing that every worldview has to have a self-existent starting point. The other is it shows how even the most secular worldview serves as a religious commitment.

Religion without God

  1. As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the following diagram. On the left side, write the features that most people associate with religion. On the right side, explain why that feature is not a necessary part of the definition of religion. Give examples.

Common Definitions of Religion

Why Isn’t That Definition Adequate?

Belief in a Deity Several religions are non-theistic
Moral code Some religions are amoral and even immoral.
Worship rituals. Epicureans and Aristotle thought God took no interest in humans.
  1. Why are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism described as atheistic religions?

They are neither founded by, nor identify any deity.

Religion without Morality

  1. Give examples of amoral and even immoral religions.

Buddhism and Hinduism are amoral religions, as they deny moral distinctions. The gods of Greco-Roman mythology were given to greed, adultery, etc, and were actually immoral. Moreover, some ancient religions involved human, even child, sacrifice.

Search for the Divine

  1. What is the one thing that characterizes all religions as well as all secular philosophies? Can you think of any exceptions?

All religions and secular philosophies hold something to have the status of divinity, that is, something that needs no explanation for its existence.

Philosophers and Their Gods

  1. As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the diagram below. On the left side, write the name of each ism discussed. On the right side, identify its idol. Go back and start with the section titled “Search for the Divine.”

Philosophy

Pre-Socratics

What Is Its Idol?

Earth, air, fire, water

Pythagoreans number
Plato/ Aristotle Rational form
materialism matter
Marxism Economic conditions
empiricism The senses
  1. What does the Greek word arché mean? Do you agree that the early Greek philosophies qualify as idols under the definition in Romans 1? Give your reasons.

Arché means the first, or dominant principle. For the Greek philosophies that held that one of the four elements, or form, or number had the status of divinity, and therefore fits the Romans 1 definition of idol.

The Church of Physics: Idol of Matter

  1. Dialogue: I once had a Facebook discussion with a young fan of Richard Dawkins, who was outraged that I would suggest secularism had anything in common with religion. To this young man, religion represented blind faith while science stood for reason and facts. Imagine yourself in a conversation with a young man like that. Write a dialogue in which you level the playing field by showing that all belief systems share the same basic structure.

YM: “Science stands for reason and facts. Religion represents blind faith.”

M: On your view, what exists that requires no prior cause?

YM: The universe.

M: So on your view, the universe is divine?

  1. Explain the logical steps that lead from materialism to Marxism’s economic determinism.

If all that exists is matter, and humans are defined by the way they relate to matter, those who control the means of production control political, moral, and religious forces that determine economic conditions, which are the ultimate reality.

Hume Meets the Klingons: Idol of the Senses

  1. Like Data in Star Trek, atheists often charge that Christianity is “irrational” simply because it accepts the existence of a realm beyond the empirical world. Based on the text, how could you answer that charge?

I would ask what empirical evidence do they have that we can only know what we can test empirically?

Inside the Matrix

  1. Dialogue: Explain to an empiricist how his or her philosophy involves a divinity belief.

If all that can be known is what can be experienced by the senses, the senses have the status of divinity. It is an epistemology that starts and ends within the mind with the senses. Pressed to its logical conclusion, since we have no access to another’s senses, we are left with solipsism. We can only accept the existence of the world within range of our senses. If we can trust what others tell us they are experiencing by their senses, then we can know things not immediately available to our senses, therefore empiricism is false.

Go Within, Young Man

  1. One philosopher says that Enlightenment epistemologies set up “the first-person standpoint” as the only path to certainty. They turned the self into “the locus and arbiter of knowledge.” Explain what that means and what the end result was.

The idea is that we can strip away all that we have learned from culture and education and begin from the foundation with the consciousness as the only way to knowledge. Ironically, they expect to accept their attempt to educate us on this and take it on their authority.

Truth Substitutes

  1. Philosophers like Karl Popper and John Herman Randall point out the “religious character” of Enlightenment epistemologies. Explain what they meant.

The authority of divine revelation is replaced by the authority of the senses, or the intellect.

Kant’s Mental Prison: Idol of the Mind

  1. What was Kant’s “Copernican revolution”? What was his God substitute? Define solipsism, and explain why philosophies that start within the human mind end in solipsism.

Kant claimed that all we have are sense perceptions on which our minds impose order. He moved our consciousness to the center of the universe. The mind became the God substitute.

Solipsism is the idea that all that you can know is your own mind. When all that can be known is our sense perceptions, or the ideas that derive from them, all that you have is solipsism.

The Artist as God: Idol of the Imagination

  1. Describe the evidence showing that, for the Romantics, the imagination was their God substitute, and art was their substitute religion.

Describing the imagination as “autonomous, immune, or unchallengeable” shows the view that it is the Romantic’s God substitute. As such, art was their response to that which help the status of divinity.

Cure for Blind Philosophers

  1. Read “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe on the following pages. How does it illustrate the origin of idols?

“The Blind Men and the Elephant”

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, “Ho, what have we here,

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain” quoth he:

“’Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

It shows how idolatrous worldviews see some part of reality as the totality of reality and deny all else.

The Joy of Critical Thinking

  1. How does Christianity affirm what is good and true in these

philosophies?

Materialism: God created a good material universe and made it discoverable. Therefore, even materialistic scientists can tell us useful things about it.

Rationalism: Since God is a rational being, he made a rational world and gave us rational faculties by which we can understand it.

Empiricism: God created us with sensory faculties, and gave us sense experiences that lead us to truth.

Romanticism: As created in the image of God, we have some creative capabilities that ought to be used for his glory.

“To an Unknown God”

  1. “Paul was making the astounding claim that Christianity provides the context of meaning for the Greeks to understand their own culture.” Explain what that means. Choose one example from our own day, and explain how the same principle can be applied.

            Paul was using the true parts of the Greek understanding to build a bridge, showing how the Christian worldview filled in where their view lacked. In our day, there are people arguing for same-sex marriage on the view that it is only fair. Fairness is a moral category that is best explained by the Christian worldview.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Questions 16-19

Finishing up Chapter 1.

Principle #4: Test the Idol: Does It Contradict Itself?

  1. Define self-referential absurdity. Give an example of how the argument works.

Self-referential absurdity obtains when a proposition fails its own test. Examples are:

  • There are no truths.
  • I cannot speak a word of English.
  • There are no English sentences more than three words long.
  • Consciousness is an illusion.
  1. Explain why idol-based worldviews refute themselves. The text says that adherents of reductionist worldviews “have to borrow Christianity’s high view of reason in order to give reasons for their view.” Explain what that means.

Idol-based worldviews reduce humans to something less than rational beings, but claim to be rational in doing so; therefore they refute themselves. When those who hold these worldviews defend them, they have to assume a view of reason that is much more at home in the Christian worldview. As Frank Turek says, “they have to climb into God’s lap to slap his face.”

Principle #5: Replace the Idol: Make the Case for Christianity

  1. “What a powerful image of people caught in cognitive dissonance, reaching out to grab on to truths that their own worldviews deny—truths that only a Christian worldview logically supports.” Unpack this sentence. Explain how secular thinkers are trying to hold on to truths that are logically supported only by Christianity.

Coincidentally, just a few months before this book went to print, Frank Turek published a book called Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God To Make Their Case. In it, Turek points out that atheists claim to hold to principles like causality, reason, information and intentionality, morality, evil, and science. None of these principles can work outside the Christian worldview. [1]

Liberated Minds

  1. Dialogue: When Finding Truth was in manuscript form, I taught a class using it as a text. One student, a father of pre-teens, said, “Your book is convicting me that I brush off my kids when they have questions about Christianity. I have made a commitment that from now on, I will listen to my children and treat their questions seriously.”

But another student, a young woman from El Salvador, rejected the very idea of apologetics. In her view, the use of reason to defend Christianity is a matter of “pride” and “the flesh.” “Christians should rely on the Holy Spirit,” she said, quoting Paul:

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” and “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 1:20; 2:2). Write a dialogue as if you are speaking with the young woman from El Salvador. How would you persuade this woman that it is valid for Christians to defend their convictions?

In this dialogue, I would note that this woman had just offered an argument for her view and even cited Scripture in support of it. I would ask her why she was not relying on the Holy Spirit, and why was her use of reason not a matter of pride and the flesh? It seems to me she recognized the value of apologetics even as she denied it.

[1] For a summary/review of Turek’s book, see https://apologeticsminion.com/2015/03/06/stealing-from-god/

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Questions 13-15

Principle #3: Test the Idol: Does It Contradict What We Know

about the World?

  1. “We can be confident that every idol-based worldview will fail.” It will be unable to account for what is knowable by general revelation. Explain why. Illustrate by using materialism as an example.

A materialistic worldview cannot account for the beginning of the universe, which would have had to be an immaterial, personal entity. Materialism holds that all that exists is the material world, but the material world began. Moreover, materialism cannot account for us as persons. Persons only come from persons. As persons, we have something else materialism cannot account for; free will. If all we are is molecules in motion, free will does not exist, and if it does not exist, we cannot know it or anything else.

  1. Explain how every idol-based worldview leads people to cognitive dissonance—a gap between what their worldview tells them and what they know from general revelation.

This gap between worldview and experience shows up in the case of free will. Philosophers will affirm determinism and free will at the same time. They cannot deny free will and they WILL not deny determinism.

  1. Explain how reductionism is a strategy of suppression. How is it used to suppress the evidence for God from general revelation?

When faced with this cognitive dissonance, the tendency is to reduce free will to an illusion. This, however, does not solve the knowledge problem. Some even go so far as to call consciousness an illusion. The problem with that is that illusions are experiences of consciousness. You can’t make this stuff up.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Questions 11-12

Principle #2: Identify the Idol’s Reductionism

  1. Define reductionism. In what way is reductionism like trying to stuff the entire universe into a box? Give an example.

Reductionism is the view that higher, more complex things can be identified with and explained in terms of lower, simpler things. For example, a pain is said to be nothing but the firing of certain neurons. Reductionism is like trying to stuff the entire universe into a box in that the box is reduced to a size too small to fit all of reality. Whatever is explained away by the reductionism will not fit in the box. For example, on materialism, any non-physical realities will not fit, such as logic, morality, rationality, spiritual entities, etc.

  1. How does reductionism affect one’s view of human nature? In your answer, explain this principle: “Every concept of humanity is created in the image of some god.” Use materialism as an example.

Given that every concept of humanity is created in the image of some god, and every god of non-biblical worldviews is lesser than the God who is, human nature will be less than what it is. For example, on materialism, human beings are nothing but highly evolved bipedal primates. We are animated aggregates of molecules in motion, or what Kevin Lewis calls “stardust in a cosmic blender. Morality is nothing but social conventions, and we have no greater claim to the planet or its resources than any other species. Human rights are whatever the greater culture decides they are. If the culture decides that Africans are not equal to Europeans and can be owned as property, then that is what is “right.” If 1930’s German culture decides Jews are not human and can be killed at will, then that is “right.” If 20th/21st Century America decides that the unborn is not worthy of human rights, then that is our “choice.”

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

In a recent Sunday School class, we had a discussion on the nature of divine omniscience. This is a topic that is easy to get lost in. It involves terms and concepts that most people do not understand, or care much about. Sometimes, however, wrestling with these ideas is important.

When theologians disagree on the topic, usually it is related to what is called divine foreknowledge (DF.) However, I think it is important to state at the outset that with the exception of one view of DF, it is agreed that to divide God’s knowledge into subcategories is artificial and does not reflect what we think actually happens. As an omniscient being, God has all his knowledge at once, and does not learn, or gain new knowledge over time. From the divine creation decree God has known all that is true. While the truth-value of tensed facts changes with time, and God knows this, it is not genuinely new knowledge. To speak of God’s knowledge of future events is to speak from a human perspective. It is a manner of speaking. As Shedd writes:

Divine knowledge is (a) intuitive as opposed to demonstrative or dis-cursive; it is not obtained by comparing one thing with another or deducing one truth from another; it is a direct vision; (b) simultaneous as opposed to successive; it is not received gradually into the mind and by parts; the perception is total and instantaneous; and (c) complete and certain as opposed to incomplete and uncertain. Divine knowledge excludes knowledge by the senses, gradual acquisition of knowledge, forgetting of knowledge, and recollection of knowledge.[1]

Moreover, Grudem defines omniscience, “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.”[2]

There is a view, called “Open Theism” that denies that God knows what for us are future events and “counterfactuals of creaturely freedom.” (CCF) CCF are not universally agreed upon either, since not all theologians agree on the existence and nature of free will. One such proponent is Gregory Boyd. Boyd denies that future events are part of “all things actual” and therefore denial of God’s knowledge of such things does no violence to omniscience.[3] Boyd goes on to argue that events in the world include both those things that are “settled” and those that are not, whereas the classical theist holds that all things that happen are settled.[4]

Some of the relevant scriptures include Isaiah 46:9b-11,

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,

 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
11 Calling a bird of prey from the east,
The man of My purpose from a far country.
Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.
I have planned it, surely I will do it.

Psalm 139:3-4,

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

Psalm 139:15-16

My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.

Moreover, with respect to CCF, we see in 1 Samuel 23:10-13,

Then David said, “O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When it was told Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the pursuit.

Note God told David what the men of Keilah would do if David stayed there, and so he did not. Does this mean God was mistaken?

Boyd argues from silence that the fact that God decrees some events does not mean all events are settled.[5] He goes on to cite verses where God expresses surprise, regret, disappointment, and the unexpected, such as Isaiah 5:2, Jeremiah 3:6-7, 1 Samuel 13:13, etc. Some passages describe God’s attributes, such as his omniscience (Isaiah 46, Psalm 139, etc). In other passages, through the prophets, God describes situations in human terms (Isaiah 5:2, Jeremiah 3:6-7, 1 Samuel 13:13, etc). Paul Helm argues that the latter need to be understood in light of the former, not vice versa.[6]

Pascal once observed that people arrive at their beliefs based on what they find attractive. Seeing God as one who is all-powerful, wise, and loving but not knowing the future completely makes him a little more understandable. It is not easy to wrap you mind around a God who knows everything that will happen. Some confuse this with fatalistic determinism. However, God knowing what some person will do does not cause that person to do it. Moreover, if God does not know the future, then when he answers prayer it seems more miraculous when he answers because he would have to intervene on a series of events already in motion. It would also mean that if God answers prayers, we can move him to action in real time to do what he might otherwise not have done. However, if God does know the future completely, he also knows every prayer I will pray and how he will answer.

To see how God would answer prayers he does not expect requires a convoluted view of God’s relationship to time that is ad hoc and unwarranted. An illustration comes to mind from one of my favorite accounts of answered prayer.[7] Helen Roseveare, a physician from Northern Ireland who has served as a medical missionary in Zaire, Africa, tells of her experience when a baby is born whose mother dies in childbirth and there is a need for a hot water bottle to replace the last one that broke. The next day, when she was about to pray with the children of the orphanage, she suggested praying for the needs of this child and her two-year-old sister. One child’s prayer was especially bold. “Please, God, send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God the baby will be dead; so please send it this afternoon. And while you are about it, would you please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know you really love her?” That very afternoon, a package arrived with both the hot water bottle and the doll. The package was assembled by a Sunday School class Roseveare used to teach. They sent it five months earlier. I think God’s foreknowledge of the needs and the prayers is far more plausible than the idea that he created these items ex nihilo on its way, or that it was a coincidence.

Finally, it seems to me that Anselm was on to something when he developed the idea that God is the greatest conceivable being, or a maximally great being. As such, if we read passages of Scripture that describe his attributes, and some passages suggest a greater degree of an attribute than others, it is best to assume the greater.

I believe open theists are wrestling with the text of Scripture are not seeking to diminish God’s glory. Boyd even argues that his view enhances it. I think he is mistaken. It seems obvious that a God who knows all things, including future contingencies and CCF is greater than one that does not.

[1] William G T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., ©2003), 288.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994), 190.

[3] Gregory Boyd in James Bielby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Kindle Edition. (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2001), 13

[4] Ibid., 15

[5] Ibid., 17

[6] Ibid., 61

[7] J. P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007), 17-18.

Total Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 10

Five Strategic Principles

Principle #1: Identify the Idol

  1. The text says that every nonbiblical religion or worldview starts with an idol. It must locate an eternal, uncaused cause within the created order. Explain why, and list some examples. Can you think of any exceptions to this principle?

In a course pack on Historical Perspectives on Science and Religion, Keas and Magruder point out:

Following the clear discussion in Roy Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality (Notre Dame, 2005), we may define “faith” or “religious belief” as a heart-deep response to what a person takes to hold the status of divinity. By “divine” we mean, “that which is able to exist on its own without depending on anything else” (this definition is consistent with traditional Western usage from Aristotle to Aquinas and thereafter… even William James agrees with us here, and it appears to be implicit within the Bible). In this sense one’s divinity could be Yahweh, matter/energy, Number, form, self, or almost anything else.[1]

On this view, all worldviews have something that is of ultimate concern. Nonbiblical worldviews have a god-substitute, or an idol. For the materialist, the universe will be the idol. It is simply a brute reality. For the pantheist, the created order is identical with the creator. They ascribe divine attributes to the universe. Rather than explain the origin of material reality, they deny its existence. As Sire writes, “If anything that is not God appears to exist, it is maya, illusion, and does not truly exist.”[2]

Exceptions to this principle might include Islam, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Islam worships a god that created the universe, but is transcendent, to the point that nothing about Allah is revealed except his will. Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm a God like the biblical God, but who apparently could not preserve his word or his church for about 1800 years. Mormonism holds to a multitude of gods, and make no claims on the origin of the universe.

“When was there a beginning? There never was one; if there was, there will be an end; but there never was a beginning, and hence there will never be an end; that looks like eternity. When we talk about the beginning of eternity, it is rather simple conversation, and goes far beyond the capacity of man.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 47.)

Despite the fact that Mormonism, Islam, and the Watchtower all have a divinity that transcends creation, we will see how their views still lead to the reductionism to be discussed in Principle 2.

[1] Biola University, 2014

[2] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, ©1997), 122.

Total Truth Study Guide : Chapter 1 Questions 5-9

Since these are shorter questions, I am posting them in one article.

God Substitutes

  1. “An atheist professor once told me that the Bible teaches polytheism because the first commandment speaks of ‘other gods.’” This claim is made frequently on atheist Internet sites. Practice explaining what the first commandment really means to someone who claims that it teaches polytheism.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3)

The Hebrew phrase translated “before me” means “in my sight/presence.” In other words, “Get out of my face with your idols.” It does not mean, “I am to be first among many.”

  1. The text says that the easy-to-diagnose, surface-level sins are often driven by the more hidden sin of idolatry. Think of examples in your own life. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

While we no longer bow before statues of gods made of wood, stone, silver or gold, when we live as though something other than God has the most important position in our lives. Anything we want more than God is our idol.

For many years, I turned to food for comfort because it was easier than seeking God and relying on him for comfort. Sometimes my workout routine can become the distraction that serves the same purpose.

When Good Gifts Are False Gods

  1. How can even good things become idols? Describe something good that you have been tempted to turn into an idol. Discuss if you feel comfortable doing so.

There was a time in my life when I accepted the demands placed on me that required that I relinquish my leadership role in order to keep “peace” when the only result was one of my children being mistreated. “That’s all I got to say about that.”

Idols Have Consequences

  1. What does the Greek word nous mean? How does that give richer meaning to scriptural verses such as these: “God gave them up to a debased mind” (Rom. 1:28); “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2)? Add your own examples.

The sense of the word is broad enough to encapsulate the idea of worldview. On this understanding, it is not hard to see how those who ignore God’s general revelation live in cognitive dissonance to the point where they have to do mental gymnastics to hold their worldview. Moreover, since this tendency to allow our thinking to direct our lives as a whole can be renewed, it has the effect of transforming our lives. Finally, when we direct our intelligence to the service of God, we truly love him with all our mind.

  1. In debates over moral issues such as homosexuality, most people today use the word nature to mean behavior patterns observed among organisms in the natural world. What is the older meaning of the word nature, as in the phrase “human nature”? How is this traditional meaning expressed in Romans 1?

The older meaning of the word “nature” was that for which we were designed. We were intended to behave in a certain way such that we would reflect God’s character. As such, sin is behavior that is contrary to our nature. Paul lists a number of examples of this behavior by which we defy God and degrade ourselves.

Evil, Suffering, and Eternity

It seems like every time I turn around, the topic of evil and suffering keeps coming up. Whether it is the mid-week Bible study on it, or apologetics podcasts I listen to that discuss the Problem of Evil, or the fact that my father-in-law is suffering from cancer, even when life is going well for me the issue is inescapable.

The Problem of Evil (POE) is one of the most difficult to address of all the challenges to the Christian worldview. This is not because the Christian does not have valid answers so much as navigating the emotional issues that the challenger may be dealing with. Let me say at this point that if you are suffering now, whether from an illness or injury, or from the illness, injury or death of a loved one, it is likely you will not find what I have to offer here satisfying. In the middle of these times, you don’t need an argument. You need someone to come along side you and suffer with you. You need to know I hurt for you. For those of you who are suffering, I pray for you that you will be comforted. I also pray that if I have the opportunity to relieve that suffering that I am effective in that effort. I also encourage you to come back and read this when the sting of the situation has eased.

The POE has been presented in a number of forms. Since others have covered these in depth, and much better that I could, I will offer a brief survey below, and links to further resources at the end.

One such form was known as the Logical POE. This took the form of the following syllogism:

  1. If God were all-good, he would want a world without evil and suffering.
  2. If God were all-powerful, he would be able to make a world without evil and suffering.
  3. There is evil and suffering in the world.
  4. Therefore, either God is not all good, or he is not all-powerful, or he does not exist.

No philosopher of religion still offers this because as Alvin Plantinga pointed out, all you need to do to defeat this is to show that it is possible that God could have morally justifiable reasons for allowing evil and suffering and still be all good and all powerful.

Another way this issue is raised is in what is called a Probabilistic POE.

William L. Rowe, in an essay in Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, argues that there are cases of evil and suffering that God could have prevented, and would want to prevent. He then goes on to argue that this is probably the case. He offers examples such as the faun that is caught in a forest fire started by a lightning strike and horribly burned. This suffering happens entirely unobserved, and therefore there is no greater good that could come about as a result of this animal’s suffering. I think this example overlooks several things. For example, it assumes that animals suffer in the same way humans do, which is not uncontroversial. Moreover, the pain felt by the faun is the result of a physical mechanism that has a good purpose. Pain is the body’s alarm system that tells us something is wrong. Additionally, as Clay Jones points out, the world needs to operate according to understandable and predictable laws such that actions have consequences in order for our actions to have any meaning. If God were to intervene every time there was a case of suffering, these laws would be indiscernible and our actions meaningless.

A third category has been called the Religious POE, or the Pastoral POE. This is basically the response of the sufferer that in their suffering cannot see how a loving God would allow this to happen. This is the form that is the most difficult because it requires far more sensitivity and patience with the one who raises it. I will not attempt to address this directly here since the best response must be tailored to the needs of the sufferer. It is not a complete waste of time to offer these philosophical answers to the POE. If we have studied these before we enter a season of pain, grief, or suffering, we will be better prepared.

There does seem to be one aspect of this issue that I hear little about. I will call this the Temporal Defense. I realize that for the person who is watching their child die, or their spouse, or who has just experienced some evil act that talk of eternity can sound like “pie-in-the-sky” but it is a relevant issue. Since these problems are offered as a critique of the Christian worldview, it is important to remember that any critique must be done on the terms of that worldview. On the Christian worldview, human beings may live only a few decades in this life, but we will live forever somewhere after this life. If this is the case, our natural physical life only counts as the tiniest fraction of our total existence. If I live for 80 years, all of which in constant pain, but I place my trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, when I die, I will enter a blissful intermediate state, followed by a resurrection to painless, blissful life. I will continue in that condition forever. What is 80 years of suffering compared to that?

A related issue to this is the death of children. I once attended a memorial service for a two-year-old who had died after a long illness. It was the most heart-wrenching experience of my life, and I pray I never have to do that again. I am a father, and I can think of no worse nightmare than burying one of my children. However, in the case of children like that two-year-old, they will also enjoy that blissful state. For those who would ask, “How can God allow that child to die?” for God, that child is not gone. She has just changed the mode of her existence.

Finally, I would like to note that God is not distant and unconcerned. He experienced severe suffering through the crucifixion. He knows what it means to suffer. He did that so we could be reconciled to God. That is proof enough that God is all-good.

For more on this issue, see:

The Logical Problem of Evil, http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-log/#H4

Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. rev. and expanded ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, ©2004.

Craig, William Lane. Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: ZondervanPublishingHouse, ©2000.

Finding Truth Study Guide: Chapter 1 Question 4

Willful Blindness

 

  1. What is an “epistemological sin”? Do you agree that at the heart of the human condition is an epistemological sin (i.e., sin related to knowledge)? Why or why not?

According to William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, in their book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, epistemology is the branch of philosophy that tries to make sense out of knowledge, rationality and justified or unjustified beliefs.
(71.) Pearcey argues that to fail to acknowledge what we know (that about which we have true beliefs based on good reasons) and conform our lives to it we commit epistemological sin. Putting aside trivial counter-examples, Paul shows us we have ample evidence to show God’s existence and some sense of what is right and wrong. Moreover, God has revealed himself to us in his Word, and by that we have more detailed revelation of God’s character and what he requires of us. The mental gymnastics some people engage in to avoid the implications of these facts shows the problem is really volitional rather than rational.

Pascal once pointed out “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.[1] For those who do not know or understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s existence is bad news. If life is what I want to make of it, and I wish to pursue pleasure my way, the idea that there is a just, holy, powerful God who will judge me is terrifying. It is no wonder that belief in God, apart from the Gospel, is unattractive. However, the undeniable level of evidence produces cognitive dissonance. We have to ignore or deny the evidence, or raise the bar higher than we would for anything else in life. That there is a holy, just God who stands ready to judge us is only half the story. He has also provided for a substitute to bear our punishment in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a supremely attractive idea that ought to be believed, not the least because it is true.
[1] http://izquotes.com/author/blaise-pascal/13?q=attractive&x=9&y=11