Saving the Bible From Ourselves by Glenn R. Paauw A Review

 

Author

Glenn R. Paauw is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Seminary, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. He is the vice president, global Bible engagement, at Biblica and a senior fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading.

 

Thesis

Paauw was prompted to write Saving the Bible From Ourselves by research that showed while the average American household has four Bibles (and the average Christian home has ten) there is an increasing Biblical illiteracy. We have lots of Bibles, but no one seems to know what its message is. The cause of this seems to be a tendency toward isolated people reading

isolated verses. In this book, Paauw advocates a return to reading large passages in community.

 

Synopsis

The book is organized into 14 chapters, really seven couplets, in which Paauw describes an aspect of the problem, followed by a proposed solution.  In Chapters 1 and 2, we see the contrast between the “Complicated Bible” and the “Elegant Bible.” By complicated here, Paauw is referring to the manner in which the text on the page is cluttered and chopped with chapter and verse numbers, which have only been in use for the last 500 years, as well as chapter headings, cross references, and notes. An elegant Bible would simply have the text laid out to be read in a more natural reading. (I can tell you that for me, reading a Bible with all those notes and references is like a hound dog with ADD trying to heard squirrels.)

In chapters 3 and 4, Paauw addresses one of my pet peeves when he compares the Snacking Bible with the Feasting Bible. When we isolate verses, we tend to see them as bearing meaning in isolation. As a result, there is a whole cottage industry of putting verses on coffee cups and cross-stitched pillows, etc. There you can see verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “‘ For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Nice, right? So if verses are stand-alone ideas from the Word of God, why do we never see a coffee cup with Deuteronomy 28:65? “The LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” The point is that verse numbers were added to aid with research. They are not part of the text, and have caused some confusion. (Though I could imagine a bumper sticker with Numbers 21:16, “From there they continued on to Beer.”) As the author points out, using the Bible like this is like snacking on what Philip Yancy called, “Scripture McNuggets.” Rather, Paauw advocates reading large portions, whole books when possible. In this way, we feast, rather than snack. Moreover, such feasting leads to greater understanding of the text.

In chapters 5 and 6, Paauw argues that rather than seeing every single event in the Bible as a direct intervention from God, recognizing that the world is itself a direct intervention of God, and the realm in which he dwells with us and that the events are history that we need not look for the most outlandish understanding. An example he gives is how as a fourth-grader he was shocked to learn that the rainbow was probably not created after the Flood, but rather was already a thing, and God used that as a reminder of his covenant.

In chapters 7 and 8, Paauw challenges the idea that the Bible is a theological treatise, or a “how-to” manual. Rather it is an ongoing story, our story and His, and should be read as such. This is not to say that we cannot derive theology from it. We can and we should. However, when we lose the story, we lose the meaning. In chapter 9, we are encouraged to see how this would look in our lives.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paauw contrasts the “Otherworldly Bible” with the “Earthly Bible.” Here, he rejects the tendency to see Christianity as a means of escaping the evil physical realm to the heavenly one in favor of seeing our mission as redeeming the world God created.

In 12 and 13, he makes the case for reading in community by differentiating “My Private Bible” from the “Synagogue Bible.” Finally, in 14 and 15, the author laments the loss of beauty in the pages of the Bible where there once could be found bright, colorful illustrations, as well as beautiful script on high quality media.

 

Analysis

I find much of what Paauw says here compelling. As I mentioned above, the isolation of verses out of context, or “verse jacking,”[1] is a pet peeve of mine. I am a strong advocate of, as Greg Koukl teaches, “Never read a Bible verse.” That is, never read A Bible verse. The method of reading promoted here will avoid many of the pitfalls from isolating verses. Moreover, I have begun to read Books of the Bible, which is an edition of the NIV without chapter and verse numbers, as well as some other interesting features. I can tell you that my ADD is much less active in this text. I suppose it could be argue that Paauw’s book is a written infomercial for Books of the Bible, but that’s okay.

While I tend to agree with Paauw’s view that salvation entails far more involvement with the redemption of the created order than most Christians seem to think, I think that when he claims that the idea of gaining heaven or avoiding hell as a way to invoke urgency offers a false dichotomy. Scripture does seem to paint a clear picture of judgment. It seems reasonable to think in terms of both/and. We are saved to work for the redemption of the world and go to be with the Lord until the ultimate redemption, the resurrection.

 

Even if you find you don’t agree with all of Paauw’s conclusion, you will agree with me that the book is worth the read. It is accessible for readers at a high school level or higher.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The author cites, “The highly-descriptive and provocative term “verse jacking” was coined by my colleague John Dunham in “High Fructose Scripture,” Leadership Journal (online), June 5, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ le/ 2007/ june-online-only/ high-fructose-scripture.html.”

 

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 3: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

In this installment, I want to go a little deeper into the issue of God’s power. God is called “almighty” fifty-eight times in the Bible, forty-eight in the Old Testament and ten in the New. Historically, this has been taken to mean that God has the power to do anything that power can do. If you are collecting nerdy theological terms, this is called “omnipotence.”

Some have tried to challenge this belief with questions like, “Can God make a rock so big or heavy that he can’t lift it?” They think that whether you answer “yes” or “no” to this question, you undermine the doctrine. If you answer “no,” then there is something God cannot do, so he is not all-powerful. If you answer “yes,” then since he cannot move it, there is something God cannot do, so the doctrine is undermined. However, this is a silly challenge if you look a little deeper.

First, it is a logically absurd question. Remember I said almighty means God has the power to do anything power can do. What power cannot do is accomplish something that power cannot do. (Ya think?) Power cannot do the absurd.

Second, what would it mean for a rock to be too heavy for anyone to lift? It would mean it had so much mass that it had an irresistible gravitational attraction. However, such an object would attract everything else to itself. If all of matter were in one lump, what would it mean to lift it? “Lift” usually means moving in an “up” direction. However, which way would be “up?” Moreover, if such a universal lump existed, what sort of resistance could there be to God moving it? There would be no other objects to provide a gravitational attraction against the effort to move it, and no air to provide drag.

Third, what would it mean for a rock to be too big for God to move it? In this case, it would actually be possible for God to make a rock too big to move.

“Ah ha! See? He’s not all-powerful, omnipo.. omnibus… om nom nom… whatever you said!”

Not so fast. I said it would be possible. However, in order to make it, God could make a universe in which all that existed was the rock, and just enough space that the rock filled all of space. What is movement? It is a change in location in space. However, in such a world, since there is no empty space, movement is impossible.

“Wait! I clicked on this to read about God, not rocks!”

Fair enough. I think we’ve squeezed enough out of this. Let’s move on.

What omnipotence does mean is that the same God who made all of matter, energy, space and time can also do all the other miracles found in the Bible. Some have balked at things like Jesus’ virgin conception, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Resurrection because they don’t happen very often. Well, of course not. If they did, they wouldn’t be miracles, and they would prove nothing. However, if God made the universe, then a pregnant virgin or a dead man rising is not even difficult. And if he raised Jesus, he will raise you too on the last day. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (that’s first Corinthians, Mr. Trump) 15:20-24,

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,  then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

 

In my next article, I will address God as love, and (brace yourselves,) the Trinity.

So Now I’m a… Wait, Did Jesus Go to Hell?

In this series on the basics of the Christian faith, I have been using the Apostles’ Creed as an outline. A reader raised a question about the line, “He descended into hell.”

Just like when we read the Bible, sometimes it can be difficult to make sense of a term used by people in the early church in a different way than we use it now. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol was used to refer to the place or realm of the dead. Sometimes this is translated “grave,” or “pit.” In the New Testament, the Greek word Hades is used for the same idea. It was the place where all the dead went, though not all had the same experience. (See Luke 16:19-31.) All Bible passages that are invoked to support the inclusion of this line in the creed use the term Hades. NT passages that refer to the place of punishment use the Greek word gehenna.

Wayne Grudem notes that the creed was developed over a period from 200-750 AD. The earliest version to include this line did not appear until 390, and all indications are that it meant simply that Jesus had indeed experienced death. Moreover, the line did not appear in another version until 650. Grudem argues that the line ought to be dropped from the creed.[1] Even the Roman Catholic Church agrees with this interpretation as can be seen here.

The bottom line is, Jesus did not go to Hell, if by that you mean the place of punishment. He experienced death in order to satisfy God’s justice for our sin so that we could be reconciled to God.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/he-did-not-descend-into-hell_JETS.pdf

 

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

Lydia McGrew’s review of The Lost World of Genesis 1 by John Walton

http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/review_of_john_h_waltons_the_l.html

John H. Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.