God Mankind and Eternity by Oscar Avant: a Review

Author’s background and intent

According to the publisher’s website, Oscar Avant is a retired engineering manager, and has served on the staff of churches in Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, MD. After I started reading this book, I looked for more information on his educational background, but could find none. His interest in this material is his passion for evangelism.

 

Summary

Avant’s intent is to offer a synopsis and commentary on the whole of the Biblical narrative.

The subtitle of the book is “Six Chapters of Man,” and this is how the book is organized. These chapters are:

  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Flood
  4. Abraham
  5. Moses
  6. New Covenant

Avant summarizes and comments on these key events and the scriptural narrative that tells us of them.

 

Analysis

At the level of essentials, Avant seems to hold to the essentials of Christianity. He holds to Trinitarian theology, a high Christology, and the necessity of trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation. However, at the level of the details, some of his theology seems poorly articulated at best, and on shaky ground at worst. While the use of generic terms like “Great Spirit” may seem like how one would reach out to a biblically illiterate culture, (even if it is reminiscent of Native American folk religion) there are places that the author takes creative license without informing the reader of this. In a number of places, Avant makes hermeneutical comments that are odd. It seems to me that if a writer is going to do that, he could at least cite his sources. Examples include his detailed account of Satan’s rebellion, (19-20) as well as the claim that the angelic realm was created before the universe. Additionally he claims that when Adam was the only human, since there was no need for human language he spoke the “spirit language of all things” that even animals could use. (30) This may or may not be true. We are not told in Scripture, and that is where we must look for such information. If the author wants to speculate on this, he is welcome to do so, but he ought to make it clear that this is what he is doing.

If this was the worst of it, I would not waste pixels on it. It is the details he adds to the Genesis account of the origin and fall of humanity that gets weird. He claims that Adam was created with a “seed of Myself (God)” in him (21.) He later calls this an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Further, his use of the analogy of humans as “triune” since they are body, soul and spirit, leads to the heresy of partialism. Come on, Patrick![1] Where his theology shows some shakiness is when he describes the Holy Spirit as being capable of moving at infinite speed. At this point you may think I am fussing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but if you have a robust understanding of divine omnipresence, and understand that the Holy Spirit is God, then you see that God does not move through space since he is present everywhere, and he is non-spatial.

Based on a passage in Daniel, Avant claims that demons can stop prayers from reaching God. I will leave it to others how to tease this out in the context of Daniel. However, Avant makes similar claims about New Testament believers. However, if the Holy Spirit indwells New Testament believers, how is it even possible for any entity to interfere with our prayers reaching God, since the Spirit of God lives in us?

Avant also draws an artificial distinction between sin and evil behavior. He claims that sin did not exist before the law was given. However, he notes the judgment of God poured out in the Flood and on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Aside from some confusion he shows on the Incarnation, which errs close to seeing Jesus as two persons, most of what he has to say about the cross and salvation are orthodox.

 

 

Recommendation

Avant tells a fascinating story, and makes a detailed case for his views on the Gifts of the Spirit that are interesting. Moreover his writing is accessible for middle school age readers. However, I would not recommend this book to a non-Christian or a new Christian seeking to better understand the faith. They would come away rather confused.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

 

[1] https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw

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

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

WINTERY KNIGHT

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. It would be nice if every Christian was equipped in church to be able to make a case like this.

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