Saturday, 11 February 2012

Alleged Biblical Errors: Contextual and Exegetical Factors

     If an atheist were to say, "I hear someone talking in the next room but I can’t hear what is being said," would it be fair to accuse him of self-contradiction? Is he "hearing" or is he not "hearing"? A sensible person would understand that the same word ("hear") is being used in two different senses: the first in reference to the reception of incoherent sounds, and the second to the comprehension of what is being spoken. Ironically, when the very same usage appears in scripture (Acts 9:7; 22:9 KJV), the label "contradictory" is promptly applied by otherwise rational people.
     In similar vein, regularly appearing on the skeptic’s comparative list are the biblical claims that God cannot be seen (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:12), while God has reportedly been seen and communicated with "face to face" (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11). When set in opposition to each other on a confined itemized chart, there seems to be an obvious disparity. But when contextual and exegetical considerations are involved in the assessment, there is no problem at all. To "see" is an allusion both to physical eyesight ("I see the bird in the tree") and to mental perception ("We see the matter differently"). God’s full spiritual essence cannot be optically viewed with the human eye (Exodus 33:20), whereas deity can be more clearly understood when cognitively visualized through the revelation of Jesus Christ (John 1:18). It is not with physical eyesight that God is seen but with purity of heart (Matthew 5:8).
     The Bible, like all other forms of communication (both written and oral) in every language and culture throughout history, is filled with figures of speech. When two people living on separate continents "see eye to eye," no one envisions them literally facing each other with their eyeballs pressed together! Anthropomorphism is a very common literary device wherein human characteristics are ascribed to nonhuman entities (e.g. "The merciless tornado was tireless in its malicious tirade"). Since the spiritual realm is beyond the ability of the mortal mind to fully comprehend, God is depicted throughout scripture with imagery to which humans can relate ("face," "ears," "hands," "eyes," etc.). Thus speaking with God "face to face" is simply a metaphoric description of direct, intelligible, and intimate conversation (see Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-8).
     Another favorite example among antibiblicists is the following. In Luke 11:23 (cf. Matthew 12:30) Jesus is reported as saying, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." Compare this with the seemingly conflicting words of Luke 9:50 (cf. Mark 9:40): ". . . for he who is not against us [you] is on our [your] side." While critics of the Bible cry "blatant contradiction," a sympathetic reading of the statements in their respective contexts proves otherwise. In the first passage, the Lord is speaking to antagonistic Pharisees who were falsely accusing him of doing the devil’s work. Enemies of truth, resistant to Christ’s message, are decidedly against him. In the second passage, the apostles were forbidding the good works of an apparent disciple of Jesus simply because he was not in their immediate apostolic circle. In this case, the Lord is addressing misplaced pride and unwarranted discrimination. The teachings of Christ call for both exclusiveness and inclusiveness, depending on the circumstances. Out of context, there appears to be incongruity. In context, the teachings are easily harmonized.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: Mistakes in the Bible?, Luke's Historical Blunder?

Recommended Sources: Eric Lyons' Answering the Allegations; Wayne Jackson's Homer Sometimes Nodded

1 comment:

  1. Voddie Baucham, Ph.D. (Dean of the African Christian University in Zambia and A great apologist) once said, "I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin."

    I would also pose that
    1. using logic, philosophy, science, etc. people can see God's word is true.
    2. we have handed the non-religious / humanists the argument when we gave them the Big Bang... I'm not saying the big bang as an accident, but as an onomatopoeic expression of what it may have actually sounded like when God spoke the universe into existence: a loud, massive explosion of light, energy, time, space and matter into existence out of nothing. Seriously, that had to be not only awe inspiring but synonymous with the awe inspiring power that God has.
    3. christians as a whole have handed philosophy, science, and logic to the non-believer and accepted a stance of fideism.
    4. we have abandoned the desire to seek knowledge and wisdom and we wilt quickly when a challenge is given to which we do not have an immediate answer.

    I no longer have (western) faith in God... by that, I mean "accepting as true without an inkling of a clue that there even is evidence much less seeking out that evidence." Rather, on a daily basis I see evidence of a creator and am convinced that He not only made me, but that He is relational to the point of accepting my punishment so that I might be united with him in the resurrection.

    Or, as the Apostles' Creed says,
    I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
    Who was conceived by 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 rose again from the dead;
    He ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence 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.