Introduction: Shortcomings prophetic movements in history
Richard Lovelace acknowledges that while it is difficult to frame strong biblical arguments for limiting prophetic utterance to the apostolic period, nevertheless it cannot be denied that various revival groups which exercised the gift of prophecy such as the Montanists (2nd century), the Zwikau prophets (16th century) and the Great Awakening (18th century) often ended up “treating the Scripture as an addendum which was more or less unnecessary once a Christian obtained direct access to the mind of God through the Spirit…People who begin by being open to extrabiblical revelation will give Satan an opportunity to wean them gradually from Scripture and establish himself as the ultimate authority.” These ‘prophets’ became incorrigible and fell into error. Failed prophecy brought despair, leaders abandoned carefully planning. Indiscreet zeal led followers to act without prudence or discretion and to do unseemly things that discredit both revival and Christianity.
Prophecy in this post does not refer to predictions of future events. It is (1) the speaking forth of what the Holy Spirit has spontaneously brought to the mind, (2) with the purpose of edifying, encouraging and comforting God’s people (1 Cor.14:3). It is noted that there is no succession of apostolic and prophetic office since the closing of the biblical canon (Eph. 2:20). While Christians should be open to occasions when the Spirit gives a prophetic word to guide the church, nevertheless, there should be no institutionalization of prophetic office today. Believers, especially leaders who exercise authority are profoundly aware of human fallibility. As such, the sharing of any prophetic word must be subject to the supervision of local church leaders (elders in the New Testament) and all prophetic claims must be tested by Scripture.
Dr. Bart Ehrman is raising significant questions about the reliability of the Bible. In an engaging way, he is questioning the credibility of Christianity. His arguments are not new, which he readily admits. Numerous Biblical scholars profoundly disagree with his findings. This site provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.
Two comments from readers: 1) I watched the debate between Peter Williams and Bart Erhman as well as Erhman’s other presentations over Youtube. Williams arguments are persuasive but he was uncomfortably defensive in contending with a combative and skilled debater like Erhman. Erhman position is that one can accept the gospels and the New Testament writings from the theological point of view and I suppose he meant by faith but not from the rigorous analysis of historians. Would appreciate your thoughts on this.
Bart Ehrman attributes his loss of faith to his study of early manuscripts of the gospels. He shared that he grew up as a fundamentalist (note his journey from Moody Bible Institute to Wheaton College and then to Princeton seminary) who upheld a rigid understand of inerrancy. Following his rigid understanding of inerrancy, Ehrman insists that if God inspired the writers he wouldn’t have allowed scribal errors or textual variants. As such, Ehrman abandoned his faith when he was exposed to manuscript variants during his seminary studies. The basis of Ehrman’s faith couldn’t have been more flimsy or misplaced. It is certainly indefensible. Ehrman’s view of inerrancy is uncommon as it would be hard to find a conservative scholar working with biblical manuscripts and Christian origins who actually who shares Ehrman’s rigid view of inerrancy. However, unlike Ehrman, conservative scholars do not seem to be troubled by the existence of manuscript variants. Perhaps, Ehrman has other hidden reasons that led him to abandon his faith. Indeed, Ehrman continues to rely on his distorted view of inerrancy as a fig leaf to camouflage the real reason for his loss of faith which is probably a deeper problem of the heart. That he continues to stigmatize conservatives with his earlier distorted view of inerrancy suggests that it serves as a convenient strawman for him in his writings. Continue reading “Comments on Peter Williams vs Bart Ehrman Debate on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels”
The hallmark of Williams’ responses to Ehrman was his use of common sense, both in presenting his own case and in responding to Ehrman’s objections. Williams’ case for the reliability of the Gospels in this debate is based in part upon a compendium of fascinating external confirmations, such as name statistics, measurements, and topography. Pace Ehrman, these small details do constitute evidence that, as Williams says in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?, the authors knew their stuff. The small, difficult things that the evangelists get right are all the more impressive given the major upheavals in social customs and culture in Palestine, and the dispersal of the inhabitants, after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70…
This emphasis on details is highly relevant to Ehrman’s attempts to characterize the Gospels as unreliable because they were, he says, written at multiple removes from the events they describe and hence corrupted over time by a “telephone game” process of transmission. In making this argument Ehrman repeatedly tries to emphasize the fact that the Gospels were written down several decades after their events. Williams rightly counters by pointing out that the Gospels do not have specific dates on them and that we should look at the evidences within them of their coming from those close to the events. Even though Luke, for example, was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry, it does not follow that Luke recorded stories that had been repeated many times as in the telephone game–a point Ehrman repeatedly ignores. Continue reading “Peter Williams Shows the Right Way to Debate Bart Ehrman”
Ehrman’s Equivocation and the Inerrancy of the Original Text
Peter Williams did well in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman [Unbelievable? Peter J Williams and Bart Ehrman – Are the Gospels historically reliable?] although I wish he were more aggressive and forcefully challenged Ehrman’s presuppositions of secular historiography. Yes, Ehrman is a world-class expert in textual criticism, but he is a biased secular historian pretending to write objective history of Christianity. His competency in theology certainly lags behind his expertise as a textual critic.
Evangelical theologians have not done as well in their debates with Ehrman because they allow Ehrman to dictate the terms of the debates. Ehrman always insists that he will only answer questions on history and not theology whenever his opponent raises an issue which would require value judgment (theological judgment). But in truth, Ehrman is constantly making value judgments in his interpretation of the historical data based on his secular presuppositions. His opponents should remind him of the hermeneutical principle framed by the great scholar Rudolph Bultmann that “no exegesis is without presuppositions, inasmuch as the exegete is not a tabula rasa but on the contrary, approaches the text with specific questions or with a specific way of asking questions and thus has a certain idea of the subject matter with which the text is concerned.” In reality, Ehrman is doing history with unacknowledged theological presuppositions all the time as he accepts as relevant historical data only what fits his presumed epistemological framework. Proceeding with this restrictive and skeptical mindset, it is not surprising that Ehrman excels in his role as a spoiler rather than as a scholar offering constructive history of Christian origins. Ehrman’s opponents should call his bluff to be an objective historian when they debate with him. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors? Part 2: Debating with Bart Ehrman”
Sadly, it is no longer a surprise for Malaysians to come across pastors and seminarians who reject the historic doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The two common reasons given for rejecting inerrancy are (1) we cannot ignore the historical errors or discrepancies found in the Bible. Examples of discrepancies include the confused sequence of events describing Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus, the death of Judas, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and Luke’s ‘erroneous’ dating of the Roman census at the time when Quirinius was the governor of Syria etc. and (2) we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible. All that we have today are flawed copies.
(1) Alleged historical errors
These alleged discrepancies are straw men. We may conclude that the biblical text is in error only if we can demonstrate that it is in conflict with clear and unambiguous evidence given in other reliable historical sources. However, the evidence from the extra-biblical sources remains inconclusive and its interpretation is disputed among scholars. There is no necessity to presume that the biblical sources must be in error just because we are presently unable to integrate seamlessly the biblical accounts with other historical accounts. In instances where there is controversy among scholars (e.g. the conquest of Canaan by Joshua), there is room to maintain an agnostic position in the details, pending further information gleaned from more archaeological research and historical investigation. Continue reading “Why Affirm Biblical Inerrancy and Ignore Missing Original Manuscripts and Other Errors?”
I. Summary of Defence of the Isaianic authorship by Gleason Archer [Gleason Archer, the legendary professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (he modestly told me in 1984 that he only knew 28 languages although rumours were that he knew many more), wrote the following discussion as a supplement to his rebuttal of the critical arguments for source division of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66 based on “Alleged Differences in Theme and Subject Matter,” and “Alleged Differences in Language and Style.”]
Additional Proofs of the Genuineness of Isaiah 40–66
1. First of all it should be noted that Jesus ben Sirach (48:22–25) clearly assumes that Isaiah wrote chapters 40–66 of the book of Isaiah. E. J. Young notes, “The tradition of Isaianic authorship appears as early as Ecclesiasticus.
The Authorship of Isaiah: A Straight-Forward Biblical Defence by Dr. Leong Tien Fock, (PhD in Semitic Languages and Literatures)
Assessment of current scholarship, both critical and conservative
According to An Introduction to the Old Testament, an “evangelical” book that is slightly “liberal,” by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard (2006: 309-10):
In many respects, contemporary critical opinion about Isaiah has recovered from the excesses that characterized scholarship in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The consensus among critical scholars has moved in the direction of acknowledging much of what was dear to conservatives: that Isaiah is not the result of a haphazard accident and internally contradictory, but rather the book as a whole shows a unity of themes and motifs. The tenor of much of the debate has shifted from focus on dissecting the text to recover sources and settings to efforts to expound the coherence and unity of the text as it exists. Arguments from conservatives for unity of authorship based on common themes and vocabulary have now in large part been taken over and pressed into service as arguments for a redactional unity in the book [italics added].
An interview with Brian Collins, author of Scripture, Hermeneutics, and Theology: Evaluating Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Greenville, SC: Exegesis & Theology, 2012. You may download a free PDF of the book HERE (a whopping 448MB). Highlights from the interview. LINK Modern Historical Critical Methods Renders the Bible Irrelevant Collins cites Don Carson, “Historical critical methods … Continue reading “Evaluating Theological Interpretation of Scripture”
An interview with Brian Collins, author of Scripture, Hermeneutics, and Theology: Evaluating Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Greenville, SC: Exegesis & Theology, 2012.
You may download a free PDF of the book HERE (a whopping 448MB).
Modern Historical Critical Methods Renders the Bible Irrelevant
Collins cites Don Carson, “Historical critical methods that are “anti-supernatural” and “determined by post-Enlightenment assumptions about the nature of history” do render the Bible irrelevant. Notably, that is what those methods were designed to do. In short, modern historical criticism has failed in its promise of objective interpretation while also rendering the Bible irrelevant. Theological interpretation of Scripture must integrate exegesis and theology to regain the relevance of Scripture today.