…Specific historical notices sometimes light up dark points in the New Testament, as in a British Museum decree of Gaius Vibius Maximus, prefect of Egypt (104 AD), ordering all who are out of their districts to return to their own homes in view of the approaching census (compare Lu 2:1-5)… (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online).
This is an excerpt from a book that really points out the impact of Godly men on many persons and facets of life just assumed to be the way they are for no reason. For instance, the impact of John Wesley is immeasurable:
Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville, TN: Thoomas Nelson, 2011), 270-271, 272.
A further fruit of Wesley’s work were the conversions of William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, and others, and the development of what is called the Clapham Sect. This was a group of devout evangelicals who lived around Clapham Common, southeast of London. This community of Christians included businessmen, bankers, politicians, colonial governors, and members of Parliament, whose ceaseless, sacrificial labors benefited millions of their fellows at home and abroad–especially in Africa and India.
Restoration of the authority of the Bible in the English world amounted to a civilization finding its soul. Writings of a number of literary men and women give evidence of their recovering a biblical perspective. Poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, and later Rudyard Kipling and John Masefield; novelists like Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, the Brontë sisters, Robert Louis Stevenson♦ — all these and others owed much to the purging and ennobling influence of the biblical revival.
To the degree their writings were shaped by the Bible’s worldview, they held in check [temperred] the logical consequences of the Enlightenment’s rejection of of revelation…
The following improvements came in a direct line of descent from the Wesleyan revival. First was the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the industrial workers in England. Then came factory schools, ragged schools, the humanizing of the prison system, the reform of the penal code, the forming of the Salvation Army, the Religious Tract Society, the Pastoral Aid Society, the London City Mission, Müller’s Homes, Fegan’s Homes, the National Children’s Home and Orphanages, the forming of evening classes and polytechnics, Agnes Weston’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest, YMCAs, Barnardo’s Homes, the NSPCC, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the list goes on.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred people behind these movements were Christians. All these movements grew out of the revival of biblical spirituality, the result of John Wesley and his associates opening up the Bible that led to the Great Awakening of hearts, minds, consciences, and wills.
♦ This is not to suggest that everyone was fully Biblical in this worldview, or that no other belief system shaped their mind-set.
Which brings me to the impact of the marriage relationship as it applies to Western Culture, and the impact the Reformation had, yes, even on the marriage relationship:
Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville, TN: Thoomas Nelson, 2011), 283-291.
ROMAN CATHOLICISM AND THE EMANCIPATION OF WOMEN
[p. 283>] Rodney Stark, in his authoritative study The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, discusses the rise of Christianity in its early pagan Greco-Roman setting. Among other things, he explores the impact of the Bible’s commands concerning adultery, rape, murder, divorce, love for wives, care for widows, and so forth, on womanhood in general. The following is from a section entitled “Wives, Widows, and Brides”:
First of all, a major aspect of women’s improved status in the Christian subculture is that Christians did not condone female infanticide . . . the more favorable Christian view of women is also demonstrated in their condemnation of divorce, incest, marital infidelity, and polygamy. As Fox put it, “fidelity, without divorce, was expected of every Christian.” . . . Like pagans, early Christians prized female chastity, but unlike pagans, they rejected the double standard that gave pagan men so much sexual license. Christian men were urged to remain virgins until marriage, and extramarital sex was condemned as adultery. Chadwick noted that Christianity “regarded unchastity in a husband as no less serious a breach of loyalty and trust than unfaithfulness in a wife.”
Stark pointed out that Christian widows enjoyed substantial advantages over pagan widows, who faced great social pressure to [p. 284>]remarry. Augustus Caesar, for example, fined widows who failed to remarry within two years. When a widow remarried, she lost all her inheritance—it became the property of her new husband. In contrast, the New Testament required Christians to respect and care for widows. Well-to-do Christian widows kept their husbands’ estates, and the church sustained the poorer ones, giving them a choice whether or not to remarry.
Christians also expressed their respect for women by raising the age of marriage. Roman law established twelve as the minimum age at which girls could marry. But the law was nothing more than a recommendation. It carried no penalties and was routinely ignored. The best available studies show that in the Roman Empire the pagans’ daughters were three times more likely than Christians to marry before they were thirteen. By age eleven, 10 percent were wed. Nearly half (44 percent) of the pagan girls were married off by the time they were fourteen, compared with 20 percent of the Christians. In contrast, nearly half (48 percent) of the Christian females did not marry before they were eighteen.
Stark reported that in 1955, French historian Durry published his findings that Roman marriages involving child brides were consummated even if the bride had not achieved puberty. Durry thought that this was not the norm. However, substantial literary evidence has since emerged that consummation of these marriages was taken for granted. Pagan writers like Plutarch called this custom cruel and contrary to nature because it filled girls with hatred and fear. Christians, in contrast, could delay their daughters’ marriages because the New Testament gave them different moral standards—the same standard for men and women. The Bible’s sexual ethic gave Christian girls the time to grow up and become better wives and mothers.
SEX AND MARRIAGE
Rome’s classical culture did not see sex merely as secular pleasure. Like the Tantric sects in India, many Roman temples were packed with prostitutes—female as well as male. An 1889 study found that [p. 285>]quite a few married women of high-ranking families in the Roman Empire had “asked to have their names entered amongst the public prostitutes, in order that they might not be punished for adultery.”
Adultery was a crime with serious consequences because it was an economic offense, taking another man’s property (wife) —not because it was a matter of sexual impurity, a disruption of the holy union of husband and wife or a violation ‘of sacred vows. In fact, extramarital sex with a temple prostitute was considered a purifying, god-pleasing, religious event, if not the very means of Gnostic enlightenment. Even today, many Hindu gurus and Yoga teachers have sex with their female and male devotees on the pretext of “purifying chakras”—the psychic centers in one’s body.
Religious and aristocratic promotion of extramarital sex had colossal consequences. Easy availability of sex without commitment took away men’s motivation to be married. Dislike for marriage had become evident as early as 131 BC, when the Roman censor Quintus Metellus Macedonicus proposed that marriage must be made mandatory. Too many men preferred to remain single, leading the censor to concede: “If we could get on without a wife . . . we would all avoid that annoyance.”
Metellus continued, however, stating that men needed to take into account the long-term welfare of the state: “But since nature has ordained that we can neither live very comfortably with them nor at all without them, we must take thought for our lasting well-being rather than for the pleasure of the moment.” More than a century later, Augustus Caesar quoted this passage to the Senate to justify his own legislation on behalf of marriage. The need was obvious, the argument was compelling, but the legislation was not greeted with any greater enthusiasm the second time around. Historian Beryl Rawson wrote: ” [O]ne theme that recurs in Latin literature is that wives are difficult and therefore men do not care much for marriage.”
Another cumulative result of promiscuity, child marriage, mistreatment of women, divorce, and fear of marriage was that Rome’s pagan population began to decline during the final years of the empire. Unwed mothers and insecure wives (who feared divorce) [p. 286>]chose abortion and infanticide even if their natural instincts were for nurture and care. Toward the end of the second century AD, Minucius Felix charged in Octavius that religious mythology encouraged murder through infanticide and abortion:
I see your newly born sons exposed by you to wild beasts and birds of prey, or cruelly strangled to death. There are also women among you who, by taking certain drugs, destroy the beginnings of the future human being while it is still in the womb and are guilty of infanticide before they are mothers. These practices have certainly come down to you from your gods.
The long-term consequence of prostitution, permissiveness, singleness, divorce, abortion, infanticide, and decline of population was that Roman towns began to shrink in numbers and size. Eventually the empire had to depend on a constant influx of “barbarian” settlers. As early as the second century, Marcus Aurelius had to draft slaves and gladiators and hire Germans and Scythians in order to fill the ranks of the army. Consequently, Rome became vulnerable. The main challenge to this depressing trend came from the Church, which followed the biblical injunction to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.”
Compared to the pagans, the Christians’ commitment to marriage resulted in more secure women and a higher fertility rate. Likewise, Christian opposition to infanticide and abortion resulted in a lower mortality rate. Together the Christian population naturally grew faster than that of Rome’s pagans. Christians’ choices in favor of sexual purity, stable marriage, and care for children, orphans, and widows aided civilization but were not caused by concerns for civilization. Their motive was to please God by obeying his Word.
During the first millennium AD, the Roman Catholic Church was the greatest force for the emancipation of women. In the beginning of the second millennium, however, the “cult of Virgin Mary”♦ and [p. 287>]the idea of earning salvation through religiosity led to an unbiblical exaltation of celibacy. The idea of “salvation by works” often leads to denial of comforts—certain foods, drinks, sleep, sex, marriage, etc. This mind-set—the denial of pleasure and the achievement of righteousness by pious works—caused people to view sex, marriage, family, and economically productive labor (necessary to sustain a family) as concessions for the spiritually inferior. The renunciation of marriage and the pleasures (and responsibilities) of family life were held up as pious virtues. Celibacy became public proof of spiritual superiority. Joining a monastery became the surest way to heaven. This spiritual pride led to gross prejudice against women.
For example, the popular Hammer Against the Witches (AD 1487) seduced Inquisitors to think that women were sexually .insatiable hyenas and a constant danger to men and their society. Tantric sexual permissiveness resulted in similar reactions in mainstream Hinduism—exaltation of asceticism and celibacy (Brahmacharya) with a degrading view of women as temptresses. The Hindu reaction went further than European exaltation of celibacy by considering physical matter, the human body, and sex as inherently evil, in contrast to spirit, which was good. For example, Swami Sivananda, the founder of the Divine Life Society and a pioneer of the modern guru movement, wrote statements such as:
Sex-pleasure is the most devitalizing and demoralizing of pleasures. Sexual pleasure is no pleasure at all. It is a mental delusion. It is false, utterly worthless, and extremely harmful.
Thankfully for the West, the sixteenth-century Reformation began restoring biblical norms for sexual mores. Reformers like Martin Luther argued that, according to God’s Word, sex and marriage were a means to holiness. The family, not the monastery, was the divinely ordained school of character. Acclaimed author and historian Roland [p. 288>]Bainton wrote: “Luther who got married to testify to his faith . . . did more than any other person to determine the tone of German [and Protestant] domestic relations for the next four centuries.” Luther’s home in Wittenberg became the first Christian vicarage after centuries. The biblical norms for family life that Luther taught remained virtually unchallenged until the end of the twentieth century.
Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic idea of celibacy and his advocacy of the biblical idea of marriage did more to promote the Reformation than his attack on indulgences. He taught that according to the Bible some individuals are called to a celibate life. However, God’s normal plan for human beings is marriage. The doctrine that marriage is spiritually inferior or undesirable is “teaching of the demons.” Luther taught that the family, not the monastery, is God’s school of character; celibacy has become the devil’s trap to lure priests and monks into sin.
Initially, from 1517 to 1521, to ordinary Europeans the Reformation appeared as a matter of theological disputes between experts. Ordinary people woke up to it when priests began to marry as a result of Luther’s little book The Babylonian Captivity. Luther argued that the laws of men could not annul the command of God to marry. God ordained marriage for men before sin entered the world. Sex was a part of the material world that the Creator declared “very good.” Luther noted that the Scripture informs us: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ In other words, God made Eve for Adam. She is good and necessary for him—a perfect gift planned by divine wisdom. God made only one woman for a man—the two of them to “become one flesh.”
Luther followed up his iconoclastic book with an Address to the Nobility. This presented the practical rationale for priests (not monks) to marry: A priest had to have a housekeeper; to put a man and a woman together was like bringing fire to straw and expecting nothing to happen. The unchaste chastity in the Church needed to be brought to an end. Priests had to be set free to marry. The natural, divinely ordained sexual drive needed to be recognized as a necessary, good, and honorable impulse.
[p. 289>]Luther—a monk—was still hiding in the castle of Wartburg to avoid being burned as a heretic, when three priests affirmed the rightness of his teaching by getting married. Archbishop Albert of Mainz arrested them. Luther sent a stern protest. Albert decided to consult the University of Wittenberg. Luther’s senior colleague and a highly respected scholar, Andreas Carlstadt, answered the bishop’s query by writing a book against celibacy. He concluded that, according to the Bible, a priest not only might marry but that he must marry and father a family. In place of obligatory celibacy, Carlstadt substituted obligatory matrimony and paternity. He went on to confirm his Bible study by setting a personal example. He got married.
Luther was delighted by Carlstadt’s bold decision. He was uncomfortable, however, with Carlstadt’s proposal that even monks should marry. Luther felt that the case for monks, like him, was different from that of priests. Monks had taken voluntary vows to remain celibate. It would be wrong to break those vows. That raised a new question: Did God enjoin the vows of celibacy? Luther’s answer helped create the modern concept of marriage as well as the modern politico-economic world.
The question forced Luther to go back to the Scriptures. He found the monk’s vow against marrying unscriptural and in conflict with charity and liberty. He sent his theses back to the university: “Marriage is good, virginity is better, but liberty is best” From the Bible Luther concluded that monastic vows rested on false and arrogant assumptions that celibate Christians had a special calling or vocation, to observe the counsels of perfection, which were superior to ordinary Christians who obey ordinary moral laws. Luther’s revolutionary conclusion is known as the “priesthood of all believers.”
Luther’s exposition of the Bible began to empty out monasteries. His exposition became the basic theological factor that enabled Protestant nations to develop economically faster than Catholic countries and to build egalitarian democracies. The family is a civilization’s primary engine for economic growth. If a man has no family, he might plant crops, but he is unlikely to plant and nurture trees and develop fields for coming generations. He might dig a cave or hew a [p. 290>]tree house, but he is unlikely to build a home for his grandchildren. The family motivates parents to plan, earn, sacrifice, save, and invest for future generations—for their physical as well as social welfare.
This “priesthood of all believers” negated a priest’s vocation as superior. Luther taught the cobbler was as important as the priest. All vocations had to be honored equally. Each had to be undertaken diligently as a service to God. This biblical priesthood of all believers challenged Europe’s class distinctions. It birthed the modern democratic equality of all citizens—rich or poor, educated or illiterate, old or young, male or female. Luther planted seeds in Europe that yielded their best harvest in America.
On January 10, 1529, Luther preached on the second chapter of the gospel of John. The passage recounts Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana at his widowed mother’s request. Luther encapsulated the intrinsic goodness of marriage, the priesthood of all believers, the equal value of every vocation, and the family as the school of character:
There are three estates: marriage, virginity, and widowhood. They are all good. None is to be despised. The virgin is not to be esteemed above the widow, nor the widow above the wife, anymore than the tailor is to be esteemed above the butcher. There is no estate to which the Devil is so opposed as to marriage. The clergy have not wanted to be bothered with work and worry. They have been afraid of a nagging wife, disobedient children, difficult relatives, or the dying pig or a cow. They want to lie abed until the sun shines through the window. Our ancestors knew this and would say, “Dear child, be a priest or a nun and have a good time.” I have heard married people say to monks, “You have it easy, but when we get up we do not know where to find our bread.” Marriage is a heavy cross because so many couples quarrel. It is the grace of God when they agree. The Holy Spirit declares there are three wonders: when brothers agree, when neighbors love each other, and when a man and a wife are at one. When I see a pair like that, I am glad as if I were in a garden of roses. It is rare.
[p. 291>] Radical feminists were not the first to see marriage as a “heavy cross”—a burden or slavery. Luther said marriage was slavery for men as much as for women. That is precisely why many men in pagan Rome preferred not to marry but to seek extramarital or homosexual relationships. Christianity made marriage harder for men by requiring that husbands remain faithful, committed, and loving to the same woman—no matter what—”until death do us part.” When a husband is forbidden extramarital affairs, taking a second wife, or divorcing a difficult wife; when he is not allowed to hate or be harsh with her; when he is required to love and honor his wife; then his wife is empowered. She has the security to seek for her dignity and rights.
Marriage brings out the worst in both husbands and wives. They must choose whether to stay in that school of character or to drop out. The Bible made divorce difficult because one does not learn much by quitting a challenging school. The only way to make monogamy work is to value love above pleasure, to pursue holiness and humility rather than power and personal fulfillment, to find grace to repent rather than condemn, to learn sacrifice and patience in place of indulgence and gratification. The modern world was created by countless couples who did just that. In working to preserve their marriages and provide for their children, they invested in the future of civilization itself.
♦ The Reformers saw it as a “cult,” since there was no biblical basis for praying to Mary or for assuming that she had remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth. There is biblical evidence that she had normal marital relations and children with her husband (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19).
“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have SEEN the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can CLEARLY SEE His invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19-20)
The Bible is indispensable to the Christian walk and faith. How do we know it’s the Word of God though? For instance, I know the Bible is God’s Word because of two “books.” The “Book of Nature” and His “Book of Revelation.” Often times people view this “Book of Revelation” as just the Bible, which is surely a major part of the equation. But this revealed truth and revelation comes by way of us interacting with the Holy Spirit – who is the revealer of revelatory truth.
Evangelical theology holds that Revelation can be found in two spheres: 1) Nature and 2) Scripture. Romans 1:19-20 speaks of the former:
Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Romans 1:19-20 speaks of what is theologically called general revelation and 2 Tim. 3:16-17 speaks of special revelation. Human reasoning can show that general revelation is possible since it can demonstrate the existence and nature of God, finite beings that can receive and understand it, and the possibility of objective meaning and truth. However, it is special revelation found only in the canonical books of Scripture that actually manifest the reality of God’s specific message, in human language, to human beings. It is only here that we learn God is a Trinity (Tri—unity), the plan of redemption, and the savior Jesus Christ. General revelation is to all humans, but special revelation is specifically for believers. General revelation contains truth and morality available to all humankind, but special revelation contains truth and morality specifically to God’s people. General revelation is sufficient to condemn humans, but only special revelation contains the message and means of salvation.
Special revelation consists of the sixty-six books recognized as Scripture. What identifies these books as Scripture concerns the rule, standard or canon applied to discover what books constitute special revelation. Norman Geisler’s General Introduction to the Bible lists and applies the following general principles in discovering the canon of Scripture.
Norman L. Geisler and Douglas E. Potter, A Prolegomena to Evangelical Theology (Indian Trail, NC: Norm Geisler International Ministires, 2016), 113-115.
The “Book of Nature” can reveal truth about my Creator and this revelation goes a long way to show me a lot about God and build my trust in Who He says He is and His Word.
Nature as a Book
The metaphor of referring to nature as a revelatory book is deeply rooted in Christian church history. “Book of Nature” references are found even in the patristic writings. For example, Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430), made the following statement in his classic work the Confessions: “In your great wisdom you, who are our God, speak to us of these things in your Book, the firmament made by you.”1
Protestant reformers continued the Christian practice of speaking of nature as a revelatory book. The Reformed (or Calvinistic) theological tradition in particular articulated the “two books” revelatory perspective. The fullest expression is found in the Belgic Confession, Article 2, written in 1561:
We know him [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God…
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
Later, during the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the Christian forefathers of science readily referenced the “two books” of revelation idea. For example, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) famously spoke of “the book of God’s works” and “the book of God’s word” in his work Advancement of Learning in 1605.
So to speak about this book of nature in relation to God and how Romans describes this book… I can agree with Dr. Moreland when he says that he KNOWS God exists from natures evidence:
I, like Dr. Moreland, have a “belief/faith” similar to this:
“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.” Morimer J. Adler, “A Philosopher’s Religious Faith,” in, Kelly James Clark, ed., Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 207.
Certain words can mean very different things to different people. For instance, if I say to an atheist, “I have faith in God,” the atheist assumes I mean that my belief in God has nothing to do with evidence. But this isn’t what I mean by faith at all. When I say that I have faith in God, I mean that I place my trust in God based on what I know about him. (William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona, Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010], 38.)
I. Half a Dozen (or so) ontological (or metaphysical) arguments
(A) The Argument from Intentionality (or Aboutness) (B) The argument from collections. (C) The argument From (Natural) numbers (D) The Argument From Counterfactuals (E) The Argument from physical constants (F) The Naive Teleological Argument (G) Tony Kenny’s style of teleological argument (h) The ontological argument
I. Another argument thrown in for good measure.
II. Half a dozen Epistemological Arguments
(J) The argument from positive epistemic status (K) The Argument from the confluence of proper function and reliability (L) The Argument from Simplicity (M) The Argument from induction (N) The Putnamian Argument (the Argument from the Rejection of Global Skepticism) (O) The Argument from Reference (P) The Kripke-Wittgenstein Argument From Plus and Quus (See Supplementary Handout) (Q) The General Argument from Intuition
III. Moral arguments
(R) moral arguments (actually R1 to Rn) (R*) The argument from evil.
IV. Other Arguments
(S) The Argument from Colors and Flavors (Adams and Swinburne) (T) The argument from Love (U) The Mozart Argument (V) The Argument from Play and enjoyment (W) Arguments from providence and from miracles (X) C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Nostalgia (Y) The argument from the meaning of life (Z) The Argument from (a) to (Y)
(See also this long list of responses to many skeptical issues.)
Again, this is a faith from the natural side of man and his environment. The “revelatory” side of faith is a miraculous typeof faith. Albeit reasoning powers and truth still play a significant role in the Revelatory side of the equation as well, our “reasoning” is guided by the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come” (John 16:3, HCSB).
This faith is more akin to what Dr. Craig speaks about in his excellent book, Reasonable Faith:
….fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am condemned by God,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,” and so forth; that such an experience Provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it.
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 43 (More at the bottom of the page)
These Christian positions I emphasize above are believed by myself with 100% certitude. This “belief” is both a combination of the book of nature (showing me evidences that support reasons to trust my Creator) AS WELL AS the revealed truth of the Holy Spirit, of which the Bible plays a huge role in.
In other words, I can have a firm basis for my belief just like a jury hearing the testimony of two eyewitnesses that saw a crime happen… but this is not a 100% belief, just like a jury’s is not a hundred-percent. The addition to the Christians certitude about God’s existence and the trusting of His character would be analogous to transporting the jury to the crime for them to have an inner witness of this past event.
This is what the Christian believes, and is what Nicodemus struggled with:
There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him.”
Jesus replied,“I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
“But how can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked Him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?”
Jesus answered,“I assure you: Unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.
“Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied.“I assure you: We speak what We know and We testify to what We have seen, but you do not accept Our testimony. If I have told you about things that happen on earth and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven? No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.
“This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed. But anyone who lives by the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.”
How can these things be… exactly.
There is still a supernatural side to our faith. And one cannot even “see the kingdom of God” unless one is born again. And so the “miraculouse” portion needed to bring certitute that the skeptic is asking for is kept from him-or-her until this regeneration, otherwise the mind is at a state of war with God (Romans 8:6-9).
But when God, who from my birth set me apart and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone. (Galatians 1:15-16, HCSB)
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9, HCSB)
For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. (Romans 12:3, HCSB)
How do I know the Bible is God’s Word then? Tentatively by the Book of Nature. Assuredly by the witness of Holy Spirit.
Again, there are many streams that combine into this trust of the Bible. I know God exists by the preponderance of the evidence and through the witness of the Holy Spirit… but I bring this dichotomy to the Bible as well.
Having read many of the holy books of the world religions (in part or in full), I am familiar with the structure of these religious scriptures as well as Holy Scripture. These differences are stark! Likewise are the claims in these scriptures that separate the Bible from other works. For instance, “[t]he writings from the Far East, the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and Hinduism do not even make a claim to be God’s word,” continuing:
They present to their followers a path to a simpler, more satisfactory life. The Muslim Koran makes no claims to being words from Allah. Rather it is the writing of Mohammed, a religious leader, his record of history as well as his desire for the future. But has any prophecy in the Koran come to pass? Only the Christian Bible claims to be God’s very word to man and only the Bible contains the verifiable track record of prophetic fulfillment as evidence of its claims. Biblical prophecies are batting 1000. No other religious group or religious writings can make the same claim.
Similarly, we are called to examine the Scriptures, and this book, unlike any other religious book, has the means to do so… one of the most important arguments that is pivotal to the Christian faith can be found at a post on the Resurrection, entitled: “Christianity Is the Only Falsifiable Religious Worldview.” Other posts that compliment this are:
This belief has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.
Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which believers are called upon to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.
This is what it looks like:
So far we have demonstrated the fact that the world’s great religious books cannot all be right. In fact, if any of them is correct in its teachings regarding the supernatural and eternal, the others are by definition wrong. So, how do we decide which documents to trust?
Examine the evidence for their truth claims. Hindu documents, for instance, posit an afterlife filled with reincarnations. Is there any historical support or objective evidence for such a position? Does objective, independent evidence exist to document the Buddha’s enlightenment, or Mohammad’s experiences with Allah? A number of cities, inscriptions, and places are described only in the Book of Mormon; to date, none have been found by archaeologists.
Conversely, independent evidence for the existence and deity of Jesus Christ is remarkable. Manuscript evidence documenting the trustworthy nature of the biblical materials is overwhelming. There are excellent reasons to believe the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God.
So in looking at the Bible I look to it’s INTERNAL TESTS (it’s consistency, it’s claims, the claims of Christ, etc.):
Internal Evidence, of which John Warwick Montgomery writes that literary critics still follow Aristotle’s dictum that “the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.” therefore, one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and do not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies. As Dr. Horn continues:
“Think for a moment about what needs to be demonstrated concerning a ‘difficulty’ in order to transfer it into the category of a valid argument against doctrine. Certainly much more is required than the mere appearance of a contradiction. First, we must be certain that we have correctly understood the passage, the sense in which it uses words or numbers. Second, that we possess all available knowledge in this matter. Third, that no further light can possibly be thrown on it by advancing knowledge, textual research, archaeology, etc…. Difficulties do not constitute objections. Unresolved problems are not of necessity errors. This is not to minimize the area of difficulty; it is to see it in perspective. Difficulties are to be grappled with and problems are to drive us to seek clearer light; but until such time as we have total and final light on any issue we are in no position to affirm, ‘Here is a proven error, an unquestionable objection to an infallible Bible.’ It is common knowledge that countless ‘objections’ have fully been resolved since this century began.”
The BIBLIOGRAPHICAL TEST is important for the trust of the Bible’s claims as well. The bibliographical test is an examination of the textual transmission by which documents reach us. In other words, since we do not have the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in regard to the number of manuscripts. I compare, for instance, Buddhist scripture to the record of the manuscript evidence to the Bible in a very long post, but here is one graphic from that post:
There are other evidences that get to within a couple of years of the Messiah’s death that no other religious Scripture can. Here again is a comparison between Christian Scriptures and Buddhist Scripture via Dr. Habermas:
So the above video is a mix of the Bibliographical Test as well as the EXTERNAL TEST. Do other historical materials confirm or deny the internal testimony provided by the documents themselves? In other words, what sources are there – apart from the literature under analysis – that substantiate its accuracy, reliability, and authenticity? Here are a couple examples from differing categories found in my post entitled: Evidence OUTSIDE the Bible for Jesus (Updated w/ Bill Maher)
Hostile Non-Biblical Pagan Witnesses
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient that his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who had previously tried to explain away the darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
If only more of Thallus’ record could be found, we would see that every aspect of Jesus’ life could be verified with a non-biblical source. But there are some things we can conclude from this account: Jesus lived, he was crucified, and there was an earthquake and darkness at the point of his crucifixion.
Early Christians are also described in secular history. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, describes the lifestyles of early Christians:
“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
This EARLY description of the first Christians documents several facts: the first Christians believed that Jesus was GOD, the first Christians upheld a high moral code, and these early followers et regularly to worship Jesus.
Hostile Non-Biblical Jewish Witnesses
In more detail than any other non-biblical historian, Josephus writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD. Josephus was born just four years after the crucifixion. He was a consultant for Jewish rabbis at age thirteen, was a Galilean military commander by the age of sixteen, and he was an eyewitness to much of what he recorded in the first century A.D. Under the rule of roman emperor Vespasian, Josephus was allowed to write a history of the Jews. This history includes three passages about Christians, one in which he describes the death of John the Baptist, one in which he mentions the execution of James and describes him as the brother of Jesus the Christ, and a final passage which describes Jesus as a wise man and the messiah. Now there is much controversy about the writing of Josephus, because the first discoveries of his writings are late enough to have been re-written by Christians, who are accused of making additions to the text. So to be fair, let’s take a look at a scholarly reconstruction that has removed all the possible Christian influence from the text related to Jesus:
“Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared” (This neutral reconstruction follows closely the one proposed in the latest treatment by John Meier, Marginal Jew 1:61)
Now there are many other ancient versions of Josephus’ writing which are even more explicit about the nature of his miracles, his life and his status as the Christ, but let’s take this conservative version and see what we can learn. From this text, we can conclude that Jesus lived in Palestine, was a wise man and a teacher, worked amazing deeds, was accused buy the Jews, crucified under Pilate and had followers called Christians!
Jewish Talmud (400-700AD)
While the earliest Talmudic writings of Jewish Rabbis appear in the 5th century, the tradition of these Rabbinic authors indicates that they are faithfully transmitting teachings from the early “Tannaitic” period of the first century BC to the second century AD. There are a number of writings from the Talmud that scholars believe refer to Jesus and many of these writings are said to use code words to describe Jesus (such as “Balaam” or “Ben Stada” or “a certain one”). But let’s be very conservative here. Let’s ONLY look at the passages that refer to Jesus in a more direct way. If we do that, there are still several ancient Talmudic passages we can examine:
“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray” (b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)
“Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.” (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b)
“Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8). (b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah)
And this, perhaps the most famous of Talmudic passages about Jesus:
“It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)
From just these passages that mention Jesus by name, we can conclude that Jesus had magical powers, led the Jews away from their beliefs, had disciples who were martyred for their faith (one of whom was named Matthai), and was executed on the day before the Passover.
The many avenues of evidence for the Bible as unique — some discussed here and many not — bring me to a preponderance of evidence that the Bible is the unique Word of the Living God whom I already have natural and revelatory evidence of His Being. And not only does the Bible claim to be the actual Word of God in contradistinction to other “holy” scriptures, so to does Jesus claim to be God whereas Mohammed never claimed to be God, Confucius never claimed to be God, Zoroaster never claimed to be God, Buddha never claimed to be God, Joseph Smith never said he was God….
We have both eyewitness and corroborative witnesses to these events and to the character and person of Jesus. In fact… that is how we attain most of our information about reality and history. History, by-the-by, would be in the category of the Book of Nature:
✦ “What are the distinctive sources for our beliefs about the past? Most of the beliefs we have about the past come to us by the testimony of other people. I wasn’t present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I didn’t see my father fight in the [S]econd [W]orld [W]ar. I have been told about these events by sources that I take to be reliable. The testimony of others is generally the main source of our beliefs about the past…. So all our beliefs about the past depend on testimony, or memory, or both.” ~ Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (Foster City, CA: IDG Books; 1999), 57-58.
✦ “In advanced societies specialization in the gathering and production of knowledge and its wider dissemination through spoken and written testimony is a fundamental socio-epistemic fact, and a very large part of each persons body of knowledge and belief stems from testimony.” ~ Robert Audi, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd edition (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. 1999), 909.
✦ “But it is clear that most of what any given individual knows comes from others; palpably with knowledge of history, geography, or science, more subtly with knowledge about every day facts such as when we were born..” ~ Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 869.
How does the “character” of as well as the teachings of Jesus stand up to the other founders of the major religions of the world? Let’s see:
The nine founders among the eleven living religions in the world had characters which attracted many devoted followers during their own lifetime, and still larger numbers during the centuries of subsequent history. They were humble in certain respects, yet they were also confident of a great religious mission. Two of the nine, Mahavira and Buddha, were men so strong-minded and self-reliant that, according to the records, they displayed no need of any divine help, though they both taught the inexorable cosmic law of Karma. They are not reported as having possessed any consciousness of a supreme personal deity. Yet they have been strangely deified by their followers. Indeed, they themselves have been worshipped, even with multitudinous idols.
All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. Confucius, late in life, confessed his own sense of shortcomings and his desire for further improvement in knowledge and character. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their practical policies under change of circumstances.
Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a consistent program for his religion. The most remarkable and valuable aspect of the personality of Jesus Christ is the comprehensiveness and universal availability of his character, as well as its own loftiness, consistency, and sinlessness.
Robert Hume, The World’s Living Religions (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), 285-286.
Jesus did say He was God.
His character and actions proved it.
All the other world religious leaders/founders still lie in their graves and had characters that were not Godly ~ Jesus rose to prove His point.
BUT, I also have a confirmation by the living God through the miraculous intervention and witness of the Holy Spirit that the Bible is the Inspired Word of God, making my best inference more than that… making it a certitude that no other worldview offers their adherents.
The study of God and delight in knowing God requires a mode of understanding that transcends simply empirical data gathering, logical deduction, or the dutiful organization of scriptural or traditional texts into a coherent sequence. The Christian study of God intrinsically involves a mode of knowing from the heart that hopes to make the knower “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15, KJV, i.e., a knowing grounded in the “sacred writings which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation,” NEB), to save the soul, to teach the sinner all that is needed to attain saving knowledge of God (Clement of Alex., Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? pp. 591-604; Catherine of Siena, Prayers 7, pp. 58-61; Baxter, PW II, pp. 23-25; Wesley, WJW VIII, pp. 20 ff., 290 ff.).
Faith’s knowing is distinguishable from objective, testable, scientific knowledge, although not necessarily inimical to it. It is a form of knowing that embraces the practical question of how we choose to live in the presence of this Source and End of all (Clement of Alex., Exhort. to the Heathen IX, ANF II, pp. 195-97; Teresa of Avila, CWST, III, pp. 219-22; Calvin, Inst. 1.11-13).
Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, Volume One: The Living God (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2006), 9-10.
The assurance that God has spoken to them directly through his holy Scriptures gave the Reformers their unique boldness. The formation of that truth theologically was the fundamentally new element in the Reformation. The Reformation battle cry was sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone.” But sola Scriptura meant more to the Reformers than that God has revealed himself in the propositions of the Bible. The new element was not that the Bible, being given by God, speaks with God’s authority. The Roman Church held to that as well as the Reformers. The new element, as Packer points out,
was the belief, borne in upon the Reformers by their own experience of Bible study, that Scripture can and does interpret itself to the faithful from within—Scripture is its own interpreter, Scriptura sui ipsius interpres, as Luther puts it—so that not only does it not need Popes or Councils to tell us, as from God, what it means; it can actually challenge Papal and conciliar pronouncements, convince them of being ungodly and untrue, and require the faithful to part company with them. . . . As Scripture was the only source from which sinners might gain true knowledge of God and godliness, so Scripture was the only judge of what the church had in each age ventured to say in her Lord’s name.
In Luther’s time the Roman Church had weakened the authority of the Bible by exalting human traditions to the stature of Scripture and by insisting that the teaching of the Bible could be communicated to Christian people only through the mediation of popes, councils and priests. The Reformers restored biblical authority by holding that the living God speaks to his people directly and authoritatively through its pages.
James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVasity Press, 1986), 48-49.
After “The Donald” is asked about a favorite verse of the Bible, Ben Shapiro takes a quick tour on the meaning of an “eye-for-an-eye.” Included at the end is the John Kasich’s faux-pas in a library surrounded by Hasidic Jews.
…and if the Messiah has not been raised, then our message means nothing and your faith means nothing. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God because we testified on God’s behalf that he raised the Messiah—whom he did not raise if in fact it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then the Messiah has not been raised, and if the Messiah has not been raised, your faith is worthless and you are still imprisoned by your sins. Yes, even those who have died believingin the Messiah are lost. If we have set our hopes on the Messiah in this life only, we deserve more pity than any other people. But at this moment the Messiah stands risen from the dead, the first one offered in the harvest of those who have died. (1 Cor 15:14-20, ISV)
Dr. Gary Habermas gives lecture at UCSB, “The Resurrection Argument That Changed a Generation of Scholars,”is a bit longer but VERY powerful:
This belief has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find it to be the case that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.
Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which believers are called upon to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.
The following is a really good series by INSPIRING PHILOSOPHY, It is a 7-part series (they will all play below, or you can go HERE to play the one you wish) that is worth the watch.
1. The Resurrection of Jesus (Introduction) 2. The Resurrection of Jesus (The Historical Evidence) 3. The Resurrection of Jesus (Origins of the Belief) 4. The Resurrection of Jesus (Advanced Theories) 5. The Resurrection of Jesus (Are Miracles Improbable?) 6. The Resurrection of Jesus (Spiritual Resurrection?) 7. Refuting Biblical Arguments from Silence
J. Warner Wallace’s presentation to the Mars Hill Apologetics Group of North Coast Calvary Chapel. J. Warner is a cold case homicide detective and he hosts the PleaseConvinceMe Podcast (www.pleaseconvinceme.com).
(SORRY, I wanted to discuss how the “euthyphro argument” being an issue for Mormonism and not applicable to Christianity and Judaism. Dropped the ball on that one.)
Over the years I have noticed that Dennis Prager has an unhealthy view that Mormonism and Christianity worship the same God. This is not true… at all. In a recent show Prager talks about a minimalist approach to see if people worship the same God. I am a huge fan of Dennis’s, BUT, in this case he isn’t even close to being correct on an issue one would think is important for him to get right.
At any rate, I couldn’t figure out how to get some of the fade issues to sync up better, plus I need to work on the audio (a little “tiny” sounding).
Even according to thee simple parameters, the LDS god is vastly different than the Judeo-Christian concept of God. In the video I recommend two books, I will add my chapter as a resource as well:
In the appendix to Misquoting Jesus, added to the paperback version, there is a Q&A section. I do not know who the questioner is, but it is obviously someone affiliated with the editors of the book. Consider this question asked of Ehrman:
✦ Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g., the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity). Why do you believe these core tenets Of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?
Note that the wording of the question is not “Do you believe…” but “Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy…?” This is a question that presumably came from someone who read the book very carefully. How does Ehrman respond?
✦ The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.
Suffice it to say that viable textual variants that disturb cardinal doctrines found in the NT have not yet been produced.
Daniel B. Wallace, Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 2011), 54-55.
So with all that in mind (one should familiarize themselves with the first part of this), can we then define what we mean by biblical inerrancy, of course my favorite definition comes from the main text I used at the seminary I attended. I will also give definitions from some other main text that other seminaries use as well.
“…inerrancy means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.”
In case you didn’t catch what that sentence meant is “that the Bible always tells the truth, and that it always tells the truth concerning everything it talks about.”
In the index in the back under “inerrancy” you find some of the following topics under that heading: allows for free quotation; allows for ordinary language; allows for round numbers; allows for textual variants; allows for uncommon grammar; allows for vague statements; human language doesn’t prevent. I will choose one example from this list so you can get the “gist” of what Grudem is saying:
A similar consideration applies to numbers when used in measuring or in counting. A reporter can say that 8,000 men were killed in a certain battle without thereby implying that he has counted everyone and that there are not 7,999 or 8,001 dead soldiers. If roughly 8,000 died, it would of course be false to say that 16,000 died, but it would not be false in most contexts for a reporter to say that 8,000 men died when in fact 7,823 or 8,242 had died: the limits of truthfulness would depend on the degree of precision implied by the speaker and expected by his original hearers.
This is also true for measurements. Whether I say, “I don’t live far from my office,” or “I live a little over a mile from my office,” or “I live one mile from my office,” or “I live 1.287 miles from my office” all four statements are still approximations to some degree of accuracy. Further degrees of accuracy might be obtained with more precise scientific instruments, but these would still be approximations to a certain degree of accuracy. Thus, measurements also, in order to be true, should conform to the degree of precision implied by the speaker and expected by the hearers in the original context. It should not trouble us, then, to affirm both that the Bible is absolutely truthful in everything it says and that it uses ordinary language to describe natural phenomena or to give approximations or round numbers when those are appropriate in the context.
We should also note that language can make vague or imprecise statements without being untrue. “I live a little over a mile from my office” is a vague and imprecise statement, but it is also inerrant: there is nothing untrue about it. It does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. In a similar way, biblical statements can be imprecise and still be totally true. Inerrancy has to do with truthfulness, not with the degree of precision with which events are reported.
Another definition comes from a newer systematic theological 4-volumn set, it reads as follows:
…the inspiration of Scripture is the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit who, through the different personalities and literary styles of the chosen human authors, invested the very words of the original books of Holy Scripture, alone and in their entirety, as the very Word of God without error in all that they teach (including history and science) and is thereby the infallible rule and final authority for the faith and practice of all believers.
Another popular text in seminaries defines inerrancy in this way:
By “inerrancy” we mean that as a product of supernatural inspiration the information affirmed by the sentences of the original autographs of the sixty-six canonical books of the Bible is true.
By “true” content we mean propositions that correspond to the thought of God and created reality because they are logically noncontradictory, factually reliable, and experientially viable. Therefore, as given, the Bible provides a reliable guide for healthfully experiencing the physical, mental, moral, and spiritual realities that people face in time and eternity.
To grasp the truth that was given, as fully as possible, a passage of Scripture must be taken (interpreted) by a believer in accord with its author’s purpose; degrees of precision appropriate to that purpose at that time; and its grammatical, historical, cultural, and theological contexts (all under the illumination of the Holy Spirit who inspired it).
One of my favorites comes from large theological treatise, I will here only put his definition, however, the author goes on for about four pages defining some of the ideas and words used in that smaller definition:
We may now state our understanding of inerrancy: The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.
One must also keep in mind the psychological foreboding that all of us have. The question is thus: in order to suppress our biases as much as possible, is there a construct and model in which one should view any literary work with in order to test it internal soundness? Besides what I will again post as some rules all persons should follow in order to limit his or her preconceived values and biases they bring to the table, C. Sanders, a famous military historian, in his Introduction to Research in English Literary History, lists and explains the three basic principles of historiography. These are the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test.
The bibliographical test is an examination of the textual transmission by which documents reach us. In other words, since we do not have the original documents, how reliable are the copies we have in regard to the number of manuscripts (MSS and the time interval between the original and the extant (currently existing) copies?
Internal Evidence, of which John Warwick Montgomery writes that literary critics still follow Aristotle’s dictum that “the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.” therefore, one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and do not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies. As Dr. Horn continues:
“Think for a moment about what needs to be demonstrated concerning a ‘difficulty’ in order to transfer it into the category of a valid argument against doctrine. Certainly much more is required than the mere appearance of a contradiction. First, we must be certain that we have correctly understood the passage, the sense in which it uses words or numbers. Second, that we possess all available knowledge in this matter. Third, that no further light can possibly be thrown on it by advancing knowledge, textual research, archaeology, etc…. Difficulties do not constitute objections. Unresolved problems are not of necessity errors. This is not to minimize the area of difficulty; it is to see it in perspective. Difficulties are to be grappled with and problems are to drive us to seek clearer light; but until such time as we have total and final light on any issue we are in no position to affirm, ‘Here is a proven error, an unquestionable objection to an infallible Bible.’ It is common knowledge that countless ‘objections’ have fully been resolved since this century began.” (see more)
Do other historical materials confirm or deny the internal testimony provided by the documents themselves? In other words, what sources are there – apart from the literature under analysis – that substantiate its accuracy, reliability, and authenticity?
Of course there will be people who refuse to use the tools that literary critics and legal scholars have devised to keep as much prejudice out as possible. My final story I wish to share with the reader explains what this looks like better than I ever could:
But even a sound epistemic system, flawless deductive reasoning, and impeccable inductive procedure does not guarantee a proper conclusion. Emotional bias or antipathy might block the way to the necessary conclusion of the research. That thinkers may obstinately resist a logical verdict is humorously illustrated by John Warwick Montgomery’s modern parable:
Once upon a time (note the mystical cast) there was a man who thought he was dead. His concerned wife and friends sent him to the friendly neighborhood psychiatrist determined to cure him by convincing him of one fact that contradicted his beliefs that he was dead. The fact that the psychiatrist decided to use was the simple truth that dead men do not bleed. He put his patient to work reading medical texts, observing autopsies, etc. After weeks of effort the patient finally said, “All right, all right! You’ve convinced me. Dead men do not bleed.” Whereupon the psychiatrist stuck him in the arm with a needle, and the blood flowed. The man looked down with a contorted, ashen face and cried, “Good Lord! Dead men bleed after all!”
Emotional prejudice is not limited to dull-witted, the illiterate, and poorly educated. Philosophers and theologians are not exempt from the vested interests and psychological prejudice that distort logical thinking. The question of the existence of God evokes deep emotional and psychological prejudice. People understand that the question of the existence of God is not one that is of neutral consequence. We understand intuitively, if not in terms of its full rational implication, that the existence of an eternal Creator before whom we are ultimately accountable and responsible is a matter that touches the very core of life.
And I would be remiss to note how the Christian world looks at what “the inspired Word of God” means to the individuals involved in the writing of Scripture. Do these lose their person-hood? Do they become automatons? Losing all ability to self, or control like automatic writing in paganism or the occult? These are important questions:
Orr says that inspiration “must be held to include the insight given by the divine Spirit into the meaning of the history, through which holy men are enabled to write it for the instruction of all ages.” But that is never taught in the Scriptures.
Dr. Edward Young, one of the most careful and devoted scholars on the matter of the inspiration of the Scriptures, makes a slip here, we believe. He strongly teaches the verbal inspiration of the Scripture but says:
According to the Bible, inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.”
He is right that the Scripture has divine authority and is free from error. I do not think, however, that the term “superintendence” is the proper word for the work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible never indicates that the Holy Spirit breathed on men or superintended men as they wrote. Rather, David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me” (II Sam. 23:2). And “God spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). And the men of God who wrote were rather “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:21), or literally, “as they were borne along by the Holy Ghost.” Superintendence is too weak a word and leaves the initiative with men, with the Holy Spirit somewhere near and more or less supervising, checking. But according to the Scriptures, the initiative was with God the Holy Spirit and men are His instruments in writing the Scriptures.
Drs. Lindsell and Woodbridge say about the Bible writers:
They retained their own styles, personalities and self-command. Their personal powers were not suspended but sharpened. The Holy Spirit commanded the operation; but Moses, John and Peter remained Moses, John and Peter while writing. Because of the close, sustained, continuous, effective supervision of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Now, the end the good doctors declare is correct. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is true that the writers were not automata. In some sense they did retain their own style and personalities and self-command. But the Bible never says that “their personal powers were… sharpened.” Whether or not their powers were sharpened we do not know. The unintended indication is that here, if men have enough illumination, enough supervision by the Holy Spirit, they could write the perfect Word of God. But that is not what the Bible teaches and surely not what Lindsell and Woodbridge intended to convey.
But Lindsell and Woodbridge correct themselves on the preceding page:
“Inspiration” is not mere “Illumination.” The Holy Spirit illumines one’s soul before he can understand spiritual truth (See I Cor. 2:10-12.) But when we speak of the inspiration of the Bible, we do not have in mind this sort of spiritual perception. We do not mean merely that the intuitive faculties of the writers were quickened, or their spiritual insights clarified. Their “inspiration” was different, not only in degree but also in kind, from the heightened powers of ordinary men, even of men known for their spiritual genius. The inspiration of the Biblical authors was unique: it was special, direct, reliable, life-giving, inerrant.
That is better. The Bible does not come from “the heightened powers of ordinary men, even of men known for their spiritual genius.” If “the intuitive faculties of the writers were quickened,” the Bible says nothing about it, and it is obviously not necessary to the kind of inspiration the Bible teaches. There is no evidence that the “intuitive faculties” of Balaam were quickened when by inspiration he gave a prophecy he did not want to give nor that the “intuitive faculties” of Caiaphas the high priest were quickened when he prophesied that Christ would die for the people, meaning something else. When God breathed out the words of the Bible, and the Bible discusses it, it never speaks of men’s “intuitive faculties” being quickened nor of their “heightened powers” nor that “their personal powers were… sharened.” I am sure that, without intending to do so and trying to someway explain the human color and imprint in the Scriptures, good men say about this more than the Bible itself says here.
Let us say it again: the Scriptures did not come from heightened powers or quickened senses nor by simple illumination of the Holy Spirit. God Himself gave the Scriptures and inspiration was far more than some superintendence or supervision of spiritually illumined men with heightened faculties.
All this defining and understanding above is key for any person to start dissecting Scripture (or as some would view it, scripture) on a level playing field with others who come to this conversation as well.
….This statement is not only wrong, but completely misunderstands its own argument; ironically, it makes the exact circular assumptions that it accuses believers of.
1. The “Bible” is not one book
When we are talking about “proving” or evidencing the truths of the Gospel message, we have to put our historian hats on (not our religious hats). The argument is meant to place Christians in this rather odd situation where they sound like they are saying the Bible is true because it says it is true. But the Bible is not one book. In fact, the term “Bible” is not in the Bible. The Bible is a collection of works that spans over a thousand years, written by dozens of authors, some who are connected, some who are not. All together there are sixty-six books in the Protestant Bible.
When we are talking about the claims of the “New Testament,” we are talking about the story of Christianity, the very foundation and apex of Christianity as it deals with the incarnation of Christ, who he was, and what he did. But even then, to say one can’t prove the New Testament with the New Testament is quite ill-informed and unreflective. The designation “New Testament” (along with its list of books) is not even in the New Testament. Like with the whole Bible, it is just a name given to a certain related corpus of writings that speaks about the story and implications of the advent of Jesus Christ. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament.
If one were to look at this with a historian’s eye, to say we cannot use the Bible to prove or evidence the Bible is about the most misguided thing one could possibly say. What does that mean? Are you saying that we cannot use the testimony that the book of Matthew gives to evidence Mark? Or that one cannot attempt to piece together Galatians with the Book of Acts? Of course you can. In fact, you must. These twenty-seven documents, all written around the same time, all telling similar stories, must be used to prove or evidence each other. If not, the historian is not being a historian, but something entirely different.
2. One must assume the inspiration of the Bible to say the Bible can’t prove the Bible
You see, if a person says, “You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible,” he probably doesn’t realize he is borrowing a bit from the Christian worldview in order to even make such an assertion. What is being borrowed? The idea of the basic unity of Scripture or the single-authorship of the Bible. The only way to say the Bible can’t prove the Bible is to presume the inspiration of Scripture. Otherwise, there is no reason to link the canon of Scripture together in such a way. For the non-Christian especially, the Bible should be seen as sixty-six ancient documents, all of which stand or fall on their own. In order to make them stand or fall together, one must assume a single authorship of some sort. At that point, the argument becomes self-defeating, as the very statement (“You can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible”) proves the Bible!
The significance of the distinction between inerrant autograph and errant apograph may be seen from another angle. What difference would it make, some have asked, if the autographs did contain some of the errors that are present in the copies? Is not the end result of textual criticism and hermeneutics by both nonevangelical and evangelical essentially the same? As far as the results of textual criticism and hermeneutics as such are concerned, the answer to this last query is yes. By sound application of the canons of textual criticism, most by far of the errors in the text may be detected and corrected. And both nonevangelical and evangelical can properly exegete the critically established text. But the nonevangelical who fails to make a distinction between the inerrancy of the autographs and the errancy of the copies, after he has done his textual criticism and grammatical-historical exegesis, is still left with the question, Is the statement which I have now reached by my text-critical work and my hermeneutics true? He can only attempt to determine this on other (extrabiblical) grounds, but he will never know for sure if his determination is correct. The evangelical, however, who draws the distinction between inerrant autograph and errant apograph, once he has done proper text-critical analysis which assures him that he is working with the original text and properly applied the canons of exegesis to that text, rests in the confidence that his labor has resulted in the attainment of truth.
Some critical scholars have suggested that the distinction between inerrant autographs and errant apographs is of fairly recent vintage, indeed, an evangelical ploy to minimize the impact of the “assured results of textual criticism” upon their position. This is erroneous. Augustine’s statement, which represents the opinion generally of the Patristic Age, is a sufficient answer to demonstrate that the distinction is not a recent novelty:
I have learned to defer this respect and honor to the canonical books of Scripture alone, that I most firmly believe that no one of their authors has committed any error in writing. And if in their writings I am perplexed by anything which seems to me contrary to truth, I do not doubt that it is nothing else than either that the manuscript is corrupt, or that the translator has not followed what was said, or that I have myself failed to understand it. But when I read other authors, however eminent they may be in sanctity and learning, I do not necessarily believe a thing is true because they think so, but because they have been able to convince me, either on the authority of the canonical writers or by a probable reason which is not inconsistent with truth. And I think that you, my brother, feel the same way; moreover, I say, I do not believe that you want your books to be read as if they were those of Prophets and Apostles, about whose writings, free of all error, it is unlawful to doubt.
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 91-92.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 90.
 Ibid., 91-92.
 Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Introduction: Bible, vol. I (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2002), 498.
 Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology: Three Volumes in One, vol. I (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 160-161.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books/Academic, 1998), 259.
 Taken primarily from, Bill Wilson, ed., A Ready Defense: The Best of Josh McDowell (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 43.
 R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 69-70.
John R. Rice, Our God Breathed Book – The Bible (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Word Publishers, 1969), 72-74.
This next video is a very interesting video in that it is an argument on a Temple Library and the transmission of Scripture. Great presentation… shows that there are breakthroughs in Biblical history waiting to be correlated.
The Gospel Coalition (Januray 2015) – Lecture by John Meade. Meade speaks on the authenticity of the Bible. This video is part of ‘The Bible: Canon, Texts, and Translations’ playlist: YouTube Playlist.
This next video is a lecture from Masters Seminary, Theology I Lecture 08 “Authority and Canonicity of Scripture”
And a greatr study is with R.C. Sproul, and he makes a point that has eluded me a bit until now, and they are:
Roman Catholic View:
The canon is an infallible collecting of infallible books.
The Protestant view:
The canon is an fallible collecting of infallible books.
For reference, we are dealing with the first four verses of Acts chapter 9, I will include the main story for clarity:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested lettersfrom him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
“Who are You, Lord?” he said.
“I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
(Acts 9:1-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB])
But Saul (Paul) was an obvious fraud if you understand ancient Roman law. There is no possible way that a Roman ‘provinciale’ citizen of Judea would have any authority to travel to the neighboring province of Syria to extradite religious heretics (also Roman citizens) back to Jerusalem.
The high priest and Sanhedrin in Judea were only allowed to involve themselves in Judean affairs. Even then, there is not a single shred of text in Roman, Sanhedrin, or independent record that supports or even mentions such a bounty hunter practice. Only the bible in Saul’s imagination.
If you are aware of a corroborating source outside the bible, I’d love to see it. I have been searching for one for 20+ years now.
As we will see, he has been searching in the wrong places. Later in conversation the challenge was restated a bit after I said Paul was “arresting Jews who became Christians. In fact, all the early converts were Jewish? He wasn’t arresting Roman citizens?”
All Judeans were considered Roman Provinciale citizens, and taxpayers to Rome. Hence the revolt…. Syrian provincials, also taxpaying Roman citizens. He would not have any legal authority to arrest anyone in Damascus, and there is no record of this practice outside the bible.
(I will build a case for the reliability of Luke before answering the specific charge)
I pointed out of course that this is an argument from silence. There ends up being good evidence of this being a special agreement with Rome and the Jewish religious leaders as part of Rome preserving their version of religious freedom, but my point still stands:
I find it doubtful that most of the historical points in Paul’s life are real… but this is not.
It reminds me of times when archaeologists said there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham, no archaeological evidence for the Hittites, no archaeological evidence for King David, no archaeological evidence for the Pool of Bethesda… etc., etc.
And then walla… all of a suddenly these people who said the Bible was not real because it made up “whole-cloth” these places.
Now there is — an example — an entire museum dedicated to the Hittites.
Besides my example above of the previous VERY SMALL list of attack on the Bible via skeptics arguing from silence and later being proven wrong, to wit:
“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.” – Dr. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956), p. 176.
“On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine….Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has shown, in a number of instances, that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development. This is a real contribution and not to be minimized.” – Millar Burrows, Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 1
“The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.” – Professor Millar Burrows (Professor of Archaeology at Yale University), What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 176.
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.” – Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
“I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.” – Sir William Ramsey (eminent archaeologists who changed his mind regarding Luke after extensive study in the field), (1915), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975 reprint), page 89.
But most importantly about the author of Acts:
“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of facts trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense…In short this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” ~ Sir William Ramsey (archaeologist), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, pages 81, 222
To wit, this external evidence for the reliability of the Bible is immense:
25,000 SITES CONFIRM N.T.
More than 25,000 sites confirm, in clear outline or exact detail, historical statements in the Bible. Archeologist Nelson Glueck wrote, “No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Archeologists have found the bones of a first-century crucifixion victim confirming the accuracy of the New Testament writers.
The “Nazareth Decree,” issued by Emperor Claudius between 41-54, threatens tomb robbers with death instead of the usual fine, possibly because rumors were still circulating about the body of Christ being stolen!
Colin Hemer’s text confirms hundreds of archaeological finds that support specific persons, events, and facts presented in Luke and Acts alone. The confirmation of historicity for Acts is overwhelming.
What archeological evidence is there for the New Testament’s reliability generally, and Luke’s in particular? The English archeologist Sir William Ramsay (professor of humanity at Aberdeen University in Scotland, 1886-1911) had been totally skeptical about the accuracy of the New Testament, especially the writings of Luke. After going to what is now Turkey, and doing a topographical study, he totally reversed his thinking. After reconsidering, he wrote: “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” He had believed, as per nineteenth-century German higher criticism, that Acts was written in the second century. But he found it must have been written earlier, because it reflected conditions typical of the second half of the first century. After having gone to Asia Minor (Turkey) to do archeological and topographical work, Ramsay discovered Luke’s reliability:
It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative [of Luke in Acts] showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with a fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.
So when Maccoby writes that Luke’s description of Paul’s defense before Agrippa “has the atmosphere of fiction, and is full of unhistorical aspects:’ he is ignoring the implications of the reality that whenever Luke could be checked, he has repeatedly proven to be correct.
W.M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953), 222; William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962), 7-8; McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1:70; Maccoby, The Mythmaker, 171.
Eric Snow, A Zeal For God Not According to Knowledge: A Refutation of Judaism’s Arguments Against Christianity, 2nd Edition (New York, NY: iUniverse Inc., 2005), 82-83.
~ PIVOT ~
Nothing has changed other than MORE archaeological proofs have substantiated Acts since Ramsey’s time. But now we will pivot to a more specific refutation of the challenge by first allowing the honest “what we do not know” into the conversation as well as “what we do know.”
What we do not know is “that we have no certain information as to whether the Sanhedrin had this kind of power.” But what we do know or can question is this:
a question as to whether Rome was in control of the city at this time or the Nabeteans were
We do know that Damascus was known in Jewish history and thought as a place of refuge and exile… it is conceivable that Jewish Christians would flee there.
We also know that the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction as a legislative body over Jews throughout the Diaspora
collecting the Temple tax abroad
and that Jews had the right of internal discipline in their synagogues
Therefore, we could conceive of some sort of right of extradition,
especially since we know that the Romans granted this right to Judaea as a sovereign state under the Hasmoneans
Tektonics continues in their summation: “But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”
Another site words the challenge thus:
It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians, and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.
And then is the refutation:
Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law
[F.F.] Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest [quoted below]
Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority [quoted below]
Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction, [BUT] notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.
Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care. Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved….
Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference.
So we see some great evidence from history and culture that would allow such a practice to have happened… but again to repeat Tektonics,
“But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”
Amen, and Amen.
20[+] Year Search Answered
So here is effectively how the discussion ended. The skeptic wanted — essentially — paperwork from Paul’s time-period rather than a few years prior showing authority to do this. This is an unreasonable request and show the “enmity” between the natural man and God (including reasonable evidence for their countering their pet peeves ~ Romans 8:7). Why is this unreasonable? Simply because filing, file cabinets, computers, computer server back-ups, copy machines, and the like were not the normal order then.
So all the historian needs to do is show that this happened close to the time, coupled with the dual-citizen Saul knowing that this extradition was still possible under past/current laws. Until a specific “order” of cease-and-desist can be shown, it is REASONABLE to assume the players involved here knew from history that the law was still up-and-running.
This is the reason I included the many commentaries below, because they show basically the following to some extent or another:
Extradition from Egypt was granted for Simon the high priest by Ptolemy VII in 142 B.C. (1 Macc. 15:15-21)
Julius Caesar formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the high priest in all matters of Jewish religion in a decree of 47 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14. 192-195)
Of course, apropos of my presented response the skeptic merely countered with the time between Julias Caesars death and Saul (Paul), and then said “do you know how many laws have changed in America in a similar time-period?” Unfortunately for him, this is not how history is interpreted — that is, by applying 21st Century customes to the B.C. and A.D. shift in rulers and laws in Rome. So the skeptic felt unfulfilled, but I can now teach well on these three verses in a class setting preparing younger (and older) minds to combat secular silliness and encourage them in their faith.
Here are some great commentaries to support this historicity. I include pics because the people I deal with think I “google” stuff, little do they know. (In fact, in referencing my own site they mentioned my site is biased when I merely used my own library to note stats in a post/challenge on “religious wars” from The Encyclopedia of War.)
F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Willaim B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 180-181.
2. When the Jewish state won its independence under the Hasmonaean dynasty of ruling priests (142 B.C.), the Romans, who patronized the new state for reasons of their own, required neighboring states to grant it the privileges of a sovereign state, including the right of extradition. A letter delivered at that time by a Roman ambassador to Ptolemy VIII of Egypt concludes with the demand: “If any pestilent men have fled to you from their own country [Judaea], hand them over to Simon the high priest, so that he may punish them according to their law” (1 Macc. 15:21). In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood. Luke’s narrative implies that the right of extradition continued to be enjoyed by the high priest under the provincial administra¬tion set up in A.D. 6. The followers of The Way whom Saul was authorized to bring back from Damascus were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples. The charge against them may have been complicity in Stephen’s offense against the temple.
“The Way” is a designation for the new movement used several times in Acts (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; cf. also 16:17; 18:25-26). It was evidently a term used by the early followers of Jesus to denote their movement as the way of life or the way of salvation. Similar words are used in a religious sense elsewhere; a specially close parallel is the use of the Hebrew word for “way” in the Zadokite Work and other documents of the Qumran community to denote the membership and life-style of that community.
The history of Damascus goes back to remote antiquity. It was a city in the days of Abraham, and at the time of the Israelite monarchy it was the capital of the most important Aramaean kingdom. Later it was the seat of administration of an Assyrian province. In Hellenistic times it was com¬pletely replanned, on the Hippodamian grid-system. From 64 B.C. on it belonged to the Roman province of Syria, but had a measure of municipal autonomy in the loose federation of cities called the Decapolis. There was a very large Jewish population in the city, so it is not surprising that there were several synagogues, each exercising disciplinary supervision over its members.
Josephus, Ant. 14.192-95; see S. Safrai and M. Stern (ed.), The Jewish People in the First Century, I (Assen, 1974), p. 456.
CD 1.13; 2.6; 1QS 9.17-18; 10.20-21; see E. Repo, Der “Weg” als Selbst-bezeichnung des Urchristentums, AASF B 132.2 (Helsinki, 1964). The Zadokite Work, discovered toward the end of the nineteenth century in two mutilated manuscripts in the ancient synagogue of Fostat (Old Cairo), and first published in Fragments of a Zadokite Work, ed: S. Schechter, I (Cambridge, 1910), revealed the presence in Damascus of a Jewish group (now known to have been closely related to, if not identical with, the Qumran community) bound together by covenant as a new and purified Israel, devoted to the Zadokite priesthood and a distinctive form of the messianic hope. See L. Ginzberg, An Unknown Jewish Sect (New York, 1976); P. R. Davies, The Damascus Covenant, JSOT Sup. 25 (Sheffield, 1983); also G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Har-mondsworth, 1975), pp. 95-117. If the “Damascus” of this document is to be understood literally, it may be asked what relation the covenanters of Damascus bore to the local disciples of Jesus, but it is probably impossible to answer the question with anything like certainty.
 According to Josephus, BJ 2.561, the outbreak of the Judaean revolt in A.D. 66 was marked by the massacre of 10,500 Damascene Jews; in BJ 7.368, their number has risen to 18,000.
Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 17, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 329–330.
b. “He went to the high priest.” The high priest served as head of the Sanhedrin, which as a legislative body had jurisdiction over the Jews living in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the dispersion. Thus the high priest had power to issue warrants to the synagogues in Damascus for the arrests of Christian Jews residing there (see 9:2; 22:5; 26:12). Did the Romans permit religious persecution in their provinces? We are not sure whether at that time the Roman government had full control over Damascus. In the fourth decade of the first century, the Nabatean Arabs under the leadership of Aretas IV were exerting their influence on that city and gave the Damascenes temporary autonomy. The Nabateans and Jews probably collaborated because of their anti-Roman stance.
From the New Testament and other historical records we know that the high priest was Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas. Nevertheless, Annas exercised the authority of high priest, as is evident from verse 14, where the plural term chief priests occurs.
c. “And asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus.” That city gave residence to a large Jewish population, so that for centuries Damascus had its own Jewish quarter (compare v. 22). Consequently, Jewish synagogues were common in the Syrian capital. From the annals of Jewish history we learn that at the time of the Jewish war against Rome (a.d. 66), no fewer than ten thousand Jews were killed in Damascus.
Scripture tells us that Damascus already existed in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:15; 15:2), was conquered by David (2 Sam. 8:6), regained independence during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11:24–25), and became a hotbed of hostility toward Israel and eventually dominated it for some time (Amos 1:3–5). During the Roman conquest (64 b.c.), Damascus was the seat of government for Rome’s Syrian province and one of the ten cities in the region known as the Decapolis (Mark 5:20; 7:31). The Nabatean Arabs ruled the Arabian desert area and under the leadership of Aretas IV, who was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19), controlled Damascus for a few years (2 Cor. 11:32).
Damascus is situated along the Abana River, from which it draws water to irrigate the sun-parched landscape in and around the city. In Paul’s day, to journey on foot from Jerusalem to Damascus took about five or six days to cover the approximate distance of 150 miles. The city was a commercial center where caravans converged from all directions in the ancient world and where the Christian faith began to flourish. Paul realized that from Damascus, the gospel of Christ would spread throughout the world. For that reason, he wanted to stop the influence of Christianity and asked the high priest for warrants to arrest Christians, both men and women, in the Damascus synagogues. He knew that among the worshipers in the local assemblies were countless followers of Jesus Christ. Here Paul intended to make multiple arrests.
d. “If he found any persons who belonged to the Way.” In the beginning, Christians used a variety of names to identify themselves. The term the Way is one of the first names that describes the Christian faith (compare the term the Name [5:41]). In Acts it appears a few times (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The term denotes the teaching of the gospel, the Christian’s conduct directed and guided by this gospel, and the Christian community in general. Granted that the believers formed a distinct group, they nevertheless continued to meet with fellow Jews in the Damascus synagogues. As a result, the rulers of these synagogues could readily identify the followers of the Way; Paul intended to depend on the rulers for help in arresting the Christians. He planned to lead Christ’s followers as bound prisoners to Jerusalem, where they would have to stand trial.
 Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.—A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973-87), vol. 2, p. 218.
Matt. 26:3; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:13-14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6.
Josephus War 2.20.2 ; 7.8.7 .
Consult Wilhelm Michaelis, TDNT, vol. 5, p. 89; Günther Ebel, NIDNTT, vol. 3, p. 942.
Richard N. Longenecker, Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed., Acts, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – John and Acts, vol 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1981), 368-370.
It is, of course, impossible today to speak with certainty about what was going on in Saul’s subconscious mind at the time, for psychoanalysis two millennia or so later is hardly a fruitful exercise. His own references as a Christian to this earlier time in his life, however, do not require us to view him as struggling with uncertainty, doubt, and guilt before becoming a Christian. They rather suggest that humanly speaking he was immune to the Christian proclamation and immensely satisfied with his own ancestral faith (cf. my Paul, pp. 65-105). While he looked forward to the full realization of the hope of Israel, Paul seems from his reminiscences of those earlier days to have been thoroughly satisfied with the revelation of God that was given through Moses and to have counted it his chief delight to worship God through those revealed forms. Nor need we suppose that the logic of the early Christian preachers greatly affected Paul. His later references to “the offense of the cross” show that for him the cross was the great stumbling block to any acknowledgment of Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah—a stumbling block no amount of logic or verbal gymnastics could remove (cf. 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11; note also Justin Martyr, Dialogue 32, 89).
It is probable that Saul took up his brutal task of persecution with full knowledge of the earnestness of his opponents, the stamina of the martyrs, and the agony he would necessarily cause. Fanaticism was not so foreign to Palestine in his day as to leave him unaware of these things, and it is quite possible that he was prepared for the emotional strain involved in persecuting those he believed to be dangerous schismatics within Israel.
More important, however, in days when the rabbis viewed the keeping of the Mosaic law as the vitally important prerequisite for the coming of the Messianic Age (cf. b Sanhedrin 97b-98a; b Baba Bathra 10a; b Yoma 86b), Paul could validate his actions against the Christians by reference to such godly precedents as (1) Moses’ slaying of the immoral Israelites at Baal-peor (cf. Num 25:1-5); (2) Phinehas’s slaying of the Israelite man and Midianite woman in the plains of Moab (cf. Num 25:6-15); and (3) the actions of Mattathias and the Hasidim in rooting out apostasy among the people (cf. 1 Macc 2:23-28, 42-48). Perhaps even the divine commendation of Phinehas’s action in Numbers 25:11-13 rang in his ears:
Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as jealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.
Second Maccabees 6:13 counsels that “it is a mark of great kindness when the impious are not let alone for a long time, but punished at once.”
The DSS define a righteous man as one who “bears unremitting hatred toward all men of ill repute” (1QS 9.22). They speak of unswerving allegiance to God and his laws as alone providing a firm foundation for the Holy Spirit, truth, and the arrival of Israel’s hope (cf. 1QS 9.3-4, 20-21) and call for volunteers who are blameless in spirit and body to root out apostasy in the final eschatological days (cf. 1QM 7.5; 10.2-5). The Qumran psalmist, in fact, directly associates commitment to God and his laws with zeal against apostates and perverters of the law when he says:
The nearer I draw to you, the more am I filled with zeal against all that do wickedness and against all men of deceit. For they that draw near to you cannot see your commandments defiled, and they that have knowledge of you can brook no change of your words, seeing that you are the essence of right, and all your elect are the proof of your truth (1QH 14.13-15).
With such precedents and parallels, coupled with the rising tide of messianic expectation within Israel, Saul could very well have felt justified in mounting a further persecution against the Christians. Probably he felt that in light of Israel’s rising messianic hopes the nation must be united and faithful in its obedience to the law and kept from schism or going astray. In his task, he doubtless expected to receive God’s commendation. According to 1 Maccabees, Judah, Jonathan, and Simeon (the three great Hasmonean rulers) established friendly relations with Rome (cf. 1 Macc 8:17-32; 12:1-4; 14:16-24), a reciprocal extradition clause being included in Rome’s reply to Simeon (cf. 1 Macc 15:15-24). And the decrees of the Roman senate that Josephus records appear to indicate that the treaties of friendship between Rome and the Jewish people were renewed in the time of John Hyrcanus (cf. Antiq. XIII, 259-66 [ix.2]; XIV, 145-48 [viii.5]). While the Sadducean high priests of Jerusalem no longer exercised the civil authority of their predecessors, they were, it seems, recognized by Rome as the titular rulers of their people in most internal matters; and evidently they retained the right of extradition in strictly religious situations. Therefore Saul, seeking the return of Jewish Christians, “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem” (cf. 22:5; 26:12).
Damascus was a large and thriving commercial center at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Since 64 B.C. it had been part of the Roman province of Syria and was granted certain civic rights by Rome as one of the ten cities of eastern Syria and the Transjordan called the Decapolis (cf. Mark 5:20; 7:31). It had a large Nabatean Arab population, and possibly was ruled by the Nabatean king Aretas IV (9 B.C.-A.D. 40) at some time during this period (cf. 2 Cor 11:32). It also had a large Jewish population, 10,500 of whom Josephus reports were killed by the people of Damascus at the outbreak of Jewish-Roman hostilities in A.D. 66 (cf. War II, 561 [xx.2]; though in War VII, 368 [viii.7] the figure is 18,000). It was to this city that Saul went with the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrin, seeking to return to Jerusalem those Christians who had fled the city—chiefly the Hellenistic Jewish Christians—in order to contain the spread of what he considered to be a pernicious and deadly contagion within Israel.
While we have spoken repeatedly of the early believers in Jesus as Christians, the term “Christian” (Christianos) was first coined at Antioch of Syria (cf. 11:26) and appears only three times in the entire NT (11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Before being named at Syrian Antioch and during the early existence of the church, those who accepted Jesus’ messiahship and claimed him as their Lord called themselves those of “the Way” (hē hodos, as here and at 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; cf. also 16:17; 18:25-26), while their opponents spoke of them as members of “the sect of the Nazarenes” (hē hairesis tan Nazōraiōn; cf. 24:5, 14; 28:22). The origin of the absolute use of “the Way” for Christians is uncertain, though it surely had something to do with the early believers’ consciousness of walking in the true path of God’s salvation and moving forward to accomplish his purposes. In the vignette of 9:1-30, it is synonymous with such self-designations as “the disciples of the Lord” (vv.2, 10, 19), “saints” (v.13), “all who call on your [Jesus’] name” (v.14), and “brothers” (vv.17, 30).
2 Some have noted that in 9:1-2, 14, and 26:10, 12, it is the high priest (or “chief priests”) from whom Saul received letters of authority, whereas in 22:5 he is shown as saying that he obtained letters from the whole council (i.e., “the high priest and all the council”). The difference, however, is merely verbal and hardly worth commenting on.
3-6 Though the apparition of 2 Macc 3 of the great horse, its frightful rider, and the two accompanying youths who attacked Heliodorus finds a parallel in Luke’s portrayal here, the resemblances are superficial.
Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 315–316.
Probably too much ink has been spilled on whether the high priest actually had such right of extradition during this period. In the first place our text says nothing about a legal right; the impression left is that the high priest was providing letters requesting permission for such actions by Saul. But even if a right is in view here, it is possible that the material found in Josephus, Ant. 14.192–95 is of relevance. There we are told that Julius Caesar confirmed such rights and privileges to the Jewish people and the high priest in particular, even though they were no longer a sovereign or independent state. This privilege may have still existed in Saul’s day.
Damascus was an important city 135 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem. Lying on the main route from Egypt to Mesopotamia, it became a commercial center. Part of the league of cities known as the Decapolis (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 5.74), it had a considerable Jewish population (cf. Josephus, War 2.561). This city formed part of the Roman province of Syria from 64 b.c. on, but retained its municipal independence as part of the Decapolis. There is perhaps incidental confirmation of Saul’s conversion near or in this city in the reference to a “return” to Damascus in Gal. 1:17.
 This is of more relevance than the earlier material found in 1 Macc. 15:21, where a Roman ambassador requests extradition of Ptolemy VII in 138 b.c. with the person in question to be handed over to the high priest. See the discussion in Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 233, and Marshall, Acts, p. 168.
See Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 233, and the discussion of Syria in general by Tracy, “Syria.”
Harold Mare, New Testament Background Commentary: A New Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Situations in Bible Order (Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2004), 163–164
9:2. to the high priest… for letters. Probably Caiaphas and/or Annas, his father-in-law, and possibly also members of the high priest’s family and the Sanhedrin (cf. 4:5, 6, 15).
the synagogues in Damascus. Damascus was located in the Roman province of Syria and was a member of the Decapolis group of cities (Matt. 4:24; Mark 5:20; 7:31), which were mainly located in Syria and the Transjordan. At this time Damascus was under the rule of the Nabataeans under King Aretas IV (2 Cor. 11:32), and had a large Jewish population. Damascus was 80 to 90 miles north of the Decapolis cities of Abila and Capitolias, and was about 150 miles north of Jerusalem, a distance taking several days to traverse.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 9:1–2.
9:1–2. Official letters of introduction authorizing or recommending their sender were common, and Josephus confirms that Palestinian agents could take orders from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. Jewish communities outside Palestine respected the high priest, and letters from him authorize Saul to carry out his mission with the full cooperation of synagogues there. Because the high priest had exercised extradition rights over fugitive Judeans when he ruled Palestine under the Romans, local synagogues in Syria likely still recognized this right, although the local ruler would probably not. These synagogue communities could cooperate with Saul in his mission to weed out the Jewish Christians.
The Essene sect at Qumran also described itself as “the way”; this was a natural designation for a group that believed that it alone followed the way of righteousness. Essenes had apparently also settled in Damascus, if their writings on this point are meant literally. Tens of thousands of Jews lived in Damascus (as many as eighteen thousand were massacred there in a.d. 66).
C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 350–351.
2) Caiaphas was still the high priest, for not until the year 36 did Jonathan, a son of Annas, and in 37 Theophilus, another son of Annas, succeed Caiaphas; the latter were not sons of Caiaphas (R., W. P.). The authorization Saul desired was not requested from the high priest alone but from him as being head of the Sanhedrin who issued “the letters” on vote of the entire body as we see from 22:5; 26:10.
The middle ᾐτήσατο is not to be understood in the sense that Saul asked these letters “as a favor to himself” (R., W. P.); the middle of this verb is used with reference to business transactions, when business claims are made. So here the great business of persecuting the Christians had been officially delegated to Saul, and in prosecuting this business of his “he asked in due order” for documents that would enable him to execute this business of his also in Damascus. While Saul had his heart and soul in this persecution, it was not a private enterprise of his, could not be in the nature of the case, but an official enterprise of the supreme Jewish court itself with Saul as its head agent. For the persecutions in Jerusalem he had as his assistants a body of Levite police that had been granted him by the Sanhedrin in order to hale men and women to prison (8:3) and he was similarly equipped with police when he was authorized to operate in Damascus.
Damascus, the oldest city in the world (apparently a city already in Abraham’s time, B. C. 1912, Gen. 14:15; 15:2) that still exists as a famous city, had a large number of resident Jews and, as Luke’s plural shows, a number of synagogues. Nero butchered 10,000 Jews in Damascus. It was under the rule of King Aretas three years after the event narrated in this section and must have been strongly Jewish when Saul went there on his errand. The Roman emperors granted the Sanhedrin authority over Jews outside of Palestine, and Aretas was a Roman vassal. What this authority included and in what territory the Sanhedrin might exercise it, is uncertain; but Saul’s expedition to Damascus evidently assumes that arrests could be made there and the prisoners brought to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for trial. We have “both men and women” as in 8:3.
John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic), 45-47.
Paul’s persecuting (9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:4-5, 9-12). In his two testimonies, Paul began by noting his Jewish heritage. He was brought up in a Jewish family in Tarsus, trained in the law under Gamaliel, zealous for God (22:3; 26:4). He had lived by the “strictest sect” of the Jewish religion—a Pharisee (26:5). Paul’s Jewish background was essential to the argument of his speeches before the temple mob and Agrippa. It was not necessary in the conversion narrative of Acts 9. What was essential there was Paul’s preconversion role of being the ravager of the church. So that is where Luke began. Paul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (9:1). Paul was so intense in his persecution of the Christians that he drew his very breath from the threats and slaughter which he harbored against them. Paul’s testimonies go into greater detail: he persecuted the Christians “to death,” dragging off both men and women to prison (22:4); when it was a question of the death penalty, he “cast [his] vote against them” (26:10). Paul’s persecuting in Jerusalem is not elaborated in Acts.’ The only death detailed by Luke is that of Stephen. Paul need not have been a member of the Sanhedrin, even though his testimony would indicate that the chief priests gave him authorization for his persecuting activities (26:10). Paul went into the greatest detail about his persecuting in his testimony before Agrippa. There he noted how he had consistently attempted to make the Christians “blaspheme”; that is, to renounce the name of Christ (26:11a). He added that he extended his persecution “even . . . to foreign cities” (25:1 lb).
The persecution in Jerusalem probably did not last long. It erupted after Stephen’s martyrdom and may have been conducted by the Greek-speaking Jews of Jerusalem who had brought Stephen to trial (Acts 6:8-14). Paul may well have been a member of their synagogue. The main target of the persecution were the “Hellenists,” the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians like Stephen and Philip. Because of the persecution, they quickly were “scattered” away from the center of the persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). One of them, Philip, went to Samaria (Acts 8:5). Others went to the coastal cities like Antioch (Acts 11:19). Still others probably went to Damascus. In any event, when they fled from Jerusalem, Paul determined to pursue them wherever they might go. All three accounts in Acts mention that Paul went to Damascus on the authority of the high priests. Specifically, he obtained from them “letters” addressed to the synagogues of Damascus, requesting their assistance in bringing back to Jerusalem for trial any Christians whom he might find in the city (9:2; 22:5). This sounds very much like an official right of extradition. There is evidence that the high priest was granted such rights in earlier times, but no indication that the Romans had granted him such power in Paul’s time. It is more likely that the high priest had granted Paul letters of introduction to the Damascus synagogues, requesting their assistance in his persecuting effort. In the Roman period, local synagogues were permitted to discipline their members. Later Paul would experience himself the severe synagogue discipline of the thirty-nine lashes on five separate occasions (2 Cor. 11:24).
Paul’s letters from the high priest may have requested that the Damascus synagogues defer their disciplinary prerogatives to the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, allowing Paul to take his Christian prisoners there for trial. At this point in the life of the early church, the Christian movement was still closely identified with Judaism and attached to both temple and synagogue. Luke indicates as much by referring to the Christians as “the Way” (9:2). This term was also used as a self-designation by the Essenes of Qumran. For Essenes and Christians alike, it indicated the conviction that theirs was the true “way of the Lord” within the larger Jewish community.
Why would the Christian Hellenists have fled to Damascus? There was an extensive Jewish community in Damascus. Josephus mentions pogroms against the Jews during the time of the Jewish War with Rome. He stated that some 10,500 Damascene Jews were slaughtered by the Gentiles of Damascus at that time (War, 2.559-561). In the same passage he noted that “with few exceptions” the Gentile wives of Damascus had become Jewish proselytes. Josephus was prone to exaggerate and probably did so in this account. Allowing for this, he still seems to indicate that there was an extensive Jewish community in Damascus with a significant component of God-fearers and proselytes in their synagogues, all of which would have made the city a prime place for the witness of the hellenist Christians.
Damascus had a close relationship to Israel throughout its history. The oldest continually occupied city in the world, it is first mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with Abraham (Gen. 14:15; 15:2). It was within the borders of David’s empire, and he garrisoned troops there (2 Sam. 8:6). In the period of the divided kingdom, it was the main enemy of the northern tribes and like them was eventually captured by the Assyrians. In fact, its political history largely parallels that of Israel thereafter, with subsequent occupation by the Babylonians, Persians, Ptolemies, and Seleucids. In 66 B.C., it came under Roman control and was listed among the cities of the Decapolis. During the Roman period, Damascus had close ties with Israel. Herod the Great built a gymnasium and a theater there. Damascus was on the major north-south trade route, and Israel allied with the city to protect their mutual commercial interests, particularly against the Nabatean tribes of Arabia. Jewish client kings like Agrippa I were given small holdings in the vicinity of Damascus by the Roman emperors, who probably felt that the Jewish presence would help contain the Nabateans. Its long history of relationship with Israel, its extensive Jewish community, and its commercial alliances with the Jews all made Damascus attractive for the missionary work of the hellenist Christians. In many ways, it was a natural extension of their Judaean witness.
There were two main routes between Jerusalem and Damascus in Paul’s day. One led through Samaria and forded the Jordan at Bethsean (Scythopolis). There was a southern ford at Bethany near Jericho, which went directly north through Perea and Batanea. This was the shorter of the two, a six- to seven-day journey of around 140 miles. This is probably the route that Paul followed.
 Extradition from Egypt was granted for Simon the high priest by Ptolemy VII in 142 B.C. (1 Macc. 15:15-21). Julius Caesar formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the high priest in all matters of Jewish religion in a decree of 47 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14. 192-195).
 M. Hengel and A. M. Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: The Unknowns Years (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 50.
S. V. McCasland, “The Way,” Journal of Biblical Literature 77 (1958): 222-230.
 D. Smith, The Life and Letters of St. Paul (New York: Doran, n.d.), 47.
Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 354-356.
9:1-2 Saul is still (ἔτι, eti) at work against the church (Acts 8:3), breathing threats and murder against its members. This is the only NT use of the term ἐμπνέω (empneō) for “breathe.” It is part of an idiom about breathing out threats and murder (BAGD 256 §1; BDAG 324 §1).’ The expression reflects Saul’s highly hostile attitude toward believers. It may not mean that he seeks to murder them himself, given that execution remains in Roman hands, but it expresses what he hopes will be the result of his arrests (22:4; 26:10; Marshall 1980: 168; Weiser 1981: 222-23). If (ἐάν, ean) he should find them, Saul would deliver them to prison, where they may well be sent on to Rome as troublemakers. The conditional clause is third class and is presented with a touch of uncer tainty (Culy and Parsons 2003: 170). It may also be that Rome already has not decided to give the Jews such authority to imprison, given the scope of the perceived problem. Saul has consented to Stephen’s death already, which indicates that he is accepting of such an outcome for Jesus’s followers (8:1).
Saul pursues the disciples even beyond Jerusalem and obtains authority for doing so (probably from Caiaphas; 22:5; 26:10). Bruce (1988a: 180) suggests that Saul models his zeal after Phinehas (Num. 25:7-13; Ps. 106:30-31), Elijah (1 Kings 18:40; 19:10, 14), and Mattathias (1 Macc. 2:23-28). The Maccabean period makes clear that religious zeal often did work its way into Jewish practice. Witherington (1998: 302-3) notes the later activism that led Rome to destroy Jerusalem in AD 70. Paul himself confesses that he was a persecutor of the church (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13).
The letters that Paul asks for concern the right of extradition, if 1 Macc. 15:21 applies. Conzelmann (1987: 71) disputes the genuineness and the relevance of the letter in 1 Macc. 15:16-21, noting that it is too far removed in time to be relevant, even if it were genuine. Barrett (1994: 446-47) has a full discussion and concludes that the more important issue is how the Sanhedrin is related to outside synagogues. Haenchen (1987: 320n2) is also skeptical of such extradition authority. Even though the Maccabean letter is old, however, it might reflect Jewish beliefs and Roman practice that continued into Paul’s time regarding religious issues. Josephus in Ant. 14.10.2 §§192-95 describes a later, parallel letter of authorization. Thus the practice appears to span Paul’s time period.
Conzelmann argues that Josephus, J. W. 1.24.2 §474, does not agree with this right of extradition, since it makes a unique claim for such authority for Herod. Conzelmann does not note, however, the Ant. 14 text, which indicates the possibility of such authorization to a Jew. Haenchen calls the Ant. 14 text irrelevant, but it does show the potential for a close relationship like the one Caiaphas had with Pilate. In addition, the subject at hand is the authority over the synagogues of Judaism, a religious-oversight issue. Since this is not so much a matter of legal execution as imprisonment, it is quite likely that the high priest and Sanhedrin had such authority and that with a letter the synagogues of the Diaspora might cooperate if it were a question of the presence of heterodoxy. That the governor under king Aretas sought to arrest Saul in Damascus (2 Cor. 11:32) is not surprising, given Saul’s turn in allegiance and the public destabilization it may well have brought (but Schille 1984: 219 is skeptical); this detail does not indicate a lack of authority of Jews over their faith in Syria (Acts 26:12; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). As a whole, then, the scenario involving letters for Paul seems credible.
Christianity has already spread as far as Damascus, an important city 135 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem. This is the first city outside the land of Israel to be noted as having Christians. Hengel and Schwemer (1997: 80-90) see it as a small community, something Saul’s own letters in verse 2 suggest by the words “might find” Christians there. They also propose that it was fleeing Jewish Christian Hellenists from Jerusalem who helped found the community, something the juxtaposition of this event with Acts 7 suggests (given that Peter and Philip went in the other direction). These Hellenists may well have pushed steadily north and shared the gospel. If so, Saul is sent to block the advance of the message.
Damascus was a commercial center on the way between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It had a substantial Jewish population.The mention of Damascus is significant, for Luke has not told us anything about this church yet. In Acts the church has now moved north to Samaria (Acts 8), west and south to the coast, and east to Syria (Acts 9).
“The Way” is the early name for Christians (19:9, 23; 24:14, 22), sometimes referred to as “the way of the Lord” or “the way of God” (18:25-26). It appears to point to the way of salvation as a way of and to life. Later Christian works such as Did. 1-6 may well have borrowed this metaphor in speaking of the two ways, one leading to life, the other to death. Haenchen (1987: 319n2) discusses the various names given to Christians in Acts 9: disciples, those of the Way, saints, those who call on the name of the Lord, brothers, and witnesses. Each name points out a distinct feature of what being a believer means or entails.
Saul will apprehend both men and women, as he must know that the faith is spreading among both genders (Jervell 1998: 279).
Josephus, J. W. 2.20.2 §561, speaks of at least ten thousand being massacred there, but 7.8.7 §368 speaks of more than eighteen thousand killed. Both are estimates and point to a large Jewish population. On the city’s history, see Fitzmyer 1998: 423; details in Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 55-61.
For a similar description at Qumran, see 1QS 9.17-18; 10.21; 11.13; CD 1.13; 2.6; 20.18. In Judaism, see 1 En. 91.18; 2 En. 30.15; T. Ash. 3.1-6.5; Ebel, NIDNTT 3:935-43; Johnson 1992: 162; Fitzmyer 1998: 424 notes multiple references at Qumran. It is also present in the OT: Pss. 1:1, 6; 2:12.
Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary & 2: Introduction and 1:1–14:28, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012–2013), 1622–1626.
(4) Letters of Authorization (9:2)
Letters from Jerusalem to the Diaspora are attested over a long period.231 Official letters from a person in an office to others also in office were often posted in public locations, which made them a readily recognizable letter form.232 Here, however, the letters are letters of recommendation that Paul carries.
Those who carried letters from a high official acted on that official’s authorization (1 Esd 4:61; Neh 2:7, 9). Letters of recommendation of various sorts reflect a pervasive custom (Rom 16:1–2; 1 Cor 16:15–18; Phil 2:29–30; 4:2–3; 1 Thess 5:12–13; Phlm 8–17; Heb 13:17; 3 John 12);233 thus, for example, leaders in Jerusalem sent letters confirming Josephus in his authority (Jos. Life 310–11).234 Sometimes people of rank sent such letters for their clients or others to provide them “credentials for some activity rather than merely to introduce” them.235 In general, travelers could carry letters of recommendation so that the receiver would know to welcome them.236
Some comments about the context of recommendation letters can illustrate their general function, although many of the specific elements mentioned here (perhaps especially in formal Roman letters) would not appear in the high priest’s letters for Paul. Recommenders placed their own credibility on the line when writing such letters,237 but they socially indebted to themselves those so recommended.238Appeal to the potential benefactor’s generosity was a natural element in many recommendation letters.239 Further, when two people shared a mutual friend, they became friends, part of the same in-group.240 The receiver of the recommendation would act on the basis of the receiver’s relationship with the recommender, and hence recommendations might spell out the beneficiary’s relationship with the recommender.241 By generosity to the beneficiary, the benefactor displayed friendship with the recommender242 and also guarded the recommender’s honor in the eyes of the beneficiary.243 When the letter’s receiver was of the same (rather than lower) social station as the recommender, the receiver might express or anticipate reciprocity for the favor done.244
Despite conventional forms, writers could prove creative in articulating reasons for receiving the recommendations.245 Powerful writers sometimes claimed that the person on whose behalf they wrote was more deserving than any other (cf. Phil 2:20) or that this beneficiary was a particularly special one—even when they had written many other such letters with superlative claims.246 They could also request that the beneficiary be treated as if the beneficiary were in fact the recommender.247 Or they could simply request that the letter recipient receive well its bearer.248 Sometimes, at least in later times, they might assert that the receiver already knew the worth of the one recommended, or that no letter was really necessary.249
Among Romans of rank, such letters were often only one250 to four paragraphs in length. At least in Egypt, the usual structure of letters of recommendation was as follows:251
Purpose or causal clause
Closing formula valetudinis
The letters usually began by identifying the person recommended and designating the person’s relationship to the sender;252 for Saul, then, it would be a great honor to carry such a letter (cf. Gal 1:1, 14). Later, as an apostle “not from men” but from Christ (1:1), Paul would eschew dependence on such letters of recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–3). (Even when Paul writes recommendations in his letters, the basis differs from that in most other letters of recommendation.)254
(5) Extradition Requests Here? (9:2)
People of higher rank expected subordinates to obey their letters (e.g., 1 Kgs 21:8; Esth 1:22; 8:10; 9:20, 30; 1 Macc 1:44). But is obedience demanded here? Some scholars have argued that the high priest had extradition rights for Judean fugitives that would be respected by rulers in the region.255 This may have been true in the second century b.c.e. if we may trust our sources on this point; the Romans granted Judea extradition rights from Egypt’s ruler (1 Macc 15:21),256 [see] and Julius Caesar presumably reconfirmed these rights in 47 b.c.e. by making the high-priestly family ethnarchs over all Jews and arbiters of Jewish customs (Jos. Ant. 14.189–95). Rome also granted King Herod extraordinary rights for extraditing fugitives from the region of his jurisdiction (War 1.474, acknowledging this situation as unusual).257 [see]
In this period, however, Judea had a Roman governor.258 [see] Even if Pilate in Caesarea remained aloof from the Jerusalem aristocracy’s affairs, other governors were under no legal or political obligation to another city’s aristocracy. The letters, however, are not to local governments but, as Luke expressly claims, to synagogues (Acts 9:2).259 [see] Local Jewish communities retained rights to practice their own customs as ethnic conclaves in foreign cities;260 [see] consequently, they would be able to continue practicing disciplines in their own synagogues (Luke 21:12; Matt 10:17; 2 Cor 11:24) so long as no one renounced Judaism and complained of subsequent abuse.261 [see] Just as Alexandrian Jews had an ethnarch and Nabateans in Damascus had an ethnarch (2 Cor 11:32), Damascene Jews would possess a measure of autonomy. Most synagogue leaders would have acted out of respect for the high priest.262 [see] If conflicts arose, local municipal authorities probably would have (though need not have) chosen to defer to the rights of minority communities in disciplining their own members.263 [see] In this case, they may have secured the cooperation of other groups as well (2 Cor 11:32).
But at minimum, the letters could encourage support less forcefully, simply commending Paul (see discussion of recommendation letters, above) and authorizing his mission in more basic ways. Saul and his companions would not have the advantages of travel given to those traveling on Rome’s business,264 [see] but letters of recommendation from the high priest would guarantee them aid along the way from local Jewish communities. The objects of Saul’s quest would not be local Jewish Christians (he and his allies may well have hoped there were none) but fugitives from Jerusalem, where the high priest exercised direct civic authority.265 [see]
Synagogues appear often in Luke-Acts, but the reference to their involvement in persecution here (cf. Acts 22:19; 26:11) partly fulfills the warning of Luke 21:12: soon after Jesus’s ministry but before predicted wars and earthquakes (21:10–12), his followers would be handed over to synagogues for discipline. “Binding” free people was a terrible insult to their dignity (Polyb. 1.69.5; see comment on Acts 21:33–34). That women were also targets indicates the vicious lengths to which Saul went to eradicate the movement (cf. Val. Max. 9.2.1); see comment on Acts 8:3.
231. Bauckham, “James,” 423–24, cites the Elephantine papyri (fifth century b.c.e.) and 2 Macc 1:1–10.
232. Aune, Environment, 164–65.
233. E.g., Cic. Fam. 7.5.2–3 (with 7.6.1; 7.7.1; 7.8.1; 7.10.3); 13.1–79 (all of Fam. 13 except 13.68); Socratics Ep. 28; cf. Men. Rhet. 2.5, 397.21–24; see esp. Kim, Letter of Recommendation, passim (for nt examples, 119–20; for papyri, 150–238); also Agosto, “Conventions,” 70–117; Keyes, “Letter of Introduction”; Marshall, Enmity, 91–129, 268–71; more briefly, Stowers, Letter Writing, 153–65; Aune, Environment, 166–67; Malherbe, Social Aspects, 102; Keener, Corinthians, 166–67.
234.For a later rabbinic example, see, e.g., y. Moʾed Qaṭ. 3:1, §2.
235. Stowers, Letter Writing, 153. Writers normally interceded for the third party to establish his positive relationship with the receivers or secure him some other favor with them (ibid., 155); they also often identify the sender with the one recommended (Malherbe, Social Aspects, 102–3, citing P.Oslo 55).
236. E.g., Lucian Lucius 2.
237.E.g., Pliny Ep. 2.9.2. Although writing many letters, Cicero assures his receiver that he is sensitive to his reputation and thus does not recommend indiscriminately (Fam. 13.48.1). Thus some letters are worded more cautiously (e.g., Symm. Ep. 1.72).
241.E.g., P.Oxy. 292; Cic. Fam. 13.3.1; 13.5.3; 13.44.1; Dio Chrys. Ep. 2; Pliny Ep. 2.13.7, 10; 3.2.4; 7.16.5; 10.4.1, 4; 10.5.1; 10.11.1; 10.87.1; 10.94.1; Fronto Ad Ant. Pium 9.2. For the papyri, see further Kim, Letter of Recommendation, 37–42. Cf. the recommendee’s readiness to depend on the recommender’s relationship with the receiver of the letter (e.g., Symm. Ep. 1.70; 1.81; 1.106; 1.107).
242. So explicitly in Pliny Ep. 10.4.6; see also Symm. Ep. 1.30; 1.71. In some parts of the world today, such social demands lead to considerable corruption; this was true in Rome as well, but ethical constraints did impose some limitations.
243.E.g., Cic. Fam. 1.3.2. Cicero’s letters of recommendation often ask the benefactor to prove to the recommended person how good a recommendation Cicero had written on the recommended one’s behalf and how influential Cicero had been for good (e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.19.3; 13.20.1; 13.26.4; 13.30.2; 13.35.2; 13.36.2; 13.44.1; 13.45.1; 13.46.1; 13.49.1; 13.58.1; 13.77.2; 13.78.2); cf. also Symm. Ep 1.93; 1.106. For correspondents proving their love, cf., e.g., Symm. 1.14.1; 1.27; 1.43.2; 1.87; 1.98; 2 Cor 8:24.
244. E.g., Pliny Ep. 2.13.1–2; 3.2.1; 4.4.2–3; 7.31.7. If the letter receiver’s status was less, the receiver would respond especially with gratitude (Fronto Ad Ant. Pium 9.1). Gratitude was critical, both for the recommender and for the beneficiary (e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.3.1; Pliny Ep. 4.12.1, 5–7).
247.E.g., P.Oxy. 32; Cic. Fam. 13.5.3; cf. 1 Cor 16:10; Phlm 17; Kim, Letters of Recommendation, 7, 37–42.
248. See, e.g., P.Grenf. 2.77.34–38 (from the third or fourth century c.e.). Officials could also use public recommendations to commend their friends (e.g., P.Lond. 1912.105–8).
249. E.g., Symm. Ep. 1.22; 1.67; 1.75; 1.81. In Ep. 1.63, Symmachus claims that he recommends one for the letter receiver’s benefit; in Ep. 1.94, he hopes his letter adequate to communicate the recommendee’s merits; in Ep. 1.104, the recommendee is better than the letter is able to convey.
250.For one paragraph, see, e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.45–49.
251.Kim, Letter of Recommendation, 7 (mostly using his words). Paul’s letters do not share this form (128), but most Christian letters of recommendation from Egypt do (99–118); for the eighty-three letters that Kim analyzed, see 156–238.
252. Ibid., 37–42.
253.Paul does send his own recommendations, usually embedded in larger letters; see ibid., 120; Agosto, “Paul and Commendation,” esp. 110–28. But like some philosophers (Diogenes Ep. 9; Epict. Diatr. 1.9.27, 33–34; 2.3.1–2; cf. 4.12.12), he did not want to depend on them for himself.
254. See esp. Agosto, “Paul and Commendation,” 127: Paul commends especially on the basis of work in the church rather than of social connections. But even with Paul, such connections remain; e.g., Rom 16:2; Phil 2:22, 30; Phlm 10–13.
255.E.g., Reicke, Era, 149; Bruce, Apostle, 72.
256. Bruce, Apostle, 72, noting that the author Lucius (1 Macc 15:16) is presumably Lucius Caecilius Metellus, consul in 142 b.c.e. Not all accept as certain the document’s authenticity (Wallace and Williams, Acts, 52, who favor unofficial action here).
257.Bruce, Apostle, 72; idem, Commentary, 193; Johnson, Acts, 162 (providing the information but not committed to the conclusion). Cities normally agreed to extraditions only if they were on good terms (Livy 41.23.1–5; Dio Chrys. Or. 38.41–42).
258. Some argue that Damascus may not have even been under direct Roman rule in this period (see Barrett, Acts, 446); for further discussion, see excursus on Nabateans at Acts 9:23.
259.With Barrett, Acts, 446. Haenchen, Acts, 320–21n3, has therefore misread Acts (in averring that Luke read the Maccabean situation into it) no less than its attempted defenders above. For influential festal letters uniting Jewish communities, see Whitters, “Observations” (citing Esth 9:20–32; 2 Macc 1:1–9; 1:10–2:18; Elephantine’s “Passover Papyrus”; and later 2 Bar. 78–87); for some early encyclical letters from sages, see Aune, Environment, 185.
261.For a discussion of proper scourgings as outlined in m. Mak. 3, cf. Gallas, “Fünfmal.”
262. Many scholars doubt that the high priest exercised authority over other Diaspora Jews; others argue the contrary (Bruce, Commentary, 193) or against doubting Luke without firm evidence (Munck, Acts, 81). I doubt that the high priest had in the Diaspora any legal authority recognized by the empire; nevertheless, the effectiveness of the temple tax (Jos. Ant. 18.312) and the biblical and Maccabean roles for the high priesthood indicate the respect and influence that he commanded (rightly, Dunn, Acts, 120–21; Witherington, Acts, 316; Haenchen, Acts, 71). Nevertheless, later rabbinic arguments about the Sanhedrin’s Diaspora influence (m. Mak. 1:10, cited in Rapske, Custody, 101; t. ʿOr. 1:8; Sanh. 3:10; Sipre Deut. 59.1.2; 188.1.2; perhaps y. B. Qam. 4:1, §3; Giṭ. 5:6, §3; cf. negative relations in t. ʿAbod. Zar. 4:6) are uncertain for their own period and certainly cannot be retrojected into Paul’s (see Keener, John, 212–13). And even later rabbis allowed courts outside the land (t. Sanh. 3:10).
263. This may have been especially the case if Damascus’s minority communities had influential ethnarchs, as at least the Nabateans seem to have had; see comment on Acts 9:23–24. Cf. Campbell, Deliverance, 147: “With the permission of the local authorities, the Jerusalem authorities could have claimed jurisdiction over Jews in other regions.… Moreover, the ‘letters’ in question may have been ‘requests’ rather than ‘orders’ and Luke a little hyperbolic at this point.”
264. On which see Casson, Travel, 188; cf. 197. Paul’s companions could have been Levite police delegated to him (e.g., Lenski, Acts, 357) but may have simply been other young and zealous members of the Hellenist synagogue (6:9) who shared his commitments.
265.With, e.g., Lake and Cadbury, Commentary, 100. It is possible that these events occur before the Samaritan and Gentile conversions in Acts 8 and hence too early for many local conversions to have occurred; otherwise, they may occur only shortly later.
How would you respond to the following quote: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion). In this video, filmed at a Fearless Faith Seminar, Frank Turek and J. Warner Wallace respond to this common objection. If you would like to bring a Fearless Faith seminar to your community, visit http://crossexamined.org/fearless-faith-seminars/
The quick commentary on this swath of Scripture is this:
Concerning the non-virgin bride, there is an element of fraud here. A woman who admitted she was not a virgin was immune from prosecution; only one who pretended to be a virgin bride was subject to execution, and even then, only if her husband accused her. Furthermore, if any man seduced her prior to her betrothal, she needed only publicly confess this fact, and she could require him to marry her and never divorce her. If she was raped in the city, her cries for help would vindicate her. If she was raped in the field, she was presumed innocent and would be vindicated by her own words. Under those circumstances, it is quite reasonable that a woman who married under false claim of virginity was presumed to be guilty of adultery, that is, having sexual relations with someone other than her betrothed during her betrothal.
While this is a response to a particular “meme,” I will be bringing in previous discussions, posts, and ideas to build to a response that should be instructive in approaching other verses or challenges often given to the Christian as evidence that the Bible shows an “evil” God, and thus undermines the Christians reliance on the Bible.
If you want to just go to a refutation of the meme and skip the build-up, you can do so by CLICKING HERE. Otherwise, enjoy the tour through other challenges that end up being the opposite of the claims of the skeptics.
If a man encounters a young woman, a virgin who is not engaged, takes hold of her and rapes her, and they are discovered, the man who raped her must give the young woman’s father 50 silver shekels, and she must become his wife because he violated her. He cannot divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
The meme [upper/right] was posted by my son to engender deeper conversation on his Facebook. I began to post a series of responses giving hints to ways to approach ancient documents. One must REMEMBER this as you read… I am not showing the divine nature of the Bible… I am merely pointing out the generally accepted rules of engagement when approaching ancient literature most legal systems in the West and literary critics accept as a guideline[s] to sift through documents [ancient or new]. These rules are not meant to prove the divine nature of anything. They are however meant to engender a level playing field (if-you-will) to help anyone approach weighty subjects, texts, and the like.
By using these “rules of engagement” we will find that the typical atheist/skeptic who refuses to mature in their approach to these issues use shallow thinking by promoting such “challenges,” so-called. The real purpose of such memes are merely to produce an emotional — visceral — reaction, emotive in nature, having nothing to do with good thinking in any way.
This approach, then, not only makes it easy for the believer to show the folly in such positions, BUT SHOULD make the skeptic pause and contemplate how they are making themselves look in a public place. They [the skeptic] should want to make their case full of gravitas, facts, context, and the like so they can garner a level of respect in their own positions. These memes do just the opposite. They make the skeptic look childish.
(As an aside, almost all of the graphics/pics inserted in my posts will be linked to similarly contextual article or posts.)
This is key:
Raising one’s self-consciousness [awareness] about worldviews is an essential part of intellectual maturity…. The right eyeglasses can put the world into clearer focus, and the correct worldview can function in much the same way. When someone looks at the world from the perspective of the wrong worldview, the world won’t make much sense to him. Or what he thinks makes sense will, in fact, be wrong in important respects. Putting on the right conceptual scheme, that is, viewing the world through the correct worldview, can have important repercussions for the rest of the person’s understanding of events and ideas…. Instead of thinking of Christianity as a collection of theological bits and pieces to be believed or debated, we should approach our faith as a conceptual system, as a total world-and-life view.
Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 9, 17-18, 19.
Okay then, I will cut’n’paste much of the posts/discussion from my son’s Facebook below (with some editing/addition).
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
This is one reason why people who say they are skeptics really are not all that skeptical… because they do not do the yeoman’s work to know how to accept or reject their own beliefs well nor those beliefs of whom they are challenging. It does a great disservice to themselves AS WELL as others… and really shows a disregard for a world religion that I have not seen shown to the other great religions of the world. Some even will defend these other Religions without knowing the religions own stated positions.
This is the first of a few points I will make.
This is an issue that has many depths to it. And when atheists or skeptics reject the Bible for such verses, they do a disservice to good thinking. And mind you, one of the most important aspects of this debate is how do we approach ancient texts in a fair way. FIRST and FOREMOST, the idea that the writers of the Bible were robotic in their transmission, called in occultism, “automatic writing,” is not what we see here – where the writer gives over control of himself to write [word-for-word] what is being relayed to him or her. Geisler so aptly words the issue this way:
The [biblical authors] who wrote Scripture were not automatons. They were more than recording secretaries. They wrote with full intent and consciousness in the normal exercise of their own literary styles and vocabularies. The personalities of the [biblical authors] were not violated by a supernatural intrusion. The Bible which they wrote is the Word of God, but it is also the words of men. God used their personalities to convey His propositions. The [biblical authors] were the immediate cause of what was written, but God was the ultimate cause.
(See references for this and Aristotle quote to follow, here)
So the idea that the Bible is a word-for-word dictum is NOT the case. The idea that the Bible is not something akin to “automatic writing” has no bearing on if this is the Divine Word of God however. Rather, the Christians concern should be to show the viable nature of the Bible in its internal context. There are techniques to help the truth seeker to do just that. In fact, our courts today incorporate some help in how they approach documents submitted as evidence, and literary-textual critics employ these Grecian helps that Aristotle and others formulated well.
The internal test utilizes one Aristotle’s dictums from his Poetics. He said,
They [the critics] start with some improbable presumption; and having so decreed it themselves, proceed to draw inferences, and censure the poet as though he had actually said whatever they happen to believe, if his statement conflicts with their notion of things…. Whenever a word seems to imply some contradiction, it is necessary to reflect how many ways there may be of understanding it in the passage in question…. So it is probably the mistake of the critics that has given rise to the Problem…. See whether he [the author] means the same thing, in the same relation, and in the same sense, before admitting that he has contradicted something he has said himself or what a man of sound sense assumes as true.
So are there rules that apply to approaching subjects in a fashion that maximizes the best conclusion on the text/topic that is the subject? Yes there is, this list is also from the Greeks and is summed up in these 8-points are summed up well in a short handout to a class I taught at church dealing with how believers should approach Scripture:
1)Rule of Definition: Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings. 2)Rule of Usage: Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. Ask what was the common usage in the culture at that time period. 3)Rule of Context: Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used. 4)Rule of Historical background: Don’t separate interpretation from historical investigation. 5)Rule of Logic: Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise. 6)Rule of Precedent: Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which there is no precedent. 7)Rule of Unity: Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them. 8)Rule of Inference: Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.
(These are more fully explained in the outline I wrote for that teaching here)
This is always helpful to the believer to fall back on when skeptics take a single Scripture out of context and uses it as an example of why they reject the Bible. (The same would be said if something was done in similar fashion to such works as Homer’s Iliad, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, a play from Shakespeare, or the like.) These people not only try to show the Bible in a certain light, but take a leap to say Scripture is not divine in how the Christian or Jew think it is. This is a leap that the text does not warrant. Again, the conclusion they make is not warranted by properly approaching the text… in other words they destroy any warrant they feel they have or have shown by sloppy thinking. By creating this “straw-man” they come to a conclusion that is really a non-sequitur, effectively making their position incoherent.
I will talk about two such texts in the next post.
Over the years I have been challenged with many verses. While I have responded to this in the past, Dennis Prager’s critiques is hard to beat. This challenge has to do with Deuteronomy 21:18-21. The Scripture and argument go something like this:
“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. 20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear,” (Deut. 21:18-21).
BEFORE getting to Prager’s rebuttal… let us deal with some qualifications one need to know and apply to a text in order to maximize a skeptical look at said text.
This seemingly harsh punishment for rebellion has been used by the critics of Christianity to infer the moral backwardness of Old Testament ethics. It is easy to throw stones from the comfort of our 21st-century perspective. If you apply our own understanding to this situation… then yes, I would agree with the skeptic. But this is not how thoughtful people approach ancient texts. For instance… there are many gaps from our 21st-Century post Judeo-Christian, Western culture that one should account for.
THE LANGUAGE GAP
✦ …Consider how confused a foreigner must be when he reads in a daily newspaper: “The prospectors made a strike yesterday up in the mountains.” “The union went on strike this morning.” “The batter made his third strike and was called out by the umpire.” “Strike up with the Star Spangled Banner.” “The fisherman got a good strike in the middle of the lake.” Presumably each of these completely different uses of the same word go back to the parent and have the same etymology. But complete confusion may result from misunderstanding how the speaker meant the word to be used…. We must engage in careful exegesis in order to find out what he meant in light of contemporary conditions and usage.
We speak English, but the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek (and a few parts in Aramaic, which is similar to Hebrew). Therefore, we have a language gap; if we don’t bridge it, we won’t fully be able to understand the Bible.
THE CULTURE GAP
If we don’t understand the various cultures of the time in which the Bible was written, we’ll never comprehend its meaning. For example, if we did not know anything about the Jewish culture at the time of Christ, the Gospel of Matthew would be very difficult to grasp. Concepts such as the Sabbath, Jewish rituals, the temple ceremonies, and other customs of the Jews must be under¬stood within cultural context in order to gain the true meaning of the author’s ideas.
THE GEOGRAPHY GAP
A failure to be familiar with geography will hinder learning. For instance, in I Thessalonians 1:8 we read, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith [toward] God is spread abroad.” What is so remarkable about this text is that the message traveled so quickly. In order to understand how, it is necessary to know the geography.
Paul had just been there, and when he wrote the letter, very little time had passed. Paul had been with them for a couple of weeks, but their testimony had already spread far. How could that happen so fast? If you study the geography of the area you’ll find that the Ignatian Highway runs right through the middle of Thessalonica. It was the main concourse between the East and the West, and whatever happened there was passed all the way down the line.
THE HISTORY GAP
Knowing the history behind a passage will enhance our comprehension of what was written. In the Gospel of John, the whole key to understanding the interplay between Pilate and Jesus is based on the knowledge of history.
When Pilate came into the land with his emperor worship, it literally infuriated the Jews and their priests. So he was off to a bad start from the very beginning. Then he tried to pull something on the Jews, and when they caught him, they reported him to Rome, and he almost lost his job. Pilate was afraid of the Jews, and that’s why he let Christ be crucified. Why was he afraid? Because he already had a rotten track record, and his job was on the line.
Consider something known as the psychology of testimony. This refers to the way witnesses of the same event recall it with a certain level of discrepancy, based on how they individually observe, process, store, and retrieve the memories of an event.
One person may recall an event in strict chronological order; another may testify according to the principle of the association of ideas. One person may remember events minutely and consecutively, while someone else omits, condenses, or expands. These factors must be considered in comparing eyewitness accounts, and this is why history expects a certain amount of variability in human testimony. For example, let’s say that twelve eyewitnesses observed the same event–a car accident. If those witnesses were called to testify in a court of law, what would the judge think if all twelve witnesses gave the same exact testimony of the event, with every detail being identical? Any good judge would immediately conclude they were in collusion and reject their accounts. The variations of the observations of the eyewitness testimonies actually add to the integrity of their recall.
These are just a few of the many examples one needs to seriously consider when approaching ANY ancient text – especially ancient religious texts.
GENRE (IN THE OLD TESTAMENT)
Lawis “God’s law,” they are the expressions of His sovereign will and character. The writings of Moses contain a lot of Law. God provided the Jews with many laws (619 or so). These laws defined the proper relationship with God to each others and the world (the alien)….
History. Almost every OT book contains history. Some books of the Bible are grouped together and commonly referred to as the “History” (Joshua, Kings & Chronicles). These books tell us the history of the Jewish people from the time of the Judges through the Persian Empire…. In the NT, Acts contains some of the history of the early church, and the Gospels also have History as Jesus’ life is told as History….
Wisdom Literature is focus on questions about the meaning of life (Job, Ecclesiastes), practical living, and common sense (Proverbs and some Psalms )….
Poetryis found mostly in the Old Testament and is similar to modern poetry. Since it is a different language, “Hebrew,” the Bible’s poetry can be very different, because it does not translate into English very well….
Prophecy is the type of literature that is often associated with predicting the future; however, it is also God’s words of “get with it” or else. Thus Prophecy also exposes sin and calls for repentance and obedience. It shows how God’s law can be applied to specific problems and situations, such as the repeated warnings to the Jews before their captivity….
Apocalyptic Writing is a more specific form of prophecy. Apocalyptic writing is a type of literature that warns us of future events which, full meaning, is hidden to us for the time being….
Approaching portions of Scripture (or ANY ancient text) knowing even the genre is helpful to dissect it well.
DENNIS PRAGER exemplifies how to approach Deuteronomy 21:18-21 by explaining much of what we have talked about already plus more:
In an ongoing discussion at an atheist’s website, I was challenged with how evil God is to kill children with a Bear (2 Kings 2:23-25). I mean children? Here we have proof that God killed innocent children. Or so a light reading would express as much.
This is a post I can truly pat-myself-on-the-back for… because I offered a twist on this that other apologists have not. Let me explain after this verse is read:
He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (2 Kings 2:23-25)
It looks like we are seeing God killing kids for essentially – and just as cutely – as a young child gets frustrated and calls a friend “poopy head.”
However, if you come at this ancient text taking the Grecian examples of the credibility afforded a text, and step out of our 21st-Century post Judeo-Christian “Western” culture and ask if there are gaps in our knowledge (historical time periods, who was this written to, who wrote it, does understanding geography help us in understanding this tough verse, does understanding the culture of the writer help [how are the two cultures different], are there hint in the Hebrew that will help us as well, etc) Using this we can ask like any CSI detective:
And How It Happened.
…as well as does the text…
Does it repeat a theme in the larger text;
Is it related or unrelated;
Is it alike or similar to other portions of the text or cultures in the area;
Is it true to our modern life in some way.
By doing so we can find out that:
✔ The crowd was in their late teens to early twenties (NOT CHILDREN, but military age, and this is known from other parts of the Bible where the Hebrew is used AS WELL AS from other ancient documents and cultures in the area of the Middle-East); ✔ they were antisemitic (this is known from most of the previous passages and books as well – also historical anthropology and other ancient texts); ✔ they were from a violently cultic city (ditto); ✔ the crowd was large (large enough to do the following….
(Here is my “pat-on-the-back” coming up)
✔ this large crowd had already turned violent and riotess.
I can say this because as the pictures of cultural customs from this time-period [key!] show on my in-depth response to this by using drawings of historical figures from Israels history: priests, prophets, spiritual leaders, and even Flavius Josephus.
What did you notice above in the cover to an A&E documentary to the right? Yup, a turban as well as a cloak which covers the heads of the priests and prophets. Take note of the below as well.
I will post continue with a snippet from the aforementioned post:
I posted multiple images to drive a point home in our mind. The prophet Elisha would have had a couple cultural accoutrements that changes this story from simple name calling to an assault. He wouldn’t have been alone either, in other words, he would have had some people attached to him that would lay down their lives to protect him. And secondly, he would have had a head covering on, especially since he was returning from a “priestly” intervention. So we know from cultural history the following:
He would have had a head dressing on — some sort of turbin; and he would have had an entourage of men to dissuade any attack or mistreatment of a priest of Israel on a journey.
One last point before we bullet point the complete idea behind the Holy and Rightful judgement from the Judge of all mankind. There were 42 persons killed by two bears. Obviously this would require many more than 42 people. Why? What happens when you have a group of ten people and a bear comes crashing out of the bushes in preparation to attack? Every one will immediately scatter! In the debate I pointed out that freezing 42 people and allowing the bears time to go down the line to kill each one would be even more of a miracle than this skeptic would want to allow. So the common sense position would require a large crowd and some sort of terrain to cut off escape. So the crowd would probably have been at least a few hundred.
Also, this holy man of God was coming back from a “mission,” he would have had an entourage with him ~ as already mentioned, as well as having some sort of head-covering on as pictured above ~ as already mentioned.
QUESTION: So, what do these cultural and historical points cause us to rightly assume?
ANSWER: That the crowd could not see that the prophet was bald.
Which means they would have had to of gotten physical — forcefully removing the head covering. Which means also that the men with the prophet Elisha would have also been overpowered. So lets bullet point the points that undermine the skeptics viewpoint.
✔ The crowd was in their late teens to early twenties; ✔ they were antisemitic (this is known from most of the previous passages and books); ✔ they were from a violently cultic city; ✔ the crowd was large; ✔ the crowd had already turned violent.
These points caused God in his foreknowledge to protect the prophet and send in nature to disperse the crowd. Nature is not kind, and the death of these men were done by a just Judge. This explains the actions of a just God better than many of the references I read.
COMMENT AFTER THE TWO EXAMPLES
So when I see something like this meme… it is just that. A very badly “exegeted” point. VERY RARELY do I meet a skeptic that does the yeoman’s work of heavy lifting and making a case well enough that they explain their disbelief in a manner that would demand a decision by other’s by engendering an informed dialogue. But this is why Trump — pivoting here to make a point — does so well among conservative because rather than pausing to see if their emotional response is rooted in more that a rejection based on “no-knowledge” and driven by reactive feeling to the opposing political party.
Skpetics and liberal leaning persons deride the religious or conservative folks for being shallow and not thinking well, but in fact these rejections of BIG IDEAS and ancient text are done by doing just that — low information positions. which is why I ask people to pause and to think more deeply on their own positions. To learn their position better as well as to know better without making straw-men type arguments the position they are rejecting. In-other-words, Know what you reject, and why you reject it.
AGAIN, bringing this to current examples in our political lives, and repeating myself in a way:
Very rarely do you find someone who is an honest enough skeptic that after watching the above 3 short videos asks questions like: “Okay, since my suggestion was obviously false, what would be the driving presuppositions/biases behind such a production?” “What are my driving biases/presuppositions that caused me to grab onto such false positions?” You see, few people take the time and do the hard work to compare and contrast ideas and facts. A good example of this is taken from years of discussing various topics with persons of opposing views, I often ask if they have taken the time to “compare and contrast.” Here is my example:
I own and have watched (some of the below are shown in high-school classes):
Bowling for Columbine
Roger and Me
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
An Inconvenient Truth
The God Who Wasn’t There
But rarely [really never] do I meet someone of the opposite persuasion from me that have watched any of the following (I own and have watched):
Celsius41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Dies
Michael & Me
Michael Moore Hates America
Bullshit! Fifth Season… Read More (where they tear apart the Wal-Mart documentary)
Mine Your Own Business
Screw Loose Change
3-part response to Zeitgeist
Unlocking the Mystery of Life
Just as an afterthought. A skeptic who rejects God and accepts naturalism cannot say rape is wrong like the theist can say this:
theism: evil, wrong at all times and places in the universe — absolutely;
atheism: taboo, it was used in our species in the past for the survival of the fittest, and is thus a vestige of evolutionary progress… and so may once again become a tool for survival — it is in every corner of nature;
pantheism: illusion, all morals and ethical actions and positions are actually an illusion (Hinduism – maya; Buddhism – sunyata). In order to reach some state of Nirvana one must retract from this world in their thinking on moral matters, such as love and hate, good and bad. Not only that, but often times the person being raped has built up bad karma and thus is the main driver for his or her state of affairs (thus, in one sense it is “right” that rape happens).
An example from an “evangelical” atheist:
★ Richard Dawkins: My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past. ★ Justin Brierley: So therefore it’s just as random in a sense as any product of evolution. ★ Richard Dawkins: You could say that, it doesn’t in any case, nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural. ★ Justin Brierley: Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six. ★ Richard Dawkins: You could say that, yeah.
In other words they have to BORROW FROM ethics the worldview that they are trying to disprove.
For more on this, see my post noting many more atheist/evolutionary (philosophical naturalism) positions followed to their logical conclusions here:
Here are some questions from a person trying to figure out what I have been getting at. At first they seem like “snarky” comments, but end up in a good honest question.
So when you say rape was “okay then and not now”, you mean that it was ok according to the people, or according to God? (Or both?)
I say this is snarky because the questioner either was not aware (or on purpose) formulated the question which would only allow for a response that “damned” the responder.
In a very neat book meant to dumb down big ideas in logic, we read the following example that will surely persuade the reader who dislike “Dubya’s” rhetoric:
A false dilemma is an argument that presents a limited set of two possible categories and assumes that everything in the scope of the discussion must be an element of that set. Thus, by rejecting one category, you are forced to accept the other. For example, “In the war on fanaticism, there are no sidelines; you are either with us or with the fanatics.” In reality, there is a third option, one could very well be neutral; and a fourth option, one may be against both; and even a fifth option, one may empathize with elements of both.
Ali Almossawi, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense (New York, NY: The Experiment, 2013), 16.
To backtrack just a bit, I am sure S.C. missed the previous two point response to the meme specifically in the original post on Facebook. So I will post these here for clarity and then pick back up with the convo
I linked to a post on Dr. William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith site explaining some of the issues. Here is an excerpt of the challenge… followed by an excerpt of the response:
…you believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God, as you seem to regarding the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, then how do you find child rape so abhorrent when there is nothing in the Bible condemning it? Indeed, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT says that if a woman (regardless of age) is raped, the rapist must pay her father 50 silvers and marry the woman, which hardly seems a punishment to the rapist. This, of course, excludes engaged women, for whom the punishment for being raped is death if they don’t cry for help (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB). The only instance in which it is only the rapist who is punished is if the victim is engaged (possible but not likely if they are a child), and they cry for help (again, a child would very likely be intimidated into not calling for help, and therefore, by Biblical law, be killed)….
Dr. Craig responds in full, but here is the point I wish to zero in on:
But do your examples even do that? The immorality of rape is immediately given in the seventh of the Ten Commandments “You shall not commit adultery.” Any sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is proscribed by the Bible. So rape is always regarded as immoral in the Bible. That puts a quite different perspective on things. What your complaint really is is that the penalties for rape in the passages you cite seem unduly lenient. You think that the criminal laws against rape needed to be even stronger than they were in ancient Israel. Well, maybe you’re right. What does that prove? There’s no claim that Israel’s laws were perfect or adequately expressed God’s moral will. Jesus himself regarded the Mosaic law on divorce as inadequate and failing to capture God’s ideal will for marriage ( Matthew 5.31-2 ). Maybe the same was true for rape laws. Israel’s criminal statutes were not timeless truths for all societies but were intended for Israel at a certain specific time in its history. Moreover, these statutes are examples of case law: if such-and-such happens, then do so-and-so. These were idealizations which served as guides and might admit all sorts of exceptions and mitigating circumstances (like a child’s being afraid to cry for help).
In any case, Spencer, how much effort have you really made to understand these laws in the cultural context of the ancient Near East? None at all, I suspect; you probably got these passages from some free-thought publication or website and repeat them here with little attempt to understand them. By contrast, Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker: 2010) deals with these passages in their historical context, thereby shedding light on their meaning (pp. 118-119). Copan observes that there are three cases considered here:
1. Consensual sex between a man and a woman who is engaged to another man, which was a violation of marriage ( Deuteronomy 22.23 ). Both parties were to be executed. 2. Rape of a woman who is engaged to another man ( Deuteronomy 22.25 ). Only the rapist is executed; the woman is an innocent victim. 3. Seduction of a young woman who is not engaged to another man Deuteronomy 22.28 ; cf . Exodus 22.16-17 ). The seducer is obliged to marry the young woman and provide for her, if she will have him; otherwise her father may refuse him and demand payment of the usual bridal gift (rather like a dowry) anyway. In short, rape was a capital crime in ancient Israel. As for Leviticus 20.13 , this verse prescribes the death penalty for consensual sexual intercourse between two men; that you interpret this passage to condemn a child who is assaulted by a pedophile only shows how tendentious your exegesis is.
If anything, then, the Bible is far stricter in its laws concerning sexual behavior than we are today. So even though appeal to the Bible is no part of my argument for (2), what the Bible teaches about the immorality of rape is right in line with my claim that objective moral values and duties exist.
Another good — short — response is this “cool as Colt 45” response to the same topic incorporating the language and context used in these verses:
So the main challenge is dealt with quite handily herein. However, continued discussion will always ad to the understanding of such a tough topic.
Remember I am still responding to S.C.’s challenge that was a false dilemma, but try to steer the convo to what I know he means. Keep in mind, things do not fall into place easily, so repeating the same thing multiple times ~ just differently or with additional information ~ will often times make a subject click with an individual. I am hoping this will be the case here.
Again, “rape” is not part of that verse. The Bible was the first book to legally codify for an entire culture the punishment of the rapist.
…Let’s compare this with ANE law. Copan writes,
Middle Assyrian laws punished not a rapist but a rapist’s wife and even allowed her to be gang-raped. In other ancient Near Eastern laws, men could freely whip their wives, pull out their hair, mutilate their ears, or strike them –a dramatic contrast to Israel’s laws, which gave no such permission.
The previously posted link to a video uploaded to my YouTube of parents being able to kill their children for disobedience is another oft misquoted verse to make a point without any depth of real understanding 12-minutes long):
You see, these verses do the exact opposite of what the meme says they do. The meme says they support rape… in their full context they are protecting the woman from rape by making death the punishment for the rapist.
AGAIN, for CLARITY purposes:
In Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is appears as if a rape victim is to marry the rapist, the verse is as follows:
“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”
This issue is, however, addressed in another verse from Exodus in the laws of social justice:
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” (Exodus 22:16–17)
Copan explains that “In each case, the man is guilty. However, the critics’ argument focuses on verses 28–29: the rape victim is being treated like she is her father’s property. She’s been violated, and the rapist gets off by paying a bridal fee. No concern is shown for the girl at all”.
He goes on to say that “The girl’s father (the legal point person) has the right to refuse any such permanent arrangement as well as the right to demand the payment that would be given for a bride, even though the seducer doesn’t marry his daughter (since she has been sexually compromised, marriage to another man would be difficult if not impossible). The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. In this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin”.
So, rather than undermining women this law instead emphasizes their protection…
…So, I don’t think that these verses are condoning rape. Instead these laws were in place to protect the vulnerable, such as women, should undesirable circumstances arise. No, the Bible nor God condones rape.
S.C. is now understanding a bit more about the context, culture, language, the intended audience, the author, etc. I say this because even if he does not admit it, when you start to ask good questions it means you are becoming invested and interested in an outcome. The real challenge is to get beyond one’s presuppositions and reach a conclusion that may be as minimal as this, “wow, maybe I was wrong in coming at this topic in the past… what can I do to better treat the subject as well as respecting others beliefs.”
Respecting others can often times be respecting friends or family.
So here is the question from S.C.
There seems to be a lot of assumptions made there. Where in the text does it say anything that gives us the idea that “The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. In this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin”?
Some of the answer is already dealt with in detail above. We are incorporating many of the points from the “8-Rules,” Aristotles dictum, Israels cultural mores in a lawless time period as well as the surrounding nations cultural mores. In fact we have used in this post many of the points discussed.
One we will focus on here is Context:
3) Rule of Context: Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.
Many a passage of Scripture will not be understood at all without the help afforded by the context; for many a sentence derives all its point and force from the connection in which it stands. (Biblical Hermeneutics, Terry. M. S.. p. 117. 1896.)
[Bible words] must be understood according to the requirements of the context. (Thayer’s Greek?English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 97.)
Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. (How to Make Sense, Flesch, Rudolph, p. 51, Harper & Brothers. 1959.)
[Bible words] when used out of context… can prove almost anything. [Some interpreters] twist them… from a natural to a non?natural sense. (Irenaeus, second?century church father, quoted in Inspiration and Interpretation, p. 50, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1957.)
The meaning must be gathered from the context. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Interpretation of Documents. V. 8, p. 912. 1959.)
A good rule of thumb in life is to remember that Context is King.
So using the language and context of the text in question, remembering these key points (pic to the right), we begin to have the tools to answer the issue ourselves by investigating the language, context of the book itself, history, and the like. Here, Apologetics Press has done precisely that (also noted in what I called the “smooth as Colt 45” video):
…The truth is, however, the Hebrew word in this case translated “seizes” (tapas [see more below on this]) can mean many things. Here are some examples of the way it is translated in Deuteronomy 22:28 in several different English translations:
“lay hold on her” (ASV)
“taking her” (DRA)
“and takes her” (NLV/NAB)
“and hath caught her” (YLT).
By looking at other passages that use the word, we can see that the word tapas sometimes has nothing to do with force, and therefore nothing to do with rape. As Greg Bahnsen has written:
The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. 1 Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17)… [T]he Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force (italics in orig.).
In truth, we use English words in this way on a regular basis. For instance, a brief look at the English word “take” illustrates the point. You can take someone’s cookie, or take a person’s wife, or take a bride to be your wife. The idea of force is not inherent in the word at all. If you take a person in your arms, what have you done? Or if a young man takes a young woman to be his wife, is there force involved? No. Also, think about the English word “hold.” You can take hold of something in a number of ways. We often say that a woman will holdthe child in her arms, or a bridegroom takes a bride to “have and to hold.” The Hebrew wordtapas is acting in exactly the same way as the English words “hold” and “take” are.
In addition, it is clearly evident from the immediate context of Deuteronomy 22 that rape is not being discussed in verses 28-29. We know that for two primary reasons. First, verses 25-27 give a clear instance in which rape is being discussed. In that case, a man raped a woman, she “cried out” (v. 27), but she was in the country and no one was there to help her. The text says that the man who committed the crime “shall die” (v. 25), but the Israelites were supposed to “do nothing to the young woman” since “there is in the young woman no sin worthy of death” (v. 26). It is of great interest that in this clear case of rape, the text uses a completely different word. The word translated “forces her” in verse 25 is the Hebrew word chazaq and yet in verse 28, the verb has been intentionally changed to tapas (see Shamoun, 2015). Second, the natural reading of verses 28-29 makes it evident that both parties are guilty of at least some of the blame. Notice that at the end of verse 28 the text says, “and they are found out.” When the passage discusses the obvious case of rape, the text specifically only mentions the man in verse 25 when it says “then only the man who lay with her,” and conspicuously leaves out any indication of “they” being involved in the sin. Dr. Bahsen compares Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to Exodus 22:16, which reads, “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife” (1992). Notice that in this verse in Exodus, there is no force and both parties shoulder some of the guilt.
The practical value of God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is easy to see. A man has sexual intercourse with a young woman who is not betrothed to anyone. There is no force involved, and it is not rape. But their action has been discovered. Now, who in the land of Israel wanted to marry a young girl who has not kept herself pure? The man cannot walk away from his sin. He has put the young woman in a very difficult life situation, in which there would be few (or no) other men who would want to marry her. Since it was often the case that women had an extremely difficult time financially without the help of a husband, this would be even more devastating to the young woman. God holds both the parties accountable, instructing them to get married and stay together, both suffer the shame, and work through the difficulties that they have brought on themselves. Nothing could be more moral, loving, and wise than these instructions. Once again, the skeptical charge against God’s love is without foundation.
MOST COMPASSIONATE LAW
Just to repeat an important note:
Again, “Nothing could be more moral, loving, and wise than these instructions in that area and culture.” Why? Because it, for the first time in the ancient world, stripped the power of choice away from men and allowed for choice in the woman’s decision. Sexual abuse, including rape, are prohibited in Scripture. In a Blaze article addressing modern myths regarding the Bible and various sexual behaviors, Rabbi Aryeh Spero and Rabbi Moshe Averick (and others) bring clarity to the argument that the Bible requires a woman to marry her rapist:
Averick addressed Deuteronomy — the book that is most targeted by biblical critics.
“The ‘rape’ that is talked about in Dvarim (Deuteronomy), is obviously not criminal rape; it is talking about a case where a relationship between a young man and woman got out of hand,” he said. “Sexual relationships in a Torah society are strictly forbidden before marriage — dating is only for purposes of marriage in the Orthodox community.”
Averick also pointed out that in Jewish law, women cannot be forced to marry against her will. If a man does not fulfill his duties as a husband, the woman is “entitled to initiate divorce proceedings.” The “rapist,” or fornicator, is not allowed to initiate such proceedings but is obligated to fulfill spousal duties.
This requirement that a “rapist” marry the violated woman, Bock noted, was enacted in order to protect the woman whom he defiled with his sexual advances.
“His act has rendered her unacceptable as a wife for others,” he explained. “So this law was designed to indicate responsibility in the sex act for the person in a patriarchal context where women had little power and where the women if left to the event would be on her own.”
Nettelhorst acknowledged that in a modern context, the situation mentioned in Deuteronomy “sounds awful,” and it was not ideal at the time it occurred either, but the idea was to, again, protect the woman and discourage sexual immorality. By marrying her, the “rapist” was accepting the consequences of his actions, paying her father a restitution and taking on the responsibilities of a husband to provide protection and security.
Spero added that a rape victim could “opt out” of marrying her rapist if she so desired, for, “if not, men could forcibly bring to altar any single woman he desired simply by raping her.”
CONCLUSION TO FIRST QUESTION
BTW, the penalty was 10-years wages, AND marriage to provide for and feed, house, and raise children with this wife… IF SHE SO DESIRED! Which often times she did, considering that the “rape” spoken of here isn’t violent but a more consensual fling. And considering the importance placed on virginity in that time period. One author notes:
…it could be viewed as merciful to the woman, who, because of the rape, would be considered unmarriageable. In that culture, a woman without a husband would have a very difficult time providing for herself. Unmarried women often had no choice but to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive.
That punishment consisted of two parts: he must pay the woman’s father fifty shekels of silver and he must marry and support the woman for the rest of her life. Fifty shekels of silver was a very substantial fine as at that time a shekel was a measurement of weight and not an actual coin. Some scholars believe it could have represented as much as 10 years of wages for the average person. The fact that a man was in any way punished for rape was revolutionary for that period of time in history. No other ancient legal system punished rape to anywhere near the degree outlined in Deuteronomy 22:22-29. While it is unrealistic to say that because of this command rape never occurred, hopefully the severity of the punishment was a strong deterrent to the exceedingly evil act of rape. …
That should explain WELL the verse [verses] used out of context to engender emotive responses based in just that, feelings.
NOT TO MENTION that no where in Israels ancient writings, rabbinical tradition and writings [etc.], did the position taken in the meme ever get recorded historically. Showing that how the people of the time understood exactly what was meant by this codified law. This is another clue to show the skeptics grasping at straws to build a straw-man position and attack it.
ANOTHER POINT MADE BY S.C.
I understand that the earlier verses in the chapter are referring to consensual sex, but to me passage 28 specifically cannot be about consensual relations when it uses the term “seize” (or “lay hold”, depending on which translation you are using). A Strongs concordance search of this shows that this term was used to show the taking of something, or someone, without consent, in multiple passages throughout the Bible.
I respond as well as a person in an apologetics group I am a part of (thanks to Z.E. Kendall for his insight… I was on the same track with …USE SKILLFULLY)
No, you have it backwards… the earlier verses talk about rape, the later talks about a more consensual relation.
✦ A primitive root; TWOT 2538; GK 9530; 65 occurrences; AV translates as “take” 27 times, “taken” 12 times, “handle” eight times, “hold” eight times, “catch” four times, “surprised” twice, and translated miscellaneously four times. 1 to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield. 1a (Qal). 1a1 to lay hold of, seize, arrest, catch. 1a2 to grasp (in order to) wield, wield, use skillfully. 1b (Niphal) to be seized, be arrested, be caught, be taken, captured. 1c (Piel) to catch, grasp (with the hands). ~ James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).
“Taphas” is the Hebrew word for “Lay hold on her”, and it can mean “to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield, USE SKILLFULLY…”. It doesn’t necessitate a wrongful handling, or laying hold of. This verse concerns seduction, not rape. In no way is rape condoned in any part of the Bible, a simple reading of the larger context of Deuteronomy 22:25-29 easily confirms this. Notice that verse 25 gives the Law regarding rape, but uses an entirely different word than that in verses 28-29. The word used in vs 25 is chazaq- “to force”. In the other stories of the Bible that recount rape, none of them use the expression “taphas Shekahb” as in the Deuteronomy 22:28-29 passage.
…As for Deut. 22:28-29, interesting other uses closer to the meaning of Hebrew 8610 in the passage are likely such that the man in the passage “plays her like a harp,” as it were, or “uses her like the bow.” (Genesis 4:21 and Amos 2:15). So yeah, I’d say that enticement or the like is in view there.
The passage is connected with the immediately preceding passage, of course not through the concept of rape but rather, through the concept of outcomes that the parents/father wouldn’t desire.
Good stuff Maynard. And remember the context of the verses leading up to 28-29 dictate this is a woman deceived by a man’s promises, played like a harp. The primitive root meaning of the word means “to manipulate.”
Answering Islam has a good two paragraph section out of their larger post on the topic of rape:
The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. I Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17). People are “caught” (I Kings 20:18), even as cities are “captured” (Deut. 20:19; Isa. 36:1). An adulterous wife may not have been “caught” in the act (Num. 5:13). In all of these instances it is clear that, while force may come into the picture from further description, the Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.
This verb used in Deuteronomy 22:28 is different from the verb used in verse 25 (chazak, from the root meaning “to be strong, firm”) which can mean “to seize” a bear and kill it (I Sam. 17:35; cf. 2 Sam. 2:16; Zech. 14:13), “to prevail” (2 Sam. 24:4; Dan. 11:7), “to be strong” (Deut. 31:6; 2 Sam. 2:7), etc. Deuteronomy 22:25 thus speaks of a man finding a woman and “forcing her.” Just three verses later (Deut. 25:28), the verb is changed to simply “take hold of” her – indicating an action less intense and violent than the action dealt with in verse 25 (viz., rape).
My son asked Sari (the woman I am talking to in this post) to continue on with the conversation to its conclusion, to which I pointed the following out to my son for clarity:
It’s simple Dominic, when I bump into someone in Starbucks and they ask me about this verse, I open up my Bible and find these notes (my Bible is to the right || right click on image and choose “open link in new tab” to fully enlarge). When Sari is at Starbucks and pulls out her Bible [insert laugh track] when someone asks about this verse, she has these notes (hers is to the left || right click on image and choose “open link in new tab” to fully enlarge):
Romans 8:7 simply states: “For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.” (see some commentary below). I can only give so many “helps” to apply to a proper hermeneutic:
Greek rules of interpretation (which the courts in Western culture use),
other verses (the Bible interpret’s the Bible ~ Aristotle’s Dictum),
cultural and historical keys to the Hebraic culture,
as well as the others surrounding Israel… etc.
J.C. Ryle said in “Fire! Fire!,” this,
“Beware of manufacturing a god of your own: a god who is all mercy but not just, a god who is all love but not holy, a god who has a heaven for everybody but a hell for none, a god who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity. Such a god is an idol of your own, as truly an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple. The hands of your own fancy and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and beside the God of the Bible, there is no God at all. Beware of making selections from your Bible to suit your taste. Dare not to say, ‘I believe this verse, for I like it. I refuse that, for I cannot reconcile it with my views.’ Nay! But O man, who art thou that repliest against God? By what right do you talk in this way? Surely it were better to say over EVERY chapter in the word, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.’ Ah! If men would do this, they would never deny the unquenchable fire.”
To use the laws of logic and reason, to rightfully divide the Word (2 Tim 2:15), to apply laws in the universe discovered by the Greeks — like Newton discovered the law of gravity, it had always been there, it was merely codified.
Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness. ~ Calvin Coolidge
All this [and more] in application to the faith in the construct of the Christian-theistic worldview is something non-regenerate men and women have deep lasting trouble with. For they cannot even see [again, even see] the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3)… because regeneration brings a new sight, a new awakening to the soul (1 John 2:29; John 3:6; James 1:18). In other words, Sari HAS fleshed (pun intended) it out to its logical conclusion (Psalm 146:8; Luke 24:31), that is, blindness, rebellion, in the sight of something so evident (2 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Kings 6:17).
It is like saying “look at that ‘fast’ car,” contrasted with “look at that ‘slow’ car.” The car stays the same… the word preceding it defines it’s context… and in our culture it could denote a Pinto [a junker piece of shite!] or a Marzoratti [an expensive sports car].
You see, sexual assault [rape] stayed the same — because the culture looked on sexual purity as important. But the word preceding it defines it’s context — AS WELL AS the actions taken after the context is spoken. So the assault stays the same… the modifier denotes a willingness of a non-willingness in the action (AS WELL as the punishment following such an action ~ death penalty or a “shotgun wedding”).
A shotgun wedding is a wedding that is arranged to avoid embarrassment due to an unplanned pregnancy, rather than out of the desire of the participants. The phrase is an American colloquialism, though it is also used in other parts of the world, based on a supposed scenario (usually hyperbole) that the father of the pregnant daughter, almost by accepted custom, must resort to using coercion (such as threatening with a shotgun) to ensure that the man who impregnated her follows through with the wedding.
The use of duress or violent coercion to marry is no longer common in the U.S., although many anecdotal stories and folk songs record instances of such coercion in 18th- and 19th-century America. Often a couple will arrange a shotgun wedding without explicit outside encouragement, and some religious teachings consider it a moral imperative to marry in that situation.
One purpose of such a wedding can be to get recourse from the man for the act of impregnation; another reason is to ensure that the child is raised by both parents. In some cases, as in early America and in the Middle East, a major objective was the restoring of social honor to the mother.…
This is why leftists can say 1-out-of-4 women are sexually assaulted on college campuses… who would want to send their daughter to such a place like higher education. It isn’t until we see that they define an “unwanted kiss” and “rape” as sexual assault (and everything in-between).
This verse reveals how hopelessly incorrigible and utterly destitute the flesh really is. It is a spiritual anarchist. This demolishes any theory that there is a divine spark in man and that somehow he has a secret bent toward God. The truth is that man is the enemy of God. He is not only dead in trespasses and sins but active in rebellion against God. Man will even become religious in order to stay away from the living and true God and the person of Jesus Christ. Man in his natural condition, if taken to heaven, would start a revolution, and he would have a protest meeting going on before the sun went down! Jacob, in his natural condition, engaged in a wrestling match. He did not seek it, but he fought back when God wrestled with him. It wasn’t until he yielded that he won, my friend. Anything that the flesh produces is not acceptable to God. The so–called good work, the civilization, the culture, and man’s vaunted progress are all a stench in the nostrils of God. The religious works of church people done in the lukewarmness of the flesh make Christ sick to His stomach (see Rev. 3:15–16)….
~ J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Romans 1-8), electronic ed., vol. 42 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 145.
The mind-set of the flesh is death because it is enmity against God. The sinner is a rebel against God and in active hostility to Him. If any proof were needed, it is seen most clearly in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God. It wants its own will, not God’s will. It wants to be its own master, not to bow to His rule. Its nature is such that it cannot be subject to God’s law. It is not only the inclination that is missing but the power as well. The flesh is dead toward God.
~ William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1709.