Monthly Archives: October 2016

Did An Army of 600,000 Israelites Conquer the Land of Canaan?

The traditional Sunday School image shows Joshua leading about 600,000 armed Israelites into the land of Canaan, across the river Jordan. But was that really the size of Joshua's army?

The traditional Sunday School image shows Joshua leading about 600,000 armed Israelites into the land of Canaan, across the river Jordan. But was that really the size of Joshua’s army?

When we read about the nation of Israel crossing the river Jordan to enter the Promised Land, in Joshua 4, something stands out, if you read very carefully. Joshua 4:13 tells us this:

About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho (ESV).

From this verse alone, you might think that there were a total of 40,000 soldiers in the army of Israel, set to conquer the land. The problem is that according to a census taken prior to the crossing of the river Jordan, of all of the Hebrew men of fighting age (Numbers 26:1-4), the census gave a total number of 601,730 (Numbers 26:51). A previous census taken near the beginning of the wilderness journey, just after the Exodus from Egypt, reveals about the same number, 603,550 (Numbers 1:45-46). The second census is different in that the first generation in the wilderness had perished, replaced by a new generation, leaving only Joshua and Caleb from the first generation still among them, but the numbers are in the same ballpark. Clearly there is a problem lining up the 40,000 armed men that crossed the Jordan with the some 600,000+ recorded in each census.

Nevertheless, the problem is more difficult than this: Assuming a 600,000+ army, this would give you a much larger population total, if you include women and children, at least around 2 million.

That is a lot of people.

In Deuteronomy 7:1-7, we read that God was sending the Israelites into a land to clear away seven different nations of people, each nation being larger than Israel herself. That means at least 14 million people were living in the Promised Land that Israel was to possess, in Canaan, which would be greater than the current population of the corresponding land in the Middle East now. Considering that Gaza alone is one of most densely populated places on earth, it is difficult to comprehend such large numbers of people in the ancient near east, particularly when the current archaeological data shows that the land of Canaan was far less populated then than it is now.

How do we try to resolve this difficulty?1
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Nat Turner’s Virginia Slave Rebellion, Hollywood, and How We Read the Bible

In August, 1831, a literate slave and Bible preacher, Nat Turner, led a rebellion against his white masters, in rural Southampton County, about a one hour drive south of where I live in Williamsburg, Virginia. After the 48-hour mass killing of 55 whites ended, Turner’s insurrection was eventually crushed, and tougher laws were enacted to try to prevent such slave uprisings in the future.

Nate Parker’s new film, The Birth of a Nation, is a fictionalized retelling of this tragic and violent story (deserving of the R-rating)…and just to think, the events depicted only happened less than two hundred years ago, practically in my own backyard. The film’s director is enveloped in controversy, and early reviews of the film are mixed. Intended to subplant the legacy of the 1915 silent film of the same name, a cinematic apology for the Ku Klux Klan, Parker raises a number of important issues, but one wonders what the film will actually accomplish.

Gospel Coalition blogger, Justin Taylor, summarizes some of the most significant elements regarding the history behind the film’s story. For more details on the history, you can start with the Nat Turner Project. Some historians are disappointed with the inaccuracies of the film, which frustrates me, as I am more interested in the actual history than I am in Hollywood’s fantasies. Does the film tell us about what really happened, or does it tell us more about the mind and state of contemporary pop-culture? How much of the film is about Nat Turner, and how much of it is about the film’s director, Nate Parker?

In the film trailer below, the Nat Turner character recites 1 Peter 2:18, in an effort to encourage his fellow slaves to keep in line. I confess that I, as do so many other evangelicals, tend to water this passage down:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust (1 Peter 2:18 ESV).

I have euphemistically tried to replace “servants” with “workers,” and “masters” with “supervisors,” but does that really get at the original context? I am afraid not.

Slavery during the New Testament period is difficult to comprehend in modern terms, and it was very different from how many Americans viewed slavery prior to the Civil War. As I have argued elsewhere (here and here), many of my southern, Virginia evangelical forefathers did not properly understand passages like this either. Instead, they read things into the Bible that were not there.

If any Veracity readers end up seeing the film, I would like to know your thoughts.


Why American Evangelicals Are Confused About What the Bible Teaches

Plumb LineDespite having access to more and more knowledge, it is well-known that the average American’s knowledge of the Bible, and having confidence in that Bible, is at an all-time low. But did you know that American evangelicals are becoming more confused about what the Bible teaches?

A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries identified a sample group of American evangelicals; that is,  those who believe the Bible to be their highest authority, that sharing one’s faith is very important, and that trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the cross is the only way to salvation. In asking a series of questions about what the Bible teaches, the survey revealed some rather disturbing results about what self-proclaimed evangelicals really believe. Here are some of the most alarming:

  • “People have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative” (82% of evangelicals surveyed agreed with this statement).
  • “Individuals must contribute to their own salvation” (74% of evangelicals agreed).
  • “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God” (71% of evangelicals agreed).
  • “The Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being” (57% of evangelicals agreed).

So, if this survey is to be accepted as accurate, it means that most “Bible-believing” Christians do not think salvation is something initiated and achieved solely by the grace of God. It also means that while “Bible-believing” Christians may profess to believe in the Trinity, they actually think about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit pretty much the same way Jehovah’s Witnesses think.

The survey does attempt to tease out why American evangelicals are so poorly informed about basic Bible doctrine. A few statements/questions posed in the survey went like this:

  • “Worshiping alone or with one’s family is a way to replace church” (42% of evangelicals agree).
  • “There is little value in studying or reciting historical Christian creeds and confessions” (21% of evangelicals agree).
  • “The Bible was written for each person to interpret as he or she chooses” (36% of evangelicals agree).

This would indicate that about 4 out of 10 “Bible-believers” do not think that regular, weekly worship with a corporate body of believers is a priority, that 1 out of 5 “Bible-believers” do not think that the study of church history and doctrine is that important, and that 1 out of 3 “Bible-believers” think that the interpretation of the Bible is merely up their own choice.

This is not very good, folks.

It could be that the statements/questions were not well understood by the survey participants. But that could be part of the problem.

I know friends of mine who think that a good portion of American evangelicals know a lot about the Bible, but that they fail to apply it. I do not agree. If this survey serves as any indication, the reason why American evangelicals do not apply the Bible is because so many of them do not know what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, they do not know what the Bible teaches because participating in the life of a church where they are being taught these things is not a priority.

The Lifeway/Ligonier survey was also intended to survey American religious beliefs in general, and the results can be studied here.


Andy Stanley Responds to His Critics

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. Promoter of Biblical truth... or compromiser?

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. Promoter of Biblical truth… or compromiser?

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a controversy involving Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley, over a sermon entitled “The Bible Told Me So.” The topic generated a lot of discussion among Veracity readers, in particular after a blog post by Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler, who severely criticizes Stanley’s method.

Pastor Stanley has responded to his critics, seeking to explain the method in his madness, with an essay entitled, “Why ‘The Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore.” I encourage you to read it, but here is the gist:

Andy Stanley ultimately lands, in making his appeal for his approach to preaching, on Acts 17. There, the Apostle Paul preaches to the citizens of Athens, but Paul does not bring up the Bible.

Stanley’s point? We live in a culture that no longer acknowledges the Bible as being authoritative. To reach a new generation, he has chosen a different method to try to reach the disaffected in our culture. Do not assume everyone you engage accepts the Bible as being without error, because in general, most people are suspicious of the Bible. But in doing what he is doing, Stanley himself still believes the Bible to be God’s Word.

Acts 17 is a very interesting passage to ultimately make a case on. Some celebrate this passage as an example “par excellence” of Paul contextualizing the message of the Gospel to an audience at his best, which is surely Stanley’s view. Others contend that Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 in Athens was a failed strategy, that resulted in very little substantial fruit, a mistaken strategy that Paul soon abandoned.

What do you think?

UPDATE 10/3/2016: Blogger Scot McKnight, of Jesus Creed, pens his response, affirming Andy Stanley contra Al Mohler.

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