Category Archives: Apologetics

Great Tools for Doing Awesome Bible Study

Happy Epiphany!

As I have remarked before, we live in an age where we have easy access to great resources for learning the Bible. As we start a new year… and a new decade (unless you think it begins in 2021 !), I thought I would highlight just a few of these excellent tools for doing rewarding, and dare I say, awesome, exciting, … and even fun, Bible study. Some of the best tools available are for free online.

Believe me. I like the idea of “free.” But there are a few standout resources that I can recommend, that might cost you just a few bucks. Here we go:

Dr. Michael Heiser’s Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study. One of Dr. Heiser’s several books that can help anyone make better sense of the their Bible, without having to be a total geek, dumping tons of money going to a seminary or Bible college. This book costs a few bucks, but many of the other great tools for Bible study are available for free on the Internet. See below!!

Obviously, the first place you want to start is to get a good Bible. If you are totally new to the Bible, and you want to read quickly through the Bible, something like Eugene Peterson’s The Message is a great place to start. For a high level introduction to God’s Word, The Message is really helpful.

Another great tool for getting a high level survey on the Bible, available in short videos, is the awesome work done by the folks at The Bible Project.

For reading the Bible, while on the go, with your phone or tablet, download an app like YouVersion, or the ESV Mobile App, or the NIV Bible App, that can even read the Bible to you, while you go about your daily business.

However, if you really want to dig in, and really understand the Bible, in a verse-by-verse manner, a paraphrase like The Message will often end up doing you more harm than good. What you really need is a good study Bible. There is a big difference between READING the Bible and STUDYING the Bible. Try to get into the habit of studying the Bible, and not simply reading it.

I will admit it. After awhile, simply reading the Bible can get boring, and you will eventually lose interest. Actually studying the Bible, on the other hand, will offer you a lifetime of rewards.

A good study Bible has selected commentary and notes, that will aid you in your understanding. I have reviewed a number of excellent study Bibles here at Veracity, put together by the best Bible scholars in the world, that I can highly recommend, such as the English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible, the Zondervan New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, or anyone of the fine Christian Standard Bible (CSB) Study Bibles. My “go-to” favorite is Crossway’s English Standard Version, and they have probably the best looking Bibles you can buy. But anyone of the ones I have listed above are great.

I would personally stay away from Bibles that have been translated, or filled in with study notes, written by just one person. When you do that, you are just limiting yourself to one scholar’s point of view. I mean, a good study Bible (even some of the online ones) can be expensive, so why make an investment, that is only going to limit your thinking process?? We all have our blindspots. But hey, if you really want to drop $50 bucks on the “Joe-I-Am-A-Popular-Pastor-But-I-Am-Not-The-Pope-But-Some-People-Think-I-Am—-And-I-Am-OK-With-That” Study Bible, do yourself a favor and drop another $50 on a different study Bible, to give you a more rounded perspective, please?

On the other hand, if you are cheap, like me, you might want to check out some of the great Bible study helps available for free online:

  • BibleGateway.com.  You can read and compare multiple Bible translations, of all of the major English translations available (and non-English, too), from your favorite web browser. There are even options at BibleGateway to read notes from a few other study Bibles.
  • Biblehub.com. For a quick glance looking at how a single verse compares with various popular translations, I often will use Google or DuckDuckGo to search for a reference, and look for the hit at Biblehub.com, to see the list of various translations.
  • The NET Bible (otherwise known now as Lumina). Done by a number of folks at Dallas Theological Seminary, including the esteemed veteran Bible scholar, Daniel Wallace. In particular, if you are puzzled about all of the “some manuscripts” blah-blah-blah this and that, the NET Bible explains all of that for you. By far, this is my favorite study Bible available online.
  • The STEP Bible. Just recently put out by the good folks at the Tyndale House, at Cambridge, in England. This is the easiest way to do word studies and word searches in the Bible. You will never need a separate concordance or interlinear translation again, if you use the STEP Bible.
  • (and for the ultra-Bible nerd) The KJV Parallel Bible. The total Bible geek can consult this online parallel Bible to compare how the trusty ole KJV compares with modern translations.

The point is that there is simply no excuse for not having the resources available to you to do good Bible study, assuming you have a computer and an Internet connection. Probably for most folks, a good study Bible is really all you will ever need. Yet for more in-depth study, if you are thinking about leading a Bible study, you can look at other online tools, or spend some money on something like a concordance (where you take a word found in the Bible, to locate where else in the Bible, that word can be found), a Bible dictionary (for looking up what those words mean), or an interlinear Bible (to figure out which Greek or Hebrew word matches the English, in your Bible translation).

As noted above, there are also some really good, inexpensive and short books available to aid in your study of the Bible, without flooding your bookshelf, or filling up your computer hard drive, with stuff you will probably never look at.

Bible commentaries can be really helpful, if you really want to dig deep into a particular book of the Bible. I would suggest that the best ones out there, that will not take up all of your mental energy, and that will not totally destroy your bank account, would be either a volume out of the IVP Tyndale Bible Commentary series (for more nerdy readers), or the NIV Application Commentary series (for less nerdy readers). Sometimes, there are book sales on individual books in these commentary series, so keep your eye out.

I also like having a Bible background commentary, to help you dive in, behind the scenes, to better understand the culture of the Bible. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is my personal favorite.

All-in-one resource systems for your computer, like Logos Bible Software, or Accordance, are great for folks who want to be more hardcore in their Bible study. But just be prepared to shell out some bucks, once you get involved in that.

If you have hung around Veracity long enough, you will know that I am a big fan of Dr. Michael S. Heiser. He is an Old Testament scholar who most recently worked with Logos Bible Software, and who is host of the Naked Bible Podcast.

Michael Heiser has released a set of books designed to give you profound insights into understanding the Bible, and each insight can be read and digested in less than 60-seconds. That is my kind of way to start at really getting into Bible study.

Here is my top tip on one of my favorite Michael Heiser books. The first book in the series is Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study: 80 Expert Insights, Explained in a Single Minute.  Here is a sample of the topics:

  • Read the Bible with a Critical Eye — It Can Take It
  • The Aim of Bible Study Is the Meaning of the Text, Not a Defense of Your View
  • Ignorance Is Not a Gift of the Spirit
  • Attention to Detail and Clear Thinking Are Not Antithetical to Loving Jesus
  • Listening to a Sermon Isn’t Bible Study
  • All Interpretations Are Not Equally Plausible
  • Some Things in the Bible Are Clearer than Others — By Design
  • Nonliteral Doesn’t Mean “Not Real”
  • If It’s Weird, It’s Important
  • You Can’t Understand the Bible Without Understanding the Worldview of the People Who Wrote It

Each essay can be read in, yep, less than a minute.

You can get it on Kindle for $9.99. The paperback version is a little more, but it is worth it. I do not follow Mike on everything, but he is really good at dismissing a lot of the foolish talk that passes itself off as “Bible study” in some circles today. So, stop just reading the Bible, and get excited about studying it. Brief Insights on Mastering Bible Study is a “quick read” tool to help get you started.

Are you more excited now about digging into God’s Word this year? I know I am. So, go for it!


The Big Conversation: The Best Debates of 2019

One of the more useful features of YouTube is the ability to deliver great Christian apologetics content. Debates are perhaps the best way I learn, that help me to have more effective conversations with non-believers. At the top of the list are the debates moderated by Justin Brierley, host of the Unbelievable? podcast, out of London.

There were some real winners in 2019. Pastors Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin gave an electric discussion about apologetic methodology. Scientist and theologian Alister McGrath interacted with evolutionary biologist Bret Weinsten about whether or not Christianity is a “useful fiction.” But this fall, a whole host great debates made for incredibly lively discussions, as part of the The Big Conversation (or follow this YouTube link). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Syndicated podcaster Dave Rubin and Oxford’s John Lennox, at Calvary Chapel in California, talking about the question, “Is God Dead?”
  • Cambridge Bible scholar Peter J. Williams and skeptic Bart Ehrman discuss the reliability of the Gospels.
  • Philosophers William Lane Craig and Sir Roger Penrose, on the Universe, and how we got here.
  • Historian Tom Holland and philosopher A.C. Grayling on whether or not Christianity has given us our contemporary human values.

I will often just bring up the YouTube video on my phone, or convert it to MP3, and make it into a podcast. I will link to each debate below in order. Exercise your brain with these gems, while you spread out your Christmas decorations! Enjoy!

If you want more,  be sure to check out last year’s Big Conversation debates, particularly Susan Blackmore and Jordan Peterson, on whether or not we need God to make sense of life (over 1.7 million views!!!!), and Harvard’s Steven Pinker and Nick Spencer, and whether or not science, reason, and humanism has replaced faith.


Were There Humans Before Adam Was Created?

During the great age of exploration of the 15th and 16th centuries, European Christians faced a nagging problem in how they read their Bibles. Traditional belief understood that all humans were descended from a single human couple, Adam and Eve, as taught in Genesis 2. But as folks like Christopher Columbus set forth on their famous journeys, they ran into humans no one ever expected. Thinking he was near India, Columbus thought of them as “Indians.” But Columbus was nowhere near India.

This created a problem: Who were these Native Americans? Where did they come from? And how did they get to the Americas?

The most popular theory that emerged speculated that these Native Americans were the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the people of the biblical Northern Kingdom, which according to the Bible, was overrun by the Assyrians, over 700 years before Jesus was born. A common example can be traced back to 1660, when a New England Puritan missionary to some of these Native Americans, John Eliot, helped to spread this idea, to English settlers coming to the New World.

Then there was a well-known 19th century attempt to solve this problem. A New York treasure hunter had a read a book by an American Congregationalist minister, Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, that explored this possible connection between the Native Americans and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, in considerable detail. Yet this treasure hunter, Joseph Smith, was to popularize this view through his translation of the Book of Mormon, capitalizing on the same theme, and thereby creating a uniquely American sect of Christian religion. Aside from the Mormons themselves, no one takes this view seriously today.

Most researchers conclude that the ancestors of today’s Native Americans came across the Bering Straight from Russia, within the past 35,000 years, but probably no less than roughly 16,500 years ago. So, does this mean that the Bible got it wrong, when it came human origins?

The Naming of the Animals, by John Miles of Northleach 1781-1849 (media credit: sothebys.com). Adam named the animals, but were there any other humans existing at the time, who were not in the picture (outside the Garden, in the Americas?)

There is more to the story. The efforts of Ethan and Joseph Smith (not related), were preceded in the 17th century by French theologian Isaac La Peyrère. La Peyrère, who had a Marrano Jewish background, was originally a Calvinist, though he later converted to Roman Catholicism. La Peyrère’s proposal endeavored to solve some persistent problems in biblical interpretation, in the process of explaining the origin of peoples like the Native Americans.

Isaac La Peyrère’s Biblical Reconstruction of Human Origins

In Genesis 4 we read that after the murder of his brother Abel, Cain obtained a wife and built a city. But the text gives us no description as to where his wife and the population of this city came from. Many Young and Old Earth Creationists propose Cain must have had a sister, another unknown child of Adam and Eve, and that Cain must have married her. But this introduces yet the strange difficulty that God might have changed his moral law to allow such an incestuous relationship to take place. For Christians today, who believe that God’s law prohibiting same-sex relations never changes, such an exception to incest, in the case of Cain, is problematic.

La Peyrère concluded that there must have been a human population existing alongside Adam and Eve, from where Cain could have obtained his wife. La Peyrère appealed to another biblical passage to further his case. In Romans 5:12-14 (ESV), we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

The troublesome phrase here is highlighted. Who were those whose sinning was not like Adam’s transgression? What was the Apostle Paul talking about here? La Peyrère suggested:

if Adam sinned in a morally meaningful sense there must have been an Adamic law according to which he sinned. If law began with Adam, there must have been a lawless world before Adam, containing people” (Almond, Philip C. (1999). Adam and Eve in Seventeenth-Century Thought. p. 53)

La Peyrère’s solution was to challenge the long-held traditional view, that the creation of humans on day six, in Genesis 1, was the same event as the creation of Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2. It has been long recognized that syncing up the events on day six of creation, in Genesis 1, with the events described in Genesis 2, is not without difficulty (I go into detail in this previous Veracity blog post).

La Peyrère proposed that Genesis 1 speaks of the creation of a human population, and that these humans pre-existed Adam and Eve. Specifically, Genesis 1 has no mention of a single couple being created. These humans were the start of the Gentile, or non-Jewish peoples.In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve, on the other hand, were the start of the Jewish people, from whom the Messiah would come to redeem the world.

La Peyrère further went onto suggest that these Gentile peoples in Genesis 1 eventually became geographically isolated the Adam and Eve descendants, and eventually unknown to Adam and Eve’s progeny. So, when we get to the story of Noah and the flood, La Peyrère argued that the great flood was local in scope, wiping out the then known humanity of Adam and Eve’s descendants, and thereby not touching the other unknown humans who had migrated elsewhere around the globe.

Even though La Peyrère made a clever proposal, Jewish, Calvinist and Roman Catholic theologians of his day condemned La Peyrère’s “pre-Adamism” as a heresy. His 1653 book on the subject, Præadamitæ, was burned in an effort to censor his views. La Peyrère escaped the death penalty himself by supposedly retracting his views, though copies of his book have survived.

In view of events in subsequent years, the theologians of the day were probably correct in rejecting La Peyrère’s teachings (La Peyrère had other peculiar ideas that caught the attention of the enlightenment philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, one of the fathers of modern skepticism). Furthermore, in the 19th century, scientists used pre-Adamite theories about humanity, like that taught by La Peyrère, as a justification for racism. Before the rise of Charles Darwin, many scientists believed not in one human race, but rather, in multiple human races, who were distinguished based on the color of a person’s skin. Defenders of Christian orthodoxy were surely right in rejecting such views.

Despite whatever disagreements many Christians have with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, both Darwin and the Bible share the common view that humans, of all colors, shapes, and sizes, share the same humanity. As a result, no scholar today would contend against the notion that we all share a common humanity.

However, other, modern developments in evolutionary biology complicate matters, when it comes to trying to synchronize science with a traditional interpretation of the Scriptural text. For example, we have continuing questions about the presence of hominids, or pre-human creatures, like the Neanderthals. Where do they fit in the Bible’s story? Archaeological research today suggests that modern humans rose out of East Africa, and not, strictly speaking, the Middle East. Then there is the research on the human genome, for which many genetic scientists argue that the earliest human population had upwards to 10,000 individuals… and NOT 2!

In view of these developments, some Old Earth Creationists, and even perhaps Evolutionary Creationists, look to some elements of La Peyrère’s work today as a potential solution. For example, Genesis 1 could be understood as referring to humans originally created in East Africa, some of whom eventually migrated to the Middle East, the traditional location of the Genesis 2 narrative. Furthermore, if La Peyrère is correct, then there is effectively no difficulty in associating a Bering Sea crossing of the ancestors of the Native Americans, to populate the Americas over 10,000 years ago, and no need to appeal any “Lost Ten Tribes of Israel” proposal as an alternative means of explanation. As with a lot of things like this, research in these areas have a speculative component.

Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1675), who wrote under the pen name of Samuel Maresius. Some find him as a precursor to modern biblical criticism, but others see him as a pious scholar, who sought to solve a nagging problem in biblical chronology. He was also known as an early proponent of a type of Christian Zionism, believing that the returning Messiah would join the king of France, to set up rule in Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple.

An Objection to La Peyrère: How to Interpret Genesis 3:20?

For example, one of the most serious problems with La Peyrère’s proposal is with Adam’s naming of Eve, in Genesis 3:20 (ESV), that “she was the mother of all living.” For many students of Scripture, this single verse makes La Peyrère’s proposal of other humans living before and alongside Adam and Eve, a non-starter. Traditionally, this verse has been assumed to teach that every human person ever born, was and is, a physical descendant of Eve, herself. But is this interpretation the only possible way of reading this text?

For example, taking this verse too literally would be absurd. Does the text really mean that every living thing comes from Eve, like every plant and animal? Surely not. Adam was already living, by the time Eve came along, so there must be some limitation to the notion of Eve being “the mother of all living.”

As it turns out, different translations of Genesis 3:20 might give us a different clue as to how this verse should be interpreted. For example, in the NIV 2011 translation, we read the whole verse as: “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”  Taking this in a reasonable, yet still strictly literal fashion, the highlighted “would become” might imply that Eve is the mother of all who would come after her, but not the mother of all humans, already living at the time Adam named her.

For those who wonder how the ancient story of Genesis might be correlated with the discoveries of modern science, La Peyrère’s ideas might be worth considering. There are still questions out there that are difficult to answer. Nevertheless, the bottom line should be evident: Those who insist that science somehow “disproves” the Bible can be safely set aside.


F.F. Bruce on Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation

On my to-read list is Tim Grass' biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

On my to-read list is Tim Grass’ biography of F.F. Bruce (1910-1990), one of the best British biblical scholars in a hundred years.

What do we mean we say that the Bible is inspired? There are some, on one side of this question, who say that the Bible is inspired because it is inspiring.

Sorry folks, but that type of fluffy sentiment does not cut it. There are too many people in our churches who think of the Bible as a huge, oversized Hallmark card. There you will find inspiring thoughts, but are they merely sentiments born from human religious experience? Or are they truly the thoughts from a God who has spoken?

The Bible has been under intense scrutiny for a long time. You often hear these days that the Bible is an outdated, outmoded book. Has not modern science disproven the Bible? Has not the study of archaeology, history, and ethics rendered the Bible as obsolete? The Bible has been under serious attack, but thankfully God has raised up some really smart people who have helped to set the record straight, supporting the integrity and reliability of Scripture.

However, this does not mean that every defense has been a good defense. Unfortunately, there are those who so desperately want the Bible to be true, that they are afraid to ask tough questions. That does not cut it either.

F. F. Bruce was one of the premier evangelical scholars of the 20th century. During his era, there were relatively few who possessed such a deep love and reverence for Holy Scripture, who also championed responsible scholarship. The many students of F.F. Bruce today are now the senior members of the scholarly, evangelical community who love God’s Word, but who are not afraid to address tough issues. One of my absolute favorite seminary professors, Donald Hagner, received his PhD while studying with F.F. Bruce, at the University of Manchester.

Just recently, I glanced back at my highly annotated copy of one of Bruce’s last books that he completed before his death, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, that I read in seminary nearly twenty years ago. I tell you what… to this day, this guy still gets me really excited about studying God’s Word.

Here is a very appropriate selection from his autobiographical work that gets at how he viewed the Bible. As a student of the Bible, this is what I aspire to:

“I should not find the career of a Bible teacher so satisfying as I do if I were not persuaded that the Bible is God’s word written. The fact that I am so persuaded means that I must not come to the Bible with my own preconceptions of what the Bible, as God’s word written, can or cannot say. It is important to determine, by the canons of grammatical, textual, historical and literary study, what it actually does say. Occasionally, when I have expounded the meaning of some biblical passage in a particular way, I have been asked, ‘But how does that square with inspiration?’ But inspiration is not a concept of which I have a clear understanding before I come to the study of the text, so that I know in advance what limits are placed on the meaning of the text by the requirements of inspiration. On the contrary, it is by the patient study of the text that I come to understand better not only what the text itself means but also what is involved in biblical inspiration. My doctrine of Scripture is based on my study of Scripture, not vice versa. The question, ‘how does that square with inspiration?’ is perhaps asked most insistently when one part of Scripture seems to conflict in sense with another. I suppose much depends on the cast of one’s mind, but I have never been bothered by ‘apparent discrepancies’, nor have I been greatly concerned to harmonize them. My faith can accommodate such ‘discrepancies’ much more easily than it could swallow harmonizations that place an unnatural sense on the text or give an impression of special pleading. If the ‘discrepancies’ are left unharmonized, they may help to a better appreciation of the progress of revelation or of the distinctive outlooks of individual writers.”

–F.F. Bruce. In Retrospect (pp. 311-312).


Can We Still Believe the Bible? A Review

How can a 1962 film classic about the Korean War, help to teach us about  believing the Bible to be true?

This may sound like an odd way of introducing a book review, but hang with me….

In his 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Cordon writes about an American serviceman, captured during the Korean War, who was brainwashed by the Communists. This former POW, and son of a prominent U.S. politician, was being manipulated to try to assassinate a U.S. Presidential candidate. The story was originally put to film in 1962, a classic starring Frank Sinatra.

Though fictional, The Manchurian Candidate was based on news reports of American soldiers, who were captured as Prisoners of War (POWs), but who refused to repatriate back to the United States, once a truce was agreed upon by both the United Nations and North Korea. Out of nearly 3,500 returning POWs, 23 Americans had chosen to stay in North Korea. Why did these 23 servicemen, in the latter category, defect?

In the 1970s, a study was done to try to learn why these Americans refused to come home, after the fighting had ceased. It was discovered that nearly all of these American defectors came from one, single United States military training camp. In that particular training camp, the military indoctrination trainers were teaching the troops that the North Koreans were evil to the core, that the North Koreans all hated Americans, and that they could not be trusted for anything. The experience in that camp was in contrast to the vast numbers of American POWs, who received either no indoctrination training, prior to capture, or whose indoctrination materials were more moderate in their description of the North Koreans.

According to author Peter Boghossian, in his How To Have Impossible Conversations, the research demonstrated, that when the captured American servicemen were actually treated with kindness and compassion, by their North Korean captors, the American POWs from the hardline indoctrination camp were far more likely to defect to North Korea, than were the vast majority of American POWs who returned to the U.S., who received either no indoctrination, or whose training was less extreme.

I call the defection of those American soldiers, to the Communists, an example of the “Manchurian Candidate Effect.”

Can We Still Believe the Bible? New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says “YES!”

The Danger of Misrepresenting the Beliefs Held By Others, Who Do Not Exactly Hold Your Own Convictions about Christian Faith

In my years of doing Christian youth ministry, I have seen this scenario sadly played out multiple times: A worried Christian parent would tell me that they were fearful that their son or daughter was in danger of walking away from the faith, in which they were taught. In many of these cases, the parent’s concern was genuine, as harmful influences were indeed tugging away at the young person’s fidelity to their parent’s faith.

But every now and then, upon closer inspection, I would learn that the parent was teaching their kids ideas that misrepresented the character and/or beliefs of their child’s non-Christian, non-believing influencers. In some cases, such misrepresentations were even of other Christians, who were still orthodox in their Christian beliefs, but who held to particular views that were still out of step with what the parents believed.

Yet when the child began to learn that their agnostic, atheistic, etc. teacher, coach, or new friend, truly cared for them, and did not fit in with the caricature painted by their parent, this would inevitably raise questions in the mind of that child. The child would learn that not all atheists desperately hate God, or that their new sports teammate, from a Muslim home, was really a nice person, and not the terrorist that their parents imagined them to be. When that happened, the wayward child’s fidelity to their parent’s faith would begin to unravel. They would begin to wonder if their parents had mislead them about other, more fundamental teachings about the Christian faith, a form of doubt that would put their commitment to Christ in jeopardy.

Invariably, such misperceptions would also apply to other Christians, who might have read the Bible slightly differently from the child’s parents. For example, if the wayward child had a Christian friend, who adopted a different view of the age of the earth, or the historicity of the Book of Job, than that being taught by the child’s parents, the orthodoxy of the friend’s faith was viewed with grave suspicion, when in fact, the fundamental orthodoxy of the friend’s faith was never seriously in question. Again, like pulling a thread out of a nicely knit sweater, the complex structure of a rigid form of Christian belief would start to fall apart. This is the “Manchurian Candidate Effect” in motion.

At the same time, it is true that the forces that tug away at undermining Christian belief are constantly at work, and they do creep in and influence the church. Having discernment as to what properly constitutes those negative influences is essential. But like the hardline indoctrination received by those American defectors to North Korea, it is counterproductive to demonize other people in ways that completely misrepresent them.

There is no surefire way to prevent a child from abandoning the faith. No magic formula will guarantee that a child will adopt the faith of their parents. The obstacles to maintaining an orthodox view of Christian faith are extremely difficult, in a culture that is constantly bombarding believers with alternative messages. Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, even in many otherwise solid evangelical churches, and the attacks on Christianity, within the wider culture, only make the task of Christian discipleship all the more difficult.

Prayer is the key to see the Holy Spirit at work, but it is also deserving to have a fair look at why critics of the Christian Bible hold the positions that they do. A Christian can offer a reasonable defense, to such criticisms, without sticking one’s head into the sand.

What are the Top Questions that Critics Have About the Christian Bible?

Why is it that so many people today conclude that they can not believe the Bible? In the age of the Internet, social media, and the skepticism of popular scholars, like Bart Ehrman, such issues are unavoidable. I know that many of my Christian friends are not interested in these matters, but as I work on a college campus, I run into these type of issues, almost on a daily basis.

Here are some of the top questions that many are asking today:

  • Are not the copies of the Bible hopelessly corrupt?
  • Was not the selection of books for canon just political?
  • Can we trust any of translations of the Bible?
  • Do not the issues rule out biblical inerrancy?
  • Are not several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?
  • Do not all the miracles make the Bible mythical?

It is within the context of these questions about the Bible that Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions is a valuable resource for encouraging Christians to have a greater confidence in the Bible, as truly being the reliable Word of God. I bought this book at an apologetics conference five years ago, and I finally made my way through it just recently. In an age where godly, Scriptural discernment and responsible scholarship is sadly lacking in many corners of the church, Blomberg’s work is like a breath of fresh air and clarity, providing sound answers to all of the above questions.

Craig Blomberg is a professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. For those readers unfamiliar with Blomberg, but perhaps familiar with the more well-known writings of Timothy Keller, it is helpful to know that Craig Blomberg is the “go-to” source for all of Timothy Keller’s research on the reliability of the New Testament documents.

There are a lot of areas where one could focus on the Bible’s trustworthiness, such as the Bible’s relationship to science, or the moral teachings of the Bible. But in Can We Still Believe the Bible?, Craig Blomberg focuses his attention on the six questions highlighted above. The passion out of which Blomberg writes is to defend the Bible against unbelieving critics, who would completely reject the trustworthiness and inerrancy of the Bible. We live in an age of relentless skepticism, and Craig Blomberg suggests that there are still good reasons to believe the Bible. Yet Blomberg finds dangers on the other side, advanced by those who contend for hyper-conservative views of the Bible, mischaracterizing more moderate voices, even to the point of labeling such moderate positions as “liberal” or “compromising.”

For example, some critics, like the famous agnostic Bart Ehrman, say that the New Testament we have today is made up of copies of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of copies, of original documents, that are completely lost to us today. This claim suggests that we simply have no reliable way to get back to the original New Testament documents, with the manuscript data we currently possess, making our degree of confidence in our English Bibles extremely low. Skeptical voices, like Bart Ehrman’s, dominate today’s media outlets, and percolates down to social media. But Blomberg demonstrates that such pessimism about the Bible is not the case. The plethora of New Testament manuscripts, available to scholars today, instead reveals an embarrassment of riches, demonstrating that we really can get back to the original writings, of say, Paul or Luke, with a very high degree of probability.

Likewise, on the hyper-conservative side, many King-James-Only (KJV) advocates strongly assert that modern Bible translations can not be trusted, as they are based on the false premise that the original Greek text, behind the New Testament of the older KJV translation, represents a more recent tradition, as opposed to an earlier tradition of reliable manuscript data. By misrepresenting modern Bible translations, this claim introduces a different form of doubt, in the minds of some Christians, who wonder if they can really trust their modern English translation. While such hyper-conservative arguments may succeed at keeping certain Christians within the KJV-Only fold, they may also trigger the “Manchurian Candidate Effect,” leading other Christians to distrust ALL Bible translations, and waver in their faith.

Again, Blomberg successfully shows how modern translations in no way take away from the fundamental teachings of Christian doctrine, such as the deity of Christ. In other words, if you use the ESV, or English Standard Version of the Bible, it is not the “English Satanic Version” of the Bible, as so many KJV-Only proponents claim. But rather, it is the result of years of faithful research into understanding how God has preserved the essential reliability of His Word, across the centuries.

Appreciating the Diversity of Literary Genre in the Bible

Perhaps the most contentious area that Blomberg addresses concerns the question of whether or not certain biblical narratives are historical. But Blomberg discusses the use of how different literary genres are employed throughout Scripture, even within otherwise primarily historical narratives, such as the Gospels. In particular, Blomberg argues that the trustworthiness of Scripture needs to be defined within the standards of antiquity, when the text was actually written, as opposed to arbitrarily imposing contemporary, 21st century standards upon the text.

Most Christian know that the parables told by Jesus are fictional in nature. Jesus actually, historically told these parables, but the parables themselves appeal to metaphor, and not observable history, to make their theological points. But are there other cases, where a mixture of literary genre exists within an otherwise historical narrative?

For example, is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, to be considered as purely historical narrative? Since this is the only story told by Jesus, whereby Jesus gives names to the main characters, Lazarus and Abraham, in describing the afterlife, some contend that Jesus is describing a historical event, assuming a type of human eyewitness perspective. In other words, advocates of this view believe that Lazarus was a real, historical person who died, sometime before Jesus told this story to his followers, and Jesus is describing Lazarus’s experience in the afterlife, with the Rich Man, from the eye-witness perspective of sometime living in that afterlife world.

But since this story follows immediately after Jesus is telling his disciples three unambiguous parables, that are understood to be fictional, it is overwhelmingly likely that the Rich Man and Lazarus story is also a fictional account, designed to teach profound theological truth, just as the parables are designed to do.

Does the type of literary genre being used here by Luke in any way compromise the doctrine of biblical inerrancy? Craig Blomberg makes the most persuasive case that the answer is surely, “NO.” These are matters having to deal with the correct means of biblical interpretation, and they do not impinge on the trustworthiness of Scripture itself. Blomberg defends a more nuanced approach to the inerrancy of the Bible, that allows for scholars to hone in on a more accurate interpretation of the Scriptural data, without any compromise of inerrancy itself.

As a corollary to Blomberg’s discussion about genre, one might wonder if the story of Jonah and the big fish should be understood as a specific historical event. The great Oxford don, C.S. Lewis, had his doubts, as expressed in a letter to Corbin Carnell, dated April 4, 1953:

“….the question about Jonah and the great fish
does not turn simply on intrinsic probability. The point is that the whole
Book of Jonah has to me the air of being a moral romance, a quite different
kind of thing from, say, the account of King David or the New Testament
narratives, not pegged, like them, into any historical situation.”

C.S. Lewis, who is hailed as a hero by most evangelical Protestants today, undoubtedly did not embrace a strict definition of biblical inerrancy. Ironically, Lewis therefore would not be allowed to teach at many evangelical theological institutions today, that revere him so highly, partly because of his view of Jonah.

Yet perhaps the story of Jonah is indeed an historical narrative, but with a few metaphorical elements mixed in. Perhaps the metaphorical imagery of the great fish describes the calamity of Jonah’s being thrown overboard, and his miraculous survival, as opposed to asserting something like a massive whale shark, capable of supplying Jonah a ready supply of oxygen, for Jonah’s three day and three night underwater journey. Perhaps the great fish was a metaphor for Sheol, the realm of the dead, and the story of being vomited out upon the seashore testifies to how God rescued Jonah from death.

Craig Blomberg would not want to rule out the use of the fish as a fictional metaphor here, as an interpretive possibility. Jesus did attest to the story of Jonah and the big fish. But Jesus also used parables, which were clearly fiction, to teach essential theological truth.

Blomberg’s suggestion does not imply a flat-out skepticism of the miracles in the Bible, as a whole. Far from it. If one accepts the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection as an historical, bodily event, as one must to be a truly Bible-believing Christian, then that paves the way open to accepting any miracle story in the Bible as historical event, at least in principle. If we really are talking a great, non-metaphorical fish swallowing Jonah whole, then we need to be prepared to accept it. But it need not conflict with the possibility of God using something like the fish story, as a metaphorical image instead, to convey God’s Truth. The trustworthiness of various stories in the Bible need not be rejected, simply because we assume a particular way of reading, that would be alien to the intended literary purposes of the writer.

Interpretive decisions, regarding how one should read particular texts as metaphorical or non-metaphorical, must be made on a passage by passage basis, paying careful attention to the particular literary genre, and other elements of literary context. This is a nuanced, evidentially informed, sensible, and wise approach to the Bible. Blomberg’s work is balanced, a good example of how evangelical Bible scholarship has improved over the recent decades, avoiding the pitfalls of liberal critical scholars, who undermine the Bible’s authority, as well as hyper-conservative defenses of the Bible, that often invite ridicule. I wish I had something like Craig Blomberg’s book in my hands, when I was a 1980s college student, struggling with difficult questions about my faith, particularly regarding issues like biblical inerrancy.

When Christians are presented with challenges to their faith in Jesus, and their trust in the Bible, by antagonistic critics of Christianity, it obviously can be disturbing to those who feel like they are not prepared to defend their faith. But it can be even more disconcerting when otherwise well-intentioned “defenders” of the faith, misrepresent the views of other Christians, who also believe the Bible, but who nevertheless find themselves being the object of scorn by supposedly fellow Christians. It often feels like living through the backstory of The Manchurian Candidate.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? is not an exhaustive look at the issues about the Bible, as the Bible is indeed a big book, and scholars continue to pour their lives into the faithful study of what God is continually revealing to His church, about the plans and purposes of God. But Blomberg’s fantastic work, while being a bit technical for the average, casual reader, is an incredibly helpful resource for those who study the Bible with the utmost seriousness and intensity, who nevertheless find themselves asking good, honest questions about Scripture’s reliability. Craig Blomberg presents enough case studies in his research to make a profoundly compelling case that, yes, we can still believe the Bible. He effectively steers a middle course, between an unbridled skepticism and an overzealous, anti-intellectualism. Blomberg’s work has received enthusiastic reviews, from some evangelicalism’s top scholars, such as Michael Kruger, and Dan Wallace. For those who are concerned about whether the Bible can still be trusted, I heartedly recommend this work by Craig Blomberg.

Craig Blomberg wrote a followup to Can We Still Believe the Bible?, which focuses in greater detail on apologetic concerns within the New Testament. The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs (B&h Studies in Christian Apologetics) is on my “to-be-read” list, as it taps into Blomberg’s particular focus area of scholarship, the New Testament.

Can we still believe the Bible? In walking away from my reading of Craig Blomberg, the answer is clearly, “YES!”

The following is a 2016 lecture Dr. Blomberg gave at Cornell University, covering the main themes of Can We Still Believe the Bible?:


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