Attacks Against Christianity #1
Can you think of any element of New Testament Christianity that someone has not attacked? Former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong has challenged the Bible's teaching on the virgin birth of Christ, on the Lord's bodily resurrection, on his second coming, on the inerrancy and authority of the scriptures and even on the moral values Jesus and what the apostles taught. We expect such radical criticisms from atheists, agnostics and secular humanists, but not from men and women who claim to be Christians. Attacks against Christianity from men like John Shelby Spong and Leslie Weatherhead do far more damage to the cause of Christ than the attacks of atheists like Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking.
Those of us who accept the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God and Jesus Christ as the Son of God must prepare ourselves to the best of our ability to answer all charges against our Lord and against his church. By divine inspiration, the apostle Peter knew that Christians would have to defend their beliefs against the attacks of the enemies of the cross of Christ. He urged the early Christians and us: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet; 3:15). The .Greek word translated "answer" (apologia) means a verbal defense of our faith. Paul used the word when he wrote to the Philippians: "I am set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:17). Paul used the same word .in his trial before Festus. "To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he who is accused have the accusers face to face, and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him" (Acts 25:16). Most modem versions render the Greek "defense" rather than "answer." Luke used the verb form of the word in describing Paul's appearance before king Agrippa. "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, You are permitted to speak for yourself. Then Paul stretched forth his hand, and answered for himself." In his opening remarks before Agrippa, Paul also used the verb form of the word when he said, "I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before you touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews" (Acts 26:1-2).
Bible believers in every age of the church's existence have had to respond to the criticisms of radical theologians and scholars. I have time to give you just one example. For many years, Dr. Robert Dick Wilson served as professor of Semitic Philology in Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Wilson dedicated his great learning to destroying all the charges so-called "higher critics" directed against the word of God. In 1922 Dr. Wilson wrote a wonderful little booklet with the title, Is Higher Criticism Scholarly? (Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times). In his Foreword to Dr. Wilson's book, Philip Howard, publisher of the Sunday School Times, quotes Dr. Wilson as saying, "No man knows enough to assail the truthfulness of the Old Testament....When a man says to me, 'I don't believe the Old Testament,' he makes no impression upon me. When he points to something that he doesn't believe, he makes no impression upon me. But if he comes to me and says, 'I've got evidence here to show that the Old Testament is wrong on this or that point'—then that's where my work begins! I'm ready for him." Dr. Wilson affirms: "Criticism is not a matter of brains, but a matter of knowledge" (pp. 10-11).
The church of our Lord must encourage the kind of scholarly work Dr. Wilson did for so many years at Princeton Theological Seminary. Incidentally, there is no way a conservative scholar like Robert Dick Wilson could teach at Princeton today or at Harvard or at Yale or at most other modem theological seminaries. Many modern seminaries, including some that claim to be evangelical, attack the teachings of the word of God, especially those teachings that relate to miracles. Many professors in denominational seminaries are postmodernists. They do not believe in absolute truth and ridicule those who claim to believe in truth.
I have engaged in this brief discussion of defending the faith because of an e-mail I received on Friday, December 3, 2004. The woman who sent the e-mail does not provide any information about her religious affiliation, but it is my conviction after reading the e-mail that she has been listening to a postmodernist preacher or reading the literary works of some postmodernist. Her e-mail shows almost total ignorance of the nature of scripture and of the origin of Christianity. Her e-mail is short, but makes some points that demand a response. Please listen to the woman's views. "I just want to point out that Jesus was Jewish, the Bible was written two hundred years after his death (by men), and that Christianity was created by men, not Christ. It troubles me that we have such faith in men's creationism and not in the powers that be." I shall respond to each of the ideas in the e-mail.
I have no idea why the woman pointed out "that Jesus was Jewish." Every student of the New Testament, except some of the white supremacists, would readily concede that Jesus was a Jew. The genealogies recorded in Matthew 1 and in Luke 3 make it abundantly clear that Jesus was Jewish. Matthew mentions many of Christ's Jewish ancestors: Abraham, David, Solomon, and others. He concludes his genealogy by writing: "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations" (Mt. 1:1-17). According to Paul, the prophets of the Old Testament foretold the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord, "who was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:2-3).
Is the woman saying in her e-mail that Jesus could not have been the founder of Christianity because he was Jewish? Does she know that many of the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of a new covenant? Jeremiah, a seventh century Jewish prophet, predicted: "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, says the Lord: but this shall be my covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward part, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34).
The e-mail asserts without any proof that "the Bible was written two hundred years after his (that is, Christ's death)." I assume she was speaking only of the New Testament. We know the Old Testament was completed hundreds of years before the Christian era. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that point beyond dispute. Besides, Jesus himself endorsed every section of the Old Testament. He told his disciples: "These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Lk. 24:44). The expressions, "the law of Moses," "the prophets," and "the psalms" constitute the whole of Old Testament revelation. Jesus knew all of the Old Testament—from Genesis to Malachi—and completely endorsed it.
But I suppose my correspondent was speaking of the dating of the New Testament. She says it was written two hundred years after Christ's death. No reputable scholar—whether liberal or conservative or radical or otherwise—would make such a foolish statement. It is true that some liberal scholars date parts of the New Testament much later than conservative scholars do, but no scholar of my acquaintance would say that all or even most of the New Testament books were written two hundred years after Christ.
Liberal scholars for years dated the gospel according to John late in the second century after Christ or even later. In 1920 B. P. Grenfell acquired a sheet containing John 18:31-33 on one side and John 18:37-38 on the other side. It was designated P-52 and was placed in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England. Experts on ancient manuscripts have dated the sheet around 125 A. D. The late Dr. F. F. Bruce, one of England's most distinguished conservative scholars, thinks the sheet should be dated about 100 A. D. The fragment was discovered in Egypt. Dr. Everett Harrison's excellent book, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1964), declares: "Further testimony of a similar sort is furnished by the discovery in Egypt of a portion of chapter 5, contained in Egerton Papyrus 2, which belongs to the early part of the second century" (p. 216). If John were written in the latter part of the second century, how could it have reached Egypt by the early part of the second century?
Bishop John A. T. Robinson of the Church of England was unquestionably one of the most liberal theologians of the twentieth century. His book, Honest to God, is a direct attack on virtually every fundamental of the Christian faith. I mention this to establish the fact that Bishop Robinson was not a religious conservative—not by any stretch of the imagination. In 1976 Bishop Robinson wrote a very controversial book with the title, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), in which he argues that every book of the New Testament, including the book of Revelation, was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. I have serious doubts about Bishop Robinson's dating of the book of Revelation, but he makes some very strong arguments for a pre-70 A. D. date for every New Testament book. He would have vigorously denied the contention of my e-mail correspondent that the Bible was written two hundred years after Christ. Even the bitterest enemies of Christianity would not date the New Testament two hundred years after Christ. And, may I say in all kindness, ignorance is no excuse for making such a blunder.
The e-mail says "The Bible was written two hundred years after his (that is, Christ's death) by men." Does the author of the e-mail think Christians would ascribe the books of the Bible to extraterrestrials? All Christians and most other people believe the books of the New Testament were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James and Jude—all of whom were men. So what does all of that mean? Is she suggesting that the New Testament books are unreliable because men wrote them? What if the Holy Spirit so guided and superintended the New Testament authors that they were kept free from error? The apostle Paul asked, "What man knows the thoughts of a man, save the Spirit of the man that is in him?" He then affirms: "Even so the thoughts of God no man knows, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; combining spiritual ideas with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:l1-13). All of the Bible writers—both of the Old Testament and of the New—spoke as they were moved by Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). The words of the Bible are men's words, but they are also God's words.
If time permitted—and it does not today—I would like to show just how accurate and dependable the writings of the Bible are. Archaeology has confirmed many of the incidents and places that liberal scholars have doubted for generations. William M. Ramsay, one of the world's greatest New Testament archaeologists, made many trips to Asia Minor to learn whether Luke, the author of Acts of the Apostles, was a reliable historian. He spent many years examining all the archaeological materials relating to the book of Acts. Ramsay wrote a number of outstanding books on the topic of our study. In his book, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1951, a reprint from 1911), Ramsay asks, "How far can we trust this narrative (that is, Acts of the Apostles)?" He answers: "The present writer takes the view that Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect to trustworthiness" (p. 81). Ramsay continues: "You may press the words of Luke to a degree beyond any other historian's, and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment" (p. 89). Ramsay also 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; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history; and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of the incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length, while he touches lightly or omits entirely much that was valueless for his purpose. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians" (p. 222).
What Ramsay said about Luke can also be said about all other Bible writers. Thousands of vicious attacks have been directed at the Bible, but it stands more solidly today than at any other time since Christ speaking through John completed the book of
Revelation. The following poem expresses the truth that God's word will endure forever (1 Pet. 1:25).
Last eve I passed a blacksmith's door/ and heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
When looking in I saw upon the floor/ old hammers worn with beating years of
"How many anvils have you had,' said I/ 'to wear and batter all the hammers
so?' 'Just one,' said he, then said with twinkling eye/ the anvil wears the
hammers out, you know.'
And so, I thought, the anvil of God's word/ for ages skeptics' blows have beat
upon; yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard/ the anvil is unharmed—
the hammers gone (DeHoff, Why We Believe the Bible (Nashville: Gospel
Advocate Company, 1944, pp. 118-119).
My e-mail correspondent argues that Christianity was created by men. How did she arrive at that conclusion? If she means that the apostles and others were the original members of the Lord's church in Jerusalem, no Bible believer would question her argument. Acts 2 provides great insight into the church's establishment on the day of Pentecost. But if she means that men originated the idea of the church and arranged for its establishment, she has missed the point or deliberately perverted the teaching of scripture. Do you remember what Jesus promised his disciples? "Upon this rock (that is, the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). Christ gave the apostles the authority to build his church. They built the church according to the pattern he gave them. While men actually did the preaching and the baptizing on the day of Pentecost, it was Christ who gave the plan and the power for them to build his church.
Incidentally, the church was not an afterthought or a contingency plan, as premillennialists teach. The church was in the mind of God from eternity past. Paul's preaching at Ephesus was "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to his eternal purpose that he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:9-11). The church is not man's creation, but God's.
My correspondent expresses concern that we have such faith in men's creationism and not in the powers that be. I wish I knew what she had in mind. Is she speaking of creationism in the sense that God created the world? Is she calling the church of our Lord men's creation? I choose not to speculate about her meaning. But this I know: The Bible is God's inspired word and the church is his family.
I urge you to study your Bible with an open mind and to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I will be judged by whether we accept Jesus Christ and live by his word. May God help us all to so live that we shall hear our Lord say, "Enter into the joys of thy Lord!"
The International Gospel Hour
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