Please teach the whole truth…

I grew up believing the Bible we have today was translated from the original manuscripts. I believed not a jot nor tittle were added or omitted; I believed God’s sovereignty ensured this.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned none of the original manuscripts exist and that over the centuries scribes who copied scripture sometimes changed words and often added words or phrases. Textual variants in the New Testament involve 10% of the whole text of the New Testament, and because there are many less surviving complete manuscripts of the Old Testament and the copying process was probably done more carefully, textual variants involve only 6% of the whole text of the Old Testament.

Here are some examples:

In some Bibles, Matthew 27:7 reads “Jesus, Barabbas, or Jesus…”; however, the oldest manuscripts do not repeat the name “Jesus.”

In some Bibles, 1 Chronicles 3:4 says the width of the porch was 120 cubits (180 feet); however, the discovery of older manuscripts lets us know that it was actually 20 cubits (30 feet).

1 Kings 4:26 says Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses. In 2 Chronicles 9:25 (a parallel passage) we are told that he had 4,000.

2 Chronicles 22:2 says “42 years,” but the parallel passage in 2 Kings 8:26 says “22 years.”

In 1 Samuel 13:1 some manuscripts say Saul was 30 while others omit his age.

Ephesians 5:9 says “fruit of the light” in the oldest manuscripts, but later textual variants contained “fruit of the Spirit.”

The two words “of sins” appeared in later manuscripts at the end of Hebrews 9:22, so it shows up in some translations (like ESV) but is absent from others.

In John 5 after the 3rd verse, some manuscripts insert “…waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had”; however, most Bible scholars are in agreement that this was added later and therefore some translations omit it and others bracket it to show that it was likely not included in the original.

John 7:53-8:11 doesn’t show up in the oldest and best Greek manuscripts and when it does show up in later manuscripts it is sometimes placed at the end of Luke’s 21st chapter or at the end of Luke’s letter. Furthermore, none of the early church fathers mentioned it.

In 2 Corinthians 8:7 some Bibles say “in our love for you” and others say “in your love for us,” which makes much more sense in this context.

There are many more including 1 John 5:7-8, which made its first appearance in a Greek manuscript in the 15th century and the last 12 verses in the book of Mark, which differ significantly from the rest of that book.

Why didn’t my youth group leaders address this when I was a teen?

I suspect most laypeople are either ignorant of these facts or they are afraid to talk about them for fear of being labeled a “progressive” or “liberal” by Christians fundamentalists. (People say this is especially true in the south where Southern Baptists have a bit of a reputation for going after those who don’t tow the party line, but I’m certain this kind of intimidation happens everywhere.)

But why didn’t the pastors of the churches I attended address these matters? Were they also afraid? Afraid their flock might not be able to handle the truth? Afraid of offending and maybe losing members whose support made their salaries possible? Afraid of being run out of the church as heretics?

When I was a kid, it was popular for churches to teach that the Bible was inerrant. Then sometime in the 80’s, churches started modifying their Statements of Faith by tacking the words “in the original manuscripts” to the statement on inerrancy. This kind of intellectual honesty was long overdue, but it still wasn’t taught from the pulpit. And 30 years later I still don’t hear it being taught!

Why does this matter?

It matters because churches are dying as the youth stop attending after having their faith shipwrecked when they learn that what they were taught in church isn’t all true.

It matters because laypeople are unable to answer the questions raised by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” or Bart Ehrman’s New York Times bestseller “Misquoting Jesus.”

As we move toward a post-church culture, I believe pastors and youth leaders have an even greater obligation to prepare those under their influence. Address the truth head on: Yes, there are some mistakes in the manuscripts we have and these mistakes do show up in the Bibles we use, but so what?

Why should the width of a porch, the number of horse stalls, a repeated name, or the insertion of a few words on the part of scribes who were trying to make the text more readable shake a Christian’s faith?

We don’t believe in the Bible, we believe in the one the Bible points us to. But we can believe the Bible is trustworthy when it comes to the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. We can believe Jesus’ teachings because we have copies of every book in the New Testament that date back to either the first or second century. We can believe Jesus’ teaching because we have some 5,700 Greek manuscripts (plus another 10,000 manuscripts of the early Latin versions of the NT). We also have the writing of the early church fathers which contain thousands of quoted verses.

Remember what the apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).

Our faith must be based on the resurrection of Christ, not on whether or not trivial errors have crept into the text of the Bible.

For more on this topic, see “From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible” by Norman Geisler & William Nix:

What about ancient Gentiles?

Here’s an excerpt from an article by Wayne Jackson entitled “Did the Ancient Gentiles Have the Hope of Salvation?”:

The Bible student is aware of the fact that the law of Moses was given to the nation of Israel. It was intended to regulate the Jews’ conduct and to provide a mode of forgiveness (through the Levitical sacrificial system) when they transgressed the law.

Where does this leave the Gentiles who lived before the coming of Christ? Were they excluded from Jehovah’s magnificent plan of human salvation? Why was so much attention given to the Jews over the Gentiles?

The primary theme of Old Testament history had to do with the Hebrew nation in view of their role in preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah (John 4:22). Nonetheless, Heaven’s interest in non-Hebrews is underscored many times in the body of Old Testament literature.

To read the article in its entirety, click here:

Free Grace vs. Lordship Salvation

Christians believe that one enters into a covenant relationship with Christ when the Holy Spirit enables them to recognize the truth of the gospel and accept it. Those who advocate “Free Grace” or “Non-Lordship Salvation” (derogatorily referred to as “Easy-Believism”) teach that a person remains in this covenant relationship forever because of this one-time event in their life.

Proponents of Free Grace say that a believer should produce the fruit of obedience but a lack of fruit cannot strip them of their status as God’s children; it would simply result in fewer heavenly rewards.

Those who object to this view hold to a position often referred to as “Lordship Salvation.” They argue that faith without works is dead and that there is no such thing as a “carnal Christian.” They further argue that good works done in obedience to our Lord are required and not just something we should do. They refer to the doctrine of salvation without repentance and obedience as “Cheap Grace.”

Proponents of Lordship Salvation fall into two categories: those who believe that our obedience keeps us in a covenant relationship with Christ and those who say that our obedience merely demonstrates whether or not we ever entered into a covenant relationship with Christ. (Catholics, many Reformed Christians, and proponents of the New Perspective on Paul [NPP] and Federal Vision fall into this first category while most evangelical Protestants fall into this second category.)

Advocates of Free Grace and advocates of Lordship Salvation both affirm the reformed doctrine of sola fide, but those who teach the latter say that while we are saved by faith alone, the Bible is clear that saving faith is never alone.

Some well-known teachers of Lordship Salvation include John MacArthur, John Piper, J.I. Packer, John Stott, Rick Warren, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, A.W. Tozer, and H.A. Ironside.

Some well-known teachers of Lordship Salvation include Charles Stanley, Tony Evans, Chuck Swindoll, Bill Bright, J. Dwight Pentecost, Bob Wilkin, Charles Ryrie, L.S. Chafer, and Zane Hodges.

Who created the laws within the Law of Moses?

Are all the laws in the Torah directly from God, or did Moses create some?

I’ve always believed they were all from God, but there are some that I just can’t see God saying because they seem to clash so violently with Jesus’ teaching. For example…

There’s a law that tells what you can do with a guy’s daughter after he sells her to you as a slave.

There’s a law that lays out conditions for how to treat multiple wives.

There’s a law that says beating your male or female slave is not punishable as long as said slave can get to their feet in one or two days.

If a wife tries to help her husband who is being beat up by grabbing the testicles of the attacker, the wife’s hand must be cut off.

If a husband thinks his wife has been unfaithful, he is to take her to the priest. The priest will mix dust from the floor with holy water and then the woman must take an oath with a sworn curse. After that she must drink the water. If she truly was unfaithful, she will suffer terrible consequences.

After giving birth, a mother was declared unclean (for 7 days if she gave birth to a boy and for 2 weeks if she gave birth to a girl).

If your brother, son, daughter, wife or close friend tries to secretly get you to worship another god, you are to kill them (all the others will help but you are to strike the first blow).

The usual explanation (sometimes called Divine Accommodation) is that God gave the Hebrew people laws that were meant to regulate existing customs and behaviors and we should not view them as characteristic of God’s moral will. And this may be true, but I see three problems with this view:

1. Yahweh doesn’t come across as one who is interested in regulating sinful behavior.
2. For thousands of years God’s commands defined morality and God’s character. For thousands of years slavery, misogyny, polygamy, and a legal system that left little room for compassion and mercy could fit within a godly, holy, and righteous life. It’s hard for me to accept that an omniscient, personal, righteous and jealous God would desire this kind of harmful ambiguity.
3. When the Pharisees pointed out to Jesus that Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife if he found something offensive in her, Jesus’ response was quite interesting. He said that going all the way back to the garden of Eden it was not that way and it should not be permitted (unless one’s partner is unfaithful). Then Jesus said that Moses permitted it to appease hard-hearted people (Mat 19:3-12).

Now maybe saying “Moses permitted you to divorce…” was synonymous with “God permitted you to divorce…” but it seems like Jesus is disagreeing with Moses and reaffirming God’s hatred of divorce.

What do you think? Did Moses ever interject his opinions (like Paul, 1 Cor. 7:12), or did all of the laws in the Torah come directly from God?

As I researched this topic I discovered that Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD) was so bothered by how the Old Testament depicted God that he completely rejected the Old Testament.

Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose and Augustine all taught that the passages in the Old Testament that ascribed sinful behavior to God and holy men were not meant to be taken literally; instead they were to be read as allegorical.

Referring to the book of Joshua, C.S. Lewis said that when the goodness of God conflicts with the doctrine of inerrancy, the goodness of God must prevail.

How is faith a gift?

Since all humans, naturally, have the ability to exercise faith, in what respect is faith (pistis) a gift from God to believers (Philippians 1:29)?

In a general sense, faith is a gift simply because all good things are gifts from God (James 1:17). But when we are talking about saving faith, the kind that unites us with Christ, we recognize that if it were not for God’s prevenient grace, we would remain in the darkness. Through various means God has revealed himself to all people. Not only has he shown favor (grace) by providing evidence of his existence through creation (Romans 1:20), he also works in situations and circumstances to draw people to himself (providence).

I like the way William Burt Pope, a 19th century theologian, says it:

“Faith, viewed first more comprehensively as the condition of salvation, is a state or an act of the human spirit as under the influence of the Divine Spirit. The Divine and the human cannot be so clearly defined and separated as in the case of repentance. They may be united in relation to the belief, generally; the passive and active trust that enter into saving faith, and the assurance of acceptance and salvation which follow it in the regenerate life.
I. BELIEF, or the principle of faith generally, belongs to human nature: the faculty of perceiving the force of evidence and admitting as knowledge what is received on evidence or authority internal or external.
1. Man lives by faith, in this sense also. Belief is a primary condition of all reasoning; and all our knowledge rests on faith. Hence the propriety of Anselm’s CREDE UT INTELLIGAS, in opposition to Abelard’s INTELLIGE UT CREDAS: the two watchwords of Christian Faith and Rationalism respectively. All faith has in it an element of trust. The being of God, the guilt and punishment of sin, the mission of Christ for redemption, the Christian revelation as a whole, must be accepted by faith before the Person of Christ is trusted in for personal salvation. But the object of this faith, not yet a personal Saviour, is only generally apprehended: the compass of the Christian Faith is often embraced only after the experience of salvation. To whatever extent the truths of religion are known and embraced, faith in them is the healthy and legitimate exercise of the human mind, receiving the evidence, internal and external, which authenticates revelation.
2. On the other hand, this belief is Divine. A merely intel
lectual assent, such as rests upon tradition and education, is not enough: The devils also believe, and tremble. Seldom does this belief withstand the assault of skeptical attack. No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. A firm belief in the Christian revelation, and in Him whom it reveals as God and man, is the very precious gift of the Spirit, and is often made perfect in the exercise of personal trust. Sometimes the personal trust and the assurance of faith bring in also the full assurance of understanding as to the outward revelation: speculative or historical faith thus, through Divine grace, deepens into that spiritual faith, which in its last exercise is the gift of God” (A Compendium of Christian Theology, 461-2).

I think Rudolf Bultmann nicely sums it up:

“A faith brought about by God outside of [human] decision would obviously not be genuine [faith]. Faith is God-wrought to the extent that prevenient grace first made the human decision possible, with the result that he who has made the decision can only understand it as God’s gift” (Theology of the New Testament, 1:330).

God’s Hiddenness

“The relating triune God desires that we earnestly seek Him and His wisdom as “for hidden treasures” (Prov. 2:4)—with all our heart. All around us there are indicators of His presence and echoes of His voice, which are available to all people—whether of great intelligence or not. However, God honors human responsibility so greatly that He has configured His self-revelation to be accessible but non-coercive: He doesn’t compel or force belief—and love and worship—upon us. For whole-hearted seekers, God gives ample signposts of His grace and presence, but sufficient ambiguity for the half-hearted or the hard-hearted. He grants us breathing room to allow us to distance ourselves from God and resist His grace if we choose.”

~Paul Copan

Is it OK to “go to church”?

When we hear the word “church,” we usually think of a building that often has a steeple on it. But the Bible uses the word “church” (ekklesia) to refer to something very different. In the New Testament, the word “church” always refers to the whole body of Christian believers. It is used synonymously with “the body of Christ,” and “a spiritual house” made up of “living stones.”

Is it a big deal that we use the word “church” in a way that is so disconnected from the Bible’s usage?

Maybe, maybe not…

Some claim that it causes Christianity to be compartmentalized and causes a dualistic thinking. We “go to church” on Sunday for a few hours and live our own lives when we leave the building.

I tend to think it’s not a big deal. Word meanings often change over time and since the Bible gives God’s family many different names, the fact that one has changed its meaning makes little difference in my opinion.

Now if I hear people start saying, “I go to the First Baptist Body of Christ,” or “Do you know of a good living house in the area?” then I’ll get worried.

Why I don’t tithe…

Point to Ponder:
If the tithe were still in effect, followers of Christ would be designated to receive it, not give it since followers of Christ are now the temple of God and members of a royal priesthood! (Eph 2:19-21, 1 Peter 2:9)

Although the tithe is no longer in effect, Christians are to be generous givers! To read my post on New Covenant giving, click here: here:

We are not born spiritually blind

People are not born spiritually blind; it’s a choice.

While the Bible and our own experience confirm that people are born with a bias toward sin, we are not born spiritually blind. In fact, the faith of children and youth is often superior to that of adults (Luke 18:17). In Romans 1 we are told that God has made himself known to all people and that his power and divine nature have been visible since the beginning of time so that people are without excuse. Spiritual blindness is not congenital! Instead, sin causes the eyes of the heart to grow dark, and over time, a lifestyle of continual, unrepentant sin leads to spiritual blindness (Rom 1:21, Eph 4:18). So repent now and walk in the light as God is in the light.

“Permit” does not mean “cause”

In his book Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, John Calvin wrote, “[I]t is easy to conclude how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice by the suggestion that evils come to be not by His will, but merely by His permission. Of course, so far as they are evils…I admit they are not pleasing to God. But it is quite a frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”

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Pursue Righteousness

In the Bible, the adjectives tsaddiyq (צַּדִּיק ) in the OT and dikaios (δικαιοι) in the NT, which are usually translated “righteous,” were used to describe those who “remained on the correct path.” From Genesis to Revelation the word “righteous” is used to describe both God and humans. In 1 John 3:7, we read that “the one who does what is right is righteous.

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Does God need our help during the Christmas season?

Here’s an excerpt from a great article by Stephen Ingram that addresses the heresy of “Keeping Christ In Christmas”:

At the core of the problem is that any time people of faith chant slogans or mandate parade themes like “keeping Christ in Christmas” or “Put Christ back in Christmas” we prove ourselves people of little faith. When these are our battle cries we reduce the presence and power of God to only be where a government or law allows God. When we do this we deny that God was there before us, is there with us now and will be there long after we are gone. When we try to force God on others we reincarnate some of the worst epochs of our religious history, and default on its core founding principles of Love, Grace and Hospitality.

To read the article in its entirety, click here:

For fans of Left Behind…

Here’s an excerpt from a great article by Sam Storms that highlights some of the problems with Premillennialism:

My departure from premillennialism and embrace of amillennialism was gradual and came as a result of two discoveries as I studied Scripture. First, I devoted myself to a thorough examination of what the New Testament said would occur at the time of Christ’s second coming (or parousia). What I found was a consistent witness concerning what would either end or begin as a result of our Lord’s return to the earth. Sin in the lives of God’s people, corruption of the natural creation, and the experience of physical death would terminate upon the appearance of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the resurrection of the body, the final judgment, and the inauguration of the New Heavens and New Earth would ensue. But why is this a problem for premillennialism? Good question.

Scriptural Challenges for Premillenialists…

To read the article in its entirety, click here:

What is God like?

  • Do you believe God cannot be in the presence of sinful people?
  • Do you believe God can never really be pleased with you because you still sin?
  • Do you believe the only reason God loves you is that when he looks at you, he sees his Son rather than the sinful wretch that you are?
  • Do you believe the only reason he has a relationship with you is that when he looks at you, he sees his Son rather than the sinful wretch that you are?
  • Do you believe the only reason he hasn’t consigned you to hell is that when he looks at you he sees his Son rather than the sinful wretch that you are?

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