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Commentary on recent archaeological discoveries, current issues bearing on the historical reliability of Scripture and other relevant news concerning the Bible.

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In recent days, my mind has been preoccupied with the plight of Western society, and specifically, the state of the Church at large in America. Several events have initiated this preoccupation and now converge to instigate this writing of this article. Within a period of just ten days, I had the following four experiences: 

At the beginning of this Christmas season (2010), I was going into New York City to do some research at the New York Public Library. As usual, I took public transportation into the city (it's less stressful than driving and you don't have to worry about parking). As we were approaching the Palisades in the bus lane to the Lincoln Tunnel, I saw out the left-hand side of the bus a billboard that caught my attention. It had what looked like a scene from a Christmas card. I thought to myself: 'That's nice; somebody is wishing us a joyous Christmas.' As the bus got closer, I saw the three wise men riding their camels in the starlit night toward an open-sided shelter with a gabled thatched roof next to a couple of palm trees; a donkey was tied to the stall, a bright star overhead, and Mary and Joseph watching over the new-born Baby Jesus. Then I saw the words: 'You KNOW it's a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!' It was signed by the American Atheists and said they were 'Reasonable since 1963.' Their web address was also given.

I often take the spiritual pulse of my congregation and Christian colleagues and friends to help me gain a sense of the spiritual warfare being waged against believers in America. I add to that extensive reading on the sociological movements and philosophical perspectives in American culture and their impact on the Church of Jesus Christ. Trends emerge from these studies and conversations that occasionally encourage me but most often disappoint me. Fundamentally, American Christians are held in the cultural grips of post-modernism, with its openness to spiritual 'things' but its resistance and distrust of anything that smacks of institutionalism. So the openness we see sometimes quickly closes when Jesus is brought into a conversation, since He is seen as part and parcel of the institution called 'church.' Post-moderns are profoundly disappointed in how the institutions around them have let them down and ripped them off: Government, Schools, Parents, and the Church. They have seen and continue to watch played out in front of them how these institutions fail in their self-absorbed greed and lust for power and their patent abandonment of the responsibilities under their charge. Every day they see another husband abandon his wife and children, they see another church leader fall in scandal, they read of a teacher shamelessly abuse their position of trust to feed their own personal lusts and desires. Children growing up in America see decadence all around them; those telling them how to walk the path are compromising and abusing their God-entrusted roles of authority.

Many pastors, writers, and even seminary professors rely on the 'JEDP Documentary Hypothesis' to explain how the book of Genesis was originally written. This concept says that for many centuries the stories were passed down orally, usually with embellishments or deletions, and were not committed to writing until much later than the events they describe. Naturally, this idea doesn't tend to inspire confidence in the literal accuracy of the account. Thus it's favored by theologians of a liberal bent. In contrast, the 'Tablet Theory' suggests that portions of Genesis were originally written on clay tablets by men who personally experienced the events described. The tablets were later compiled by Moses. Since the original writers were said to be eye-witnesses, their accounts should be historically accurate. This article briefly describes the development and implications of these two theories.

Students of Bible prophecy have generally overlooked an important tool for understanding this chapter; mainly, the archaeologist's spade. Archaeology has a direct bearing on this passage from two different angles. First, there are ancient inscriptions that give first hand accounts, or historical reflections, of the fall of Babylon in 689 BC. Second, there is confirmation of this destruction by the German excavation at the beginning of the 20th century. With this, let us turn our attention to Isaiah 21.

In the July/August 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, a disturbing and highly prejudicial, anti-Christian column was published. The main thrust of this article aims directly and antagonistically at Christian scholars who hold to any form of orthodoxy.

A review of The Edited Bible, by John Van Seters (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006. This recent book by John Van Seters should have a revolutionary impact on the critical study of the Bible, particularly on the study of the Pentateuch/ Hexateuch in the OT.

In March of this year we were treated to yet another edition of information media's relentless infatuation with reinterpreting and redefining the Bible with its insufferable post-modern spin. The Discovery Channel's Who Framed Jesus? was released just in time to throw a wet blanket on anyone who might actually believe the Bible's account of the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. Paraded before us was the predictable mixed bag of scholars and pseudo-scholars, who, in the fashion typical of those who have rejected the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, offered their mush-minded opinions of what must have 'really' been the cause of Jesus' supposed 'framing.' Forgive my dripping disdain for such academic arrogance.

The irony of using the word 'discovery' with such meandering nonsense makes us wonder how any true conclusions can be drawn from any ancient documents. As if our conclusions could be somehow arrived at by some sort of scholarly free-for-all, group-think process. But such is the reality once we reject the Bible as an inspired and inerrant document, given to us as the very oracles of God. Mind you, I am not minimizing the importance of research and the healthy process of uncovering facts and information that elucidate the text of Scripture. But human reason, fallen and autonomous reason, unaided by the Holy Spirit, and confident of its own ability to discover truth, will always end up in this place of judging Scripture and not being judged by it. Jesus said, 'Without me, you can do nothing' (John 15:5b). These scholars would do well to heed those words.

The primary thrust of this two-hour spectacle of skepticism was an effort to zero in on who might have framed Jesus. The speculation that was offered up as potential history served as a kind of structure for the program…a 'top ten' list of possible villains, as it were:

  • Judas,
  • Pilate,
  • disgruntled religious leaders in Jerusalem,
  • Caiaphas as head of the priestly dynasty,
  • the Pharisees,
  • the Romans,
  • the Sadducees,
  • disgruntled disciples,
  • Herod Antipas,
  • and the coup de grace…Jesus Himself.

The Scripture, of course, clearly answers this question, even though our friends at Discovery Channel found it necessary to pick apart the uniformity of the biblical account with the 'assured doubts' of an esteemed team of skeptics. Some of the cast included: Bart D. Erhman, PhD. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Paula Fredriksen, PhD. Boston University; Obery M. Hendricks, PhD. New York Theological Seminary; James H. Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary (these first four scholars were all trained at Princeton University…so we are not surprised at the prejudiced approach they take to Scripture); Yisca Harani, a Tel Aviv-based historian of Christian pilgrimage; and a few others. Dr. Craig A. Evans was a notable and refreshing exception, and was a voice crying in the wilderness amongst this cast of skeptics. Such an unnecessary and ineffectual approach was properly mocked by conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg in a creative piece in National Review Online, posted on March 15, 2010. Under the framework of tweeting on Twitter, we read: 'I'm pretty much speechless. I was unaware the case was open. That said, good luck getting the Procurator of Judæa to prosecute. Guy's got a serious conflict of interest.'

Goldberg continues:

      Based on my knowledge of cable tv, I hypothesize the new suspects are:

  1. Freemasons
  2. Ghosts
  3. Bigfoot
  4. Midgets or dwarfs (TLC only)
  5. Nostradamus
  6. Hitler
  7. A bridezilla
  8. Flava Flav or Bret Michaels
  9. The Real Housewives of Galilee
  10. Some shirtless guy on Cops.1

I'm glad I'm not the only one who found much of this long-winded discussion quite pointless. However, the implications of such rampant skepticism contained in programs like this are actually quite important, as they are a part of an unending process of biblical criticism that harms the faith of those who are not well grounded. I personally received numerous questions from those who saw it - especially from those who are young in the faith - and they were confused by what they saw and heard.

The program asserted that the Bible was wrong in numerous ways, but I'd like to dissect two of those efforts here. First, it has become a favorite approach of liberals and skeptics to simply declare that someone, some place, or some thing did not exist, even though it is clearly spoken of in the Bible. In this academically reckless TV special there were numerous examples of this. In order to dismiss Judas as the betrayer (or framer, to use the program's term), it is postulated that not only was the account of the 30 pieces of silver used as bribe money fictitious, but that Judas himself was created by the gospel writers for their purpose. James Charlesworth of Princeton University asserted that the character Judas was so contrived that he may not have been real…instead he may have been used as a literary device. Later it is suggested that the accounts of Jesus' cleansing of the Temple either didn't occur at all, or else the gospel writers embellished the accounts. By placing the writing of all the gospels after the destruction of the Temple, certain scholars suggest that the moneychangers were made up by the gospel writers to symbolize the destruction of the Temple. When it comes to the trial of Jesus, Erhman says that when you place the gospel accounts together it is jumble of confusion2…and Charlesworth blatantly states that the trial never took place. Over and over again these scholars simply play fast and loose with the biblical text, guided only by their skeptical presuppositions and their personal opinions of what they think happened. Anchored to a foundation of sand, these academics ironically sound like the very jumble of confusion they accuse portions of the Bible to be.

A second way in which the skeptics in Who Framed Jesus? play with the text and meaning of Scripture is to play the role of what I like to call 'literary shrinks,' claiming to know what the psychological intentions of the writers were behind their actual words. The effect of such literary psychoanalysis makes the gospel writers appear as liars, controlled only by ambition, politics, and their own distorted and narrow view of Jesus and their culture, making the New Testament a concoction of propaganda and misinformation.

A couple of examples of this will suffice. The program's narrator was careful to point out that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had to make a conscious choice in their writings between support for the Jews or support for the Romans…indicating that one of their primary motives in writing was political. Such analysis only reveals the bias of the shrinks, and says nothing about the text of the New Testament. The one very clear pulse that comes through the text of the New Testament, and especially through the gospels, is that Jesus Christ came to die and rise again to transform the hearts of mankind and NOT to establish a political movement. It was not to be an earthly kingdom, but a kingdom of the heart. This reality courses through the pages of the New Testament, and one only needs to be reminded of Jesus' statement in Matthew 22:21, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'

Another example of this same sort of this sort of psychological analysis is seen in the way these various liberal scholars attempt to explain the gospel writers' view of Pontius Pilate. Instead of seeing how the Holy Spirit provides us with a tapestry of views or perspectives from the individual gospel writers, they instead read into the text all sorts of political and personal biases so that each writer progressively softens their views of Pilate…and so that John (as the last gospel writer) ends up making him a lackey with little or no culpability in the death of Jesus.

Such analyses are based on a belief that God did not inspire the writing of Scripture and that these scholars are capable of an unbiased process of reasoning that will bring us to a clearer understanding 'of what really happened.' That is a joke. The one very clear impression one gets from such distorted analytical processes is that we are left with absolutely no understanding of anything in the text, since any and every word, sentence, and idea is left to the whims and opinions of the 'experts' in the hallowed halls of liberal theological academia, some 1900 years after the fact.

Who framed Jesus? There indeed are many individuals and groups that conspired to have Jesus arrested, leading to His scourging and death. But the Scripture is CLEAR…Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and his act of betrayal became the greatest betrayal in all of history.

God declared that He has spoken in Scripture. You either come to the Bible believing that God inscripturated His word or He did not. If you believe autonomous Human Reason over the Divine Revelation of Scripture, you will be left confused and will never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth. By becoming the Bible's judges they become white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones, since they cloak themselves with Pharisaic authority in the name of science and reason.

May God grant us all repentance for our unbelieving hearts, and may we be brought to a healthy and proper submission to Jesus Christ and to the Word of God inspired.

Footnotes:

1. Jonah Goldberg: 'Who Framed Jesus?' National Review Online, posted March 15, 2010. http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YWFhNDMxOWQzYzkxNjUxN2ZlNjYyMmFlMjFkNzJmYTc=
(accessed May 14, 2010)

2. For a refutation of the so-called 'jumble of confusion,' see: Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007). And: Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing, 2006).

 

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ABRT 28 | 8/1/2019