Archive | July, 2011

Book Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s “Forged” – Part 2

Part 2: Statistics on Writing Styles

So, how does Ehrman attempt to prove forgery in the NT? He uses the traditional arguments that have been debated for centuries: differences in style, conceptual/theological differences, and historical discrepancies from known facts. Arguments on both sides have been made, and continue to be made, in the scholarly literature. There is a ready answer to arguments that the authors of the NT are not those claimed; see, for example, the NT introductions by Carson and Moo; Guthrie; and Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles.

Ehrman however ratchets up the discussion with statistical analysis. After discussing only a part of the data (word usage) that makes up an author’s style, Ehrman concludes: “In almost every study done [in the last ninety years], it is clear that the word usage of the Pastorals is different from that in Paul’s other letters” (98). The documentation at this point cites but one author, Armin Baum, who argues, contra Ehrman, that Paul wrote the Pastorals! Further, Ehrman fails to mention the most recent sophisticated computer-assisted researches by Anthony Kenny, A Stylometric Study of the New Testament (NY: Oxford University Press, 1986), and K. J. Neumann, The Authenticity of the Pauline Epistles in the Light of Stylostatistical Analysis (Atlanta: Scholars, 1990). Kenny’s research concludes that, according to computer analysis, only 1 and 2 Timothy of the Pastorals are Pauline, while Titus is not. Yet no scholar, as far as I know, makes this claim on other grounds: the Pastorals are virtually always seen as a unit, written by the same author, whether Paul or someone else (though sometimes 2 Timothy, not Titus, is viewed as written by a different author than 1 Timothy and Titus). And Neumann, in spite of expecting quite different results, notes somberly that “The hopes did not materialize that the greater labor connected with several syntactic-category indices might produce some very significant criteria. … there is more variability within authors than anticipated” (205). In one test, 2 Thessalonians and 1 Peter both lined up with Paul’s writing style perfectly; in another, Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 were considered Pauline! No wonder Neumann concludes, “Christian authors, especially Paul, are not distinguished by the indices chosen” (213). Surely, these are not the modern sophisticated statistical studies that Ehrman is thinking of, but neither does he mention any in support of his views.

Billy Graham and Charles Templeton: A Sad Tale of Two Evangelists

Charles-Templeton-Billy-Graham

As many of you know, Billy Graham and Charles Templeton were evangelists who rose to fame in the 40s (Graham, of course, is still an evangelist). Early in their careers they were friends – close friends. Many have said Templeton was the one that everyone thought was going to overturn the world with the Gospel. However, Templeton ended up leaving the Christian faith, eventually becoming an atheist.  In 1982, though still an atheist, he said of Billy Graham, “There is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust” (Anecdotal Memoir). Templeton died in 2001 at the age of 86, shortly after he wrote what I consider to be one of the most heart-breaking books ever published: Farewell to God.

Here is an excerpt from that book, about a pivotal conversation he had with Billy Graham as he was leaving the faith. The context is his desire to go to Princeton to study the Christian faith more critically. He wanted Graham to come with him. Please keep in mind, this is his account of the conversation:

“All our differences came to a head in a discussion which, better than anything I know, explains Billy Graham and his phenomenal success as an evangelist.

In the course of our conversation I said, ‘But, Billy, it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.’

‘I don’t accept that’ Billy said. ‘And there are reputable scholars who don’t.’

‘Who are these scholars?’ I said. ‘Men in conservative Christian colleges[?]’

‘Most of them, yes,’ he said. ‘But that is not the point. I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me. There are results. Wiser men than you or I have been arguing questions like this for centuries. I don’t have the time or the intellect to examine all sides of the theological dispute, so I’ve decided once for all to stop questioning and accept the Bible as God’s word.’

‘But Billy,’ I protested, ‘You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.'”

‘I don’t know about anybody else,’ he said, ‘but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.'”

(Farewell to God, 7-8)

For me, this represents one of the saddest encounters two people have ever had. It recounts a decisive breach in the friendship between two men as one left Christ, never to come back, and the other went on to, in my opinion, change the world. Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 4

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts

A Review of the New International Version 2011: Part 4 of 4

Conclusion

In sum, what can we say overall about the NIV 2011? First, it is a well-thought out translation, with checks and balances through rigorous testing, overlapping committees to ensure consistency and accuracy, and a publisher willing to commit significant resources to make this Bible appealing to the Christian reader. The commitment of the CBT, Biblica, the NIV translators, and Zondervan is truly stunning. A serious investment of money and manpower has produced this translation. And why? To encourage the believer in Jesus Christ to seek his face in the scriptures, and to grow in grace because of what he or she sees. The obvious dedication of all the principals to the Bible as God’s Word must not go unnoticed. This is a translation by believers for believers. And precisely because the translators represent various denominations and countries, as well as positions about the role of women in the church, the NIV 2011 has an incredibly strong foundation. The unity that is the NIV produced from such diversity speaks well for the health of the Church today. The translators model what believers are to be like. Continue Reading →

Book Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

Part 1 of 3

The James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at North Carolina Chapel Hill, Dr. Bart Ehrman, is the most recognized evangelical-turned-agnostic in the world today. He has written more than twenty books, though in recent years he has focused on popular writing more than academic. This is a strategy that will eventually backfire. His most recent iteration is yet another provocative trade-book hostile to the Christian faith. His most popular previous books have attacked the reliability of the New Testament (NT) manuscripts as witnesses to the original text (Misquoting Jesus), the historicity of the NT (Jesus, Interrupted), and the problem of theodicy—how there can be a good God with so much evil in the world (God’s Problem). Forged takes head-on the authorship of many of the books of the NT, arguing that the ancient church got it wrong on most of them.

The book has eight chapters that, at first glance, look like discrete units. This gives the impression, reinforced by the subtitle to the work, that Forged marshals hundreds of pages of evidence that the writings of the NT are forgeries. But there is extensive overlap between chapters 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8. Furthermore, most of Forged is about books other than the NT: forgeries in early Christianity written both by the orthodox and heretics, other Greco-Roman forgeries, even modern forgeries. To the undiscerning reader, Ehrman’s relentless revelations about ancient forgeries will seem like rock-solid arguments—by their sheer volume—for NT forgeries. But surprisingly there is comparatively little on the NT itself.

Ehrman’s argument that there are forgeries in the NT is threefold: First, the ancient church, as with the rest of the Greco-Roman world, always rejected pseudepigraphical writings (or forgeries) whenever they were detected as such. Second, sophisticated computer-generated statistical tools have demonstrated that Paul, for example, did not write the Pastoral letters—1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. (Actually, Ehrman provides other arguments, but this one caught my eye since his claims regarding statistics were more than I had heard before.) Third, there is no evidence that the secretaries (technically known as amanuenses) for any ancient letters—including the NT letters—had any role other than to copy down what the author dictated. They did not do any significant editing, nor were they coauthors or composers of these documents.

This threefold argument—if true—would have devastating ramifications for the Christian faith. If Ehrman is right, we would need to toss out several books of the NT: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, James, Jude, and 1–2 Peter. That’s ten letters assigned to the flames, since, according to Ehrman, the real authors of these letters deceived their readers into thinking that they were someone else. A brief examination of Ehrman’s arguments and evidence is therefore in order. Continue Reading →

Top Ten Theologians: An Introduction

Aim of this Series

This post kicks off a new series on the blog. The title is fairly self evident. My aim is to introduce people to the Top Ten Theologians of church history. Yes, I will rank them in order. I will start with #10 and work my way down to the #1 person I believe to be the greatest theologian. My aim is wrought with danger. I am foolish to attempt ranking the ten greatest theologians. I will leave out some people you think should be in the top ten. I will have some people lower in the list than you might think. I will proceed nonetheless because these people need to be known by the Bride of Christ.

What is a theologian?

A theologian is most simply someone who thinks about God. Is an atheist a theologian? Yes, an atheist has thoughts about God. Their thoughts lead them to the conclusion there is no God, but the Atheist is a theologian. Everyone is a theologian. Are there any Atheists on our Top Ten list? No. That leads me to the Criterion upon which led to the formulation of the Top Ten list.

Criterion

First, to make the Top Ten list you need to be a Christian theologian. I should have, technically, called this Top Ten Christian Theologians, but I simply opted for a shorter title. Have there been theologians beneficial to humanity who did not have Jesus as their Savior? Yes, but this list seeks a different purpose.

Second, to make it on the Top Ten list you must be a positive influence. Friedrich Schleiermacher was an incredibly influential “Christian” theologian, yet he had a negative influence on orthodox Christianity (what everyone has believed everywhere for all time). I would refer to Schleiermacher ultimately as a heretic. I know, harsh words, but my list of Top Ten Heretics and why each person should bear that title is for another series. Overall, each one of these Top Ten Theologians positively influenced the Church.

Third, each one of these theologians must have had a broad influence in how people understand God. Faithful pastors all over the world help their congregations, through God’s Word, better understand and live for God. The Top Ten Theologians influenced not only their immediate congregations but also positively influenced people all over the world for decades and centuries to come. A man like Charles Spurgeon was a wonderful pastor and biblical teacher but he will not be on the list. I love Spurgeon dearly but these ten men on the list influenced the church at a deeper and wider level than Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s ministry stood on the shoulders of many of the men in this series.

We’ll look at each of these Ten Theologians through a consistent grid:

Their World

First, in order to appreciate each of these Ten Theologians we must have a certain understanding of their world. Our understanding of their influence in their world will help us to be benefited for the sake of our world. Each post in the series will contain enough background information to hopefully allow us to appreciate the setting within which these people lived. Continue Reading →

A Review of the NIV 2011: Part 3 of 4

In my previous blogposts about the NIV 2011, I discussed selectively the history of the English Bible, and discussed the positive features of this version. Now, I wish to look at some of the weaknesses.

Weaknesses in the NIV 2011

There are some niggling issues that need to be mentioned. A few categories will be listed here.

First, along with virtually every other translation on the planet, Mark 16.9-20 and John 7.53–8.11 are found in the text, even though (almost) all the translators considered them to be inauthentic. But the NIV 2011 admirably puts them in a different font and has an in-text note to show that they are rather dubious. The reasons translations keep these verses in the text even when the translators themselves do not consider them authentic is due to a tradition of timidity. But with the publication of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus (2005), a popular book on the transmission of the New Testament text, the cat is out of the bag. Most biblical scholars—including evangelical scholars—have long recognized that these passages are most likely later additions. We do the living church no service by not fully admitting this fact in our translations. But because these two passages have a long history in printed Bibles and even in the manuscripts, they should not be eliminated altogether. Placing them in the footnotes would seem to be the best policy.

Second, the gender-inclusiveness of the NIV 2011 creates some problems of style and even meaning in a few places. This version has done a significantly better job in both Matt 18.15 and 1 Tim 3.2 than the NRSV, but it still stumbles over Rev 3.20 (“I will come in and eat with that person”), for example. An added note in the places where the modern English generic singular ‘they’ can be misleading, as well as a few similar instances, would more than adequately solve this problem, however. I would encourage the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to consider adding such moves in the next iteration. At bottom, I think the gender issue has been overblown by people who have reacted to what they thought the TNIV would say, long before it was published, and the same attitude has carried over to the NIV 2011—even though for both translations it is difficult to find passages where they are at fault. 

Table 2

NIV 1984 Compared to NIV 2011

 

1984

2011

Matthew 18.15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. If your brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
1 Timothy 3.2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

 

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
Revelation 3.20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

Continue Reading →

Praying Over and Over and Over and Over . . .

How do you pray for things? Is it possible to pray enough that the hand of God is twisted to the point of concession? Seriously, does that please him? Does he expect it? Does he require it?

Twisting the hand of God is probably a bad way to put it. But what does he expect? I am specifically talking about when we have a request. An important request. You know, one of those things that are “emergencies.” It can be a remedy for difficult present circumstances (cancer, wayward child, financial difficulties) or hope for some future blessing (saved souls during church service, prayer for safe travels, a successful outreach). Or, speaking of what Sam and I are talking about with regard to spiritual gifts, maybe it is praying for the gift of tongues or prophecy.

It often confuses me. I know we are to pray without ceasing, but that does not mean pray for the same thing without ceasing, does it?

I know about the pestering lady seeking justice from the judge (Luke 8:5). But this means just the opposite, doesn’t it? God is not like the judge. God answers quickly.

When people say they have prayed all day for something, does that mean they simply repeat the same prayer over and over? Doesn’t that get impersonal? Doesn’t it show more trust just to pray and be done with it?

I don’t know. I don’t even know if my question makes any sense. But I would enjoy your thoughts. And, from the time of this writing until tomorrow, I will pray for your edification. Well…sometime between now and then I will pray for it, and then leave it in his hands :)