Posts tagged ‘Bible’

Following Jesus Day By Day

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve watched the scenario play out again and again. A young Christian man is climbing the ladder of success. But then something snaps. The trappings of success begin to strangle his heart. And he decides to give it all up. His job. His house. His source of income. Traditional means of supporting his family. He gives it all up and announces, “I am going to stop trying to manage, control, and plan for everything my life and just follow Jesus one day at a time.”

Now, on the one hand, I respect and admire this deeply. This kind of decision brings into crystal clarity the trappings of an affluent life. The truth is, we don’t need the stuff we have. And when we treat it like we do need it, we break the First Commandment. We turn the stuff we have into an idol we trust.

In his book Radical, David Platt paints a picture of an Asian house church that haunts me:

Despite its size, sixty believers have crammed into it. They are all ages from precious little girls to seventy-year-old men. They are sitting either on the floor or on small stools, lined shoulder to should, huddled together their Bibles in their laps. The roof is low, and one light bulb dangles from the middle of the ceiling as the sole source of illumination.

No sound system.

No band.

No guitar.

No entertainment.

No cushioned chairs.

No heated or air-conditioned building.

Nothing but the people of God and the Word of God.

And strangely, that’s enough.

God’s Word is enough for millions of believers who gather in house churches just like this one. His Word is enough for millions of other believers who huddle in African jungles, South American rain forests, and Middle Easter cities.

But is His Word enough for us?[1]

I sure do hope His Word is enough for us. Because if it’s not, the Church has lost her foundation, her purpose, her uniqueness, and her hope. God’s Word must be enough.

I say all this so that you do not misunderstand what I am about to write.

I have no inherent problem with people who want to follow Jesus day by day with nothing but the shirts on their backs. I am concerned, however, that the impetus for following Jesus in this way is sometimes based on a misreading of what Jesus actually says. When it comes to trusting Jesus day by day, Jesus explains:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:25-32)

Jesus is clear. We need not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

There is a difference, however, between worrying about tomorrow and planning for tomorrow. One is discouraged. The other is encouraged. Jesus tells a story about ten virgins who bring oil lamps waiting for a groom to show up for a wedding party. But five of the ten did bring enough oil for their lamps. Do you know what Jesus calls those five? “Foolish” (Matthew 25:3). Why? Because they did not plan. The book of Proverbs includes admonitions to plan (Proverbs 21:5; 24:27; 27:23-27) and God Himself plans (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Jesus’ ministry is intricately planned as can be seen from His passion predictions (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Luke 9:18-22, 9:44, 18:31-33) and His training of the disciples for the mission of the Church (Matthew 4:19). Thus, not worrying about tomorrow does not preclude planning for tomorrow.

So, to my friends who have jettisoned plans to follow Jesus day by day, I say, “Blessed are you.” But remember that a time may come when planning, once again, becomes salutary. And if you’re worried that your plans may somehow be out of step with God’s will, you do not need to be afraid. After all, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

If your plans go awry, the Lord will get you back on track. He has promised to. You can plan on it.

_____________________________________

[1] David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream (Colorado Spring: Multnomah Books, 2010), 26.

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February 2, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Where’s Your Advantage?

Bible 1A few months ago, I reworked my retirement portfolio. Though I pray it will be a long time before I have to draw anything from it, there were some changes I wanted to make now because I know they will be to my advantage later. And I always like gaining an advantage.

As time goes by, I have been traveling on business more and more. One of the things I have been doing recently is joining a bunch of rewards programs because they offer so many advantages. I get airline miles for one trip from another trip. I get points for free nights whenever I stay enough nights at a hotel chain. I get occasional discounts and supreme customer service because I rent a lot of cars. These reward programs come with a lot of advantages. And I always like gaining an advantage.

The other night at the elders meeting at my church, I shared some words from the apostle Paul: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2).

If you were to ask a Jew in the first century what advantage he had, he would probably quickly respond by saying he was a son of Abraham (cf. John 8:33). He might also brag a bit about his devotion and virtue (cf. Romans 2:17-20). But when Paul speaks of a Jew’s advantage, he has something different in mind. “First of all,” Paul writes, “they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” What gives a Jew an advantage is not his pedigree as a son of Abraham or his piety as a squeaky-clean rule-follower, but God’s self-disclosure in His Word. What gives a Jew a spiritual advantage is, very simply, the Bible.

Of course, this advantage is not just for the Jew. It is for anyone and everyone who calls on the Lord. The Bible can give us an advantage in marriage as we look to God’s Word to enrich our relationships with our spouses. The Bible can give us an advantage in work as we understand our labor as God’s calling. Most importantly, the Bible can give us an advantage with God as it reveals to us God’s Son who died for our salvation. The Bible is our supreme advantage because it shows us Christ’s advantageous work on our behalf.

It is no secret that most people love to have an advantage, whether that advantage be on the field, or in the office, or in an investment portfolio. Some people will even go so far as to take advantage of someone else in order to gain an advantage for themselves. Paul’s question of us, however, is: Where’s your advantage? Paul says that our first advantage should always and only be God’s Word. Indeed, when Paul writes, “First of all, [you] have been entrusted with the very words of God,” we assume that, because Paul writes about the Bible as our first advantage, there will also be a second, and perhaps even a third, advantage. But Paul never names another advantage. After all, with an advantage like God’s Word, what other advantage could we possibly need – or want?

So please, take advantage of the advantage of God’s Word. After all, airline miles expire. Hotel points have blackout dates. Rental car companies tack on hidden fees. But God’s Word endures forever. And there’s just no better advantage than that.

October 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Pursuit of Perfection

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Somehow, I knew just by the title of the article that “Confessions of a Mormon housewife” was not going be particularly titillating reading. And sure enough, I was right. This Mormon housewife’s confession was that when she became sick, and when ladies from her ward came to visit her, she “started to become insecure with [her] appearance and the state of [her] home.”[1]  Jill Strassburg, the housewife in question, explains:

When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.

So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.

I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?

On the one hand, when I read Jill’s confession of worry over the cleanliness of her home, I think of Johann von Staupitz’s admonition to Martin Luther. Exasperated by Luther’s overwhelming guilty conscience and never-ending confessions, Staupitz eventually quips:

Look here, brother Martin. If you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such peccadillos![2]

Worry, although definitely a sin according to Jesus in Matthew 6:25, is also a societally safe sin. No one has ever been jailed or shunned for worry.

On the other hand, the nature of her sin aside, Jill’s question haunts me: “I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?”

This is a profound question. But Jill’s answer leaves me puzzled. She writes: “While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.” She goes on to talk about how Mormon women “followed traditional roles of womanhood” and how the church still promotes “traditional values.” But traditional gender roles and values are not the same thing as perfection. A person can be traditional without aspiring to or feeling pressured to be perfect.

I can’t help but think that the true culprit of the Mormon quest for perfection is theological. Indeed, foundational to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation is a striving for perfection. Consider this from the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be perfect in Christ.[3]

According to the Book of Mormon, God has grace for a person unto salvation, but only after he has denied all ungodliness and loved God with everything in him. In other words, God has grace for you, but only if you’re perfect – or at least pretty close to it.

How do you know when you’ve denied enough ungodliness and loved God to such an extent that God’s grace will be sufficient for you? Herein lies Mormonism’s existential crisis that results in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Mormons cannot know whether or not they will be good enough to merit God’s grace. They can only wish and hope.

Jill finally admits:

We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live.

Jill knows she can’t be perfect. But in her mind, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

Holy Scripture paints quite a different picture from the Book of Mormon of what it means to pursue perfection: “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul says perfection is not something to be pursued, but a promise that will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day. Indeed, more than that, perfection is a person who will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day when Jesus comes for us on the Last Day. This is why, finally, I’m not really interested in attaining some depersonalized virtue of perfection. I’m much more interested in Jesus. In my mind, being forgiven by a perfect Savior is much better – and a lot less stressful – than trying to be a perfect person.

I pray Jill comes to the same realization.

_________________________________

[1] Jill Strasburg, “Confessions of a Mormon housewife,” CNN (10.2.2014).

[2] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 83.

[3] Moroni 10:32.

October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Read The Bible Literally (But I Do Take It Seriously)

Bible in PewIt never ceases to amaze me how misunderstood the orthodox Christian belief concerning Holy Scripture is.  Even The New York Times can’t seem to figure it out.  Take Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist for the Times, who stands stunned at the views of many Americans on the Bible.  With a mixture of disbelief and disdain, he reports:

One Gallup report issued last week found that 42 percent of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.”

Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.

It’s not clear what the respondents meant by being “very familiar” – did they fully understand the science upon which evolution’s based, or was their understanding something short of that, as in, very familiar with it as being antithetical to creationist concepts?

Whatever the case, on this issue as well as many others in America, the truth is not the light.[1]

Blow goes on to cite people’s opinions on the Bible itself according to this same Gallup pole:

Nearly a third of Americans continue to believe that the Bible “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.”

Furthermore, nearly half believe that it is “the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

About a fifth of Americans said they believe the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.”

The questions Gallup asks concerning the nature and character of the Bible frustrate me.  Gallup wants to know, “Do you believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word?”  Personally, I would have to answer “yes” and “no.”  Do I believe the Bible is “the actual word of God”?  Yes.  Do I believe it is to be “taken literally, word for word”?  No.  But this is not because I want to discredit the Bible’s veracity, authority, or inerrancy.  Rather, this is because I follow the Bible’s lead when it interprets itself non-literally in some places.  The Bible is full of metaphors, symbols, and other figures of speech as even an elementary reading of it will uncover. One need look no farther than “The LORD is my shepherd” (Psalm 23) to find a metaphor – and a beautiful metaphor, I would add – of Scripture.  Thus, I would find myself more at ease with Gallup’s second position:  “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.”

Blow, however, summarily dismisses this second position:

I am curious which parts would get a pass from most of these respondents and which wouldn’t. Would the origins of the world fall into the literal camp? What about the rules – all or some – in books like Deuteronomy?

Perhaps Blow has not yet discovered the difference between reading something literally and reading something contextually.  Just because I don’t practice, for instance, the sacrifices outlined in Deuteronomy doesn’t mean I don’t understand them literally.  It just means that I read them in light of Hebrews 10:10:  “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  Christ’s sacrifice for sin put an end to all those Old Testament sacrifices for sin.  For me to try to follow those laws would be like me taking a ticket for an Elvis concert, going to the venue listed thereon, and expecting a concert usher to let me in!  Though I may read the ticket “literally,” that ticket’s time is past.  So it is with the Old Testament sacrificial system.  Its time too is past because it has been fulfilled by Christ.  But that isn’t me reading the Bible non-literally.  That’s just me reading the Bible contextually.

I suspect part of the reason Blow disparages option two when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible is because, for him, only option three, which says the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man,” is viable.  He writes:

I don’t seek to deny anyone the right to believe as he or she chooses. I have at points in my own life been quite religious, and my own children have complicated views about religion. As my oldest son once told me, “I’d hate to live in a world where a God couldn’t exist.”

That is his choice, as it is every individual’s choice, and I respect it.

What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist.

Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some – like dinosaurs – became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.

Ah yes, facts.  Facts like the Bohr model of the atom or the rallying cry of biogenetics: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  Oh, wait.  Those “facts” turned out to be not quite as factual as we once thought.  Contrary to Blow, I’m not so sure that a great uprising of people who want facts to not exist is the problem.  The problem is there are people who disagree with him on what the fullness of the facts are and how the data that form the facts should be interpreted.  Now, I’m not saying these other people are correct on the facts.  I’m just saying these other people with other thoughts on what the facts are that contradict Blow’s thoughts on what the facts are not necessarily rejecting facts themselves.

Blow says he is “both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism.”  I don’t think he even understands what “religious literalism” is.  Nor do I think he understands that many serious people of faith understand and trust the Bible theologically, morally, and historically without always reading it literally.  No wonder he’s so shocked and fascinated.  He simply doesn’t understand.  Then again, I’m not so sure he wants to.

__________________________

[1] Charles Blow, “Religious Constriction,” The New York Times (6.8.2014).

June 16, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

1500-Year-Old Bible Discovered! Christianity Debunked! Not Exactly.

Turkish BibleHere we go again.

I’ve been seeing it all over Facebook.  The headline reads, “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe.”  It seems startling.  The only problem is, it’s not true.  And, it’s nothing new.  These kinds of articles that seek to undermine the veracity of the Bible have been being published for years now.  Indeed, the discovery of this 1,500-year-old Bible is news that’s now better than two years old.  But it’s just now hitting Facebook.  And because many people are being confused by it, it’s worth a look.

The article opens:

Much to the dismay of the Vatican, an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible was found in Turkey, in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara.  Discovered and kept secret in the year 2000, the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas – a disciple of Christ – which shows that Jesus was not crucified, nor was He the Son of God, but a prophet.  The book also calls apostle Paul “The Impostor.”  The book also claims that Jesus ascended to heaven alive, and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.[1]

Let’s separate some fact from fiction here.

“Much to the dismay of the Vatican…”  The Vatican did, according to The Christian Post, make an “official request”[2] to see and study the Bible, but it was not out of dismay.  Like any theological artifact, it piqued their curiosity.  Many people desired to study this book.

“…an approximately 1,500 to 2,000 year old Bible…”  Maybe.  But probably not.  There are reasons to believe this book is a forgery, probably written around AD 1500, which is, coincidentally enough, about a century after many scholars believe the Gospel of Barnabas itself was written.[3]  Timothy Michael Law, a Junior Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, has a nice blog on the antiquity of this Bible here.

“…the book contains the Gospel of Barnabas…”  Again, maybe.  But possibly not.  We actually don’t know what the book contains because it has not been widely studied.  The Christian Post quotes theology professor Ömer Faruk Harman who notes that people may be “disappointed to see that this copy … might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas.”

“…which shows that Jesus was not crucified … and that Judas Iscariot was crucified in His place.”  The Gospel of Barnabas does indeed purport that Judas Iscariot was crucified in Jesus’ place.  But this is because this Gospel was written as an apologetic for Islam.  Indeed, it prophesies the arrival of Muhammad, but, if the 15th century dating of this Gospel is correct, it does so about 800 years after Muhammad!  In other words, its prophecies are really no prophecies at all, but polemical forgeries.

The line from this Facebook article that made me sigh the loudest is this one:

It is believed that, during the Council of Nicaea, the Catholic Church hand-picked the Gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ever since Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code, this has been a canard that just won’t die.  At no time during the Council of Nicaea did the Catholic Church hand-pick any Gospels.  The four Gospels we have today were already widely accepted by the Church by the time of this council.  If you want to read the canons issued by the Council of Nicaea for yourself, you can check them out here.  None say anything about the Gospels.  Indeed, none say anything about the canon of Scripture at all.

Ultimately, even if this Turkish Bible is indeed 1,500 years old and even if it does contain the Gospel of Barnabas, the Council of Nicaea was held in AD 325, which is still before the time of this Bible.  Thus, part of the reason the Council of Nicaea never considered the Gospel of Barnabas during its meetings is because there was not yet a Gospel of Barnabas to consider!

It was David Hannum, criticizing P.T. Barnum, who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Don’t be suckered by this Facebook article.  The Bible as we have it still stands.  And on it, your faith can still stand.

___________________________

[1] “1,500 Year Old Bible Confirms That Jesus Christ Was Not Crucified – Vatican In Awe,” Moorish Harem:  Man’s Greatest Accomplishments (4.28.2014).

[2] Clara Morris, “Turkey’s 1500-Year-Old, $28M Bible Linked to Gospel of Barnabas?The Christian Post (2.23.2012).

[3] See Jan Joosten, “The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron,” Harvard Theological Review 95, no. 1 (2002).

May 12, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

You’re not smart enough or good enough, even if people like you

Stuart Smalley 1It was Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live, who said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!” As it turns out, many took Smalley’s credo to heart. And the results have been sadly predictable.

Case in point: the American Bible Society, in conjunction with the Barna Group, recently published its “State of the Bible” report for 2014. The report opens with plenty of punch:

Now there are just as many Americans skeptical of the Bible as there are engaged with the Bible. According to the fourth annual State of the Bible survey, 19 percent said that they were skeptical of the Bible. This number is up from 10 percent in 2011.

This trend is even more pronounced among the Millennial generation (who range in age from 18-29). According to the State of the Bible report, Millennials are

–   Less likely to view the Bible as sacred literature (64 percent in comparison to 79 percent of adults),
–   Less likely to believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life (35 percent in comparison to 50 percent of adults), and
–   More likely to never read the Bible (39 percent compared in comparison to 26 percent of adults).[1]

It turns out that America’s latest generation is more suspicious of the Bible than any that has come before it.

Now, on the one hand, such suspicion requires solid biblical apologists – people who can argue for Scripture’s veracity, historicity, consistency, and even morality to a society that is increasingly questioning Scripture on all these fronts. Indeed, one factoid that came out of this report is that while 50 percent of all adults believe the Bible has too little influence on society, only 30 percent of Millennials believe this. This is, in part, because many Millennials no longer accept the basic premise that the Bible teaches right from wrong. Instead, many Millennials now believe the Bible promotes wrong rather than right – for instance, on topics like sexual ethics. Thus, they see the Bible as having a negative, rather than a positive, influence on society – one they would be happy to see continue to wane.

But there is more to this report than just what Millennials believe about the Bible. The statistic I found most telling from this report is this one: 19 percent of Millennials believe no literature is sacred compared to 13 percent of all adults who believe no literature is sacred. In other words, it’s not just that Millennials have a problem with the Bible in particular, it’s that they struggle with any literature that claims to be sacred in general.

It is here that we arrive at the core of this new generation’s struggle. For to claim a particular piece of literature is sacred is, at the same time, to say something about its authority. After all, something with a sacred, or divine, origin is, by definition, “above” me and can therefore make certain claims on me and demands from me. But this is something this current generation simply cannot endure. For to believe a book like the Bible has divine authority is to concede that if I disagree with the Bible, the Bible gets the right of way. But when I’ve been told, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me,” I cannot stand to have my goodness or moral intelligence questioned by some backward work from ancient antiquity. My modern, enlightened sensibilities cannot be wrong. I must be right.  The only sacred literature left, then, is the moral script I’ve written for myself and carry around in myself – hence, the reason so many Millennials see not only the Bible as unsacred, but any religion’s holy book as unsacred.

So with all of this in mind, perhaps it’s worth it to do a little reflection on our assumption concerning the sapience and sacredness of our moral sensibilities. We have been told we are smart enough. But are we, really? Have we never made a wrong call, a tragic error, or a bumbling fumble? We have been told we are good enough. But are we, really? Have we never broken our own moral boundaries or changed them over time because of a shifting perspective, or, more cynically, because of coldly calculated expedience? A little bit of honest introspection is enough to remind us that what Stuart Smalley taught us is profoundly untrue. Indeed, it is downright silly. And it is supposed to be. That’s why it aired on Saturday Night Live.

So let’s stop looking to ourselves for truth and morality and start looking to something higher. Let’s take an honest look at the Bible. Who knows? We may find it’s smarter and better than even we are. And, doggone it, we might even learn to like that.

____________________________

[1] “State of the Bible 2014,” American Bible Society.

April 28, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

A Camel Controversy

Camels 1And you thought it was it only impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

As it turns out, threading camels isn’t the only thing that’s impossible according to some archaeologists.  Domesticating them before the tenth century B.C. also turns out to be quite the trick.  Writing for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford provocatively declares, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”[1]  Wilford explains:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

How does Wilford know that camels had no role in the era of the biblical patriarchs?  He cites a study, recently published by two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, which employed radiocarbon dating to test some camel bones found in the Aravah Valley.  This study found the bones to be from the last third of the tenth century B.C., which, Wilford notes, is “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”  So there you have it.  Thanks to some late breaking bones, Genesis is discredited – at least the parts that talk about camels.

Now, before we fall prey to camel chaos, a few things should be noted.  First, the Tel Aviv archaeologists, by declaring that camels could not have been used in the way Genesis 24 describes them, are making an argument from silence.  Their assumption runs like this:  because we do not have domesticated camel fossils dating before first millennium B.C., there must have been no domesticated camels before the first millennium B.C.  The Bible must be wrong.  But a lack of evidence does not necessitate a lack of existence.  One need to only think back to 1961.  This was the year the “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima.  It had an inscription dedicated to the emperor of Rome at the time, Tiberius Caesar:  “To the Divine Augustus Tiberieum:  Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea has dedicated this.”  Before this stone was discovered, because there was no hard archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate, many assumed that Pilate was a fictional character, made up out of the sacred authors’ over-active imaginations.  Whoops.  So much for that argument from silence.

It should also be noted that the archaeologists who discovered these bones do not even have complete silence in favor of their argument against camels during the time of the biblical patriarchs.  They only have archaeological silence.  There are extra-biblical references to domesticated camels prior to the first millennium B.C.  Titus Kennedy, adjunct professor at Biola University, notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating anywhere from 1950 to 1600 B.C.  In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy explains:

For those who adhere to a twelfth century B.C. or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away …

[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 B.C. … So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia the same thing.[2]

Kennedy concludes that there were not only domesticated camels at the time of the biblical patriarchs, but before the time of the biblical patriarchs.  Thus, the biblical record is quite believable.  There is no reason that Abraham could not have acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16), just as Genesis says.

Ultimately, the difficulties with the premature conclusions drawn from this discovery reach much deeper than simply whether camels were around in the second millennium B.C.  These difficulties are summed up in Wilford’s conclusion:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

In other words, the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts straight – at least not all of them.  When reading the Bible, then, skepticism must be given preference over faith.

Finally, if I assume camels could not have been in Genesis based on an argument from paleontological silence, it is only reasonable for me to assume that a Savior cannot rise from death based on medical science.  After all, doctors have long known that dead people tend to stay that way.  Thus, Jesus’ resurrection must have never happened.   But if this is true, then my “faith is futile; I am still in my sins … [and] I am to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).  Wow, that’s a downer.

Let’s hope the archaeologists are wrong on this one.  After all, I don’t really like to be pitied.


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times (2.10.2014).

[2] Gordon Govier, “The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy:  Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels?Christianity Today (February 2014).

February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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