Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time we discussed a few different views of the creation days in Genesis 1.

Dr. Spencer: before we move on to the next topic, I would like to ask a couple of final questions having to do with the Bible’s account of creation: first, what do you think of the view commonly called theistic evolution?

Dr. Spencer: Well, to be completely honest, I don’t think much of it. First, as I understand it, it assumes evolution to be basically true and simply says that God guided it in some way, or that he created the natural world in such a way that natural processes had the power necessary to produce life. But, I don’t think it is at all possible that natural processes can explain the origin of life, as we discussed at some length in Session 1. Living beings are simply not produced from non-living chemicals without the introduction of a vast amount of information, which requires intelligence. I also don’t think the evidence is there to support evolution as a plausible explanation for the diversity of life, although, as I said in Session 1, I do think that biological organisms are able to adapt, which is often called micro evolution.

Marc Roby: But you do believe that God used natural processes, starting with the Big Bang, to produce our sun and our planet, so why couldn’t natural processes also have produced living creatures?

Dr. Spencer: For two reasons. First, because, as I just said and argued at length in Session 1, life is different! It is not just quantitatively more complex than inanimate objects, even objects as complex as entire solar systems. No, it is qualitatively different, in other words, there is a radical, fundamental difference between nonliving and living things. Life is not simply the result of having the necessary chemicals around and then allowing the physical laws of the universe to operate on those materials for some length of time.

You will notice in Genesis 1 that most of the history of the universe, at least if the Big Bang theory is at all correct, is covered in the first verse; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[1]Then the account tells us, in verse 2, that “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” I think John Lennox, in his book Seven Days that Divide the World, was right when he wrote about this verse that, “reference to the Spirit of God hovering near earth could be understood as a dramatic indication that God’s special action is now going to begin. The aeons of waiting are over. The Creator is about to shape his world, to create life and fill the earth with it in preparation for God’s crowning final act, the making of man and woman in his image.”[2]

Marc Roby: I will certainly grant that there is a significant difference between the inanimate creation and life. But, you said you had two reasons why the creation of life is so different, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second reason has to do not just with life in general, but specifically with man. Theistic evolution has at least one very serious theological problem when it comes to man. The Bible is clear that Adam and Eve were special creations of God, they were not the result of a long process of evolution. It isn’t acceptable, theologically, to say that at some point God gave a spirit to some hominid that had evolved from lower animals. Such a view would require that the creation account for Eve would have to be taken as pure fiction, but the apostle Paul, for example, does not treat it as fiction in his argument in 1 Timothy 2:13. I think John Lennox does a good job of discussing theistic evolution in an appendix to the book I mentioned a moment ago.

Marc Roby: Alright, I have one more question before we leave the creation narratives of Genesis. What about the different order of presentation for the creation events in Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis? Some people claim that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 present, essentially, two different and incompatible accounts. What do you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: My answer to that is taken directly from the very fine Hebrew scholar E. J. Young and his book Thy Word is Truth.[3] He points out that the phrase in Genesis 2:4, which in the ESV begins “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth”, is a critical phrase. It occurs eleven times in the book of Genesis and always as a heading. Young proposes that it could be translated “These are the things generated …” and he says that “in these words, there is a clue to the fact that Genesis 2, instead of being a second account of creation, deals rather with the creation of man.” If you read that chapter with this thought in mind, it makes perfectly good sense.

Marc Roby: Can you flesh that thought out a bit for us?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. Genesis 2 is not giving a chronological listing of events, it is focused entirely on man as the creature God made to tend the garden, and it presents us with a picture of a benevolent God who gave man everything he could want or need. We are told in verse 9 that there were “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food”, so man’s physical needs and aesthetic desires were satisfied. We are also told there was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, there was gold, there were precious stones, and there were rivers, man was giving everything he needed or could possibly want. Then, of course, we also read that man was given the job of naming the animals and, in the process, discovered that there was no suitable helper for him, so God created Eve. Now, when you look at the account this way, you see clearly that there is no conflict at all with the first chapter, there is a very different focus and purpose.

Marc Roby: Alright. You have provided very reasonable arguments regarding the Genesis account of creation. What about the rest of Genesis? Do we have external evidence to corroborate what the Bible tells us about the early history of man?

Dr. Spencer: There is a tremendous amount of evidence, but certainly not all of it is archaeological evidence. For one thing, the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve, as I mentioned in Session 8, must be considered factual by a true Christian. It is treated as factual in the Bible itself and is a very important part of Paul’s arguments in the book of Romans. And I think we can clearly see evidence of the fall in the present-day world and in world history. All are sinners. And I don’t mean to be at all trite in saying that, I mean it as a profound and depressing truth. And the history of the world, or the daily newspaper, give us ample evidence for the fact, as do our own hearts if we are at all honest. But, we must be careful to define sin biblically, as the answer to Question 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Sin is not the same thing as crime. Societies define what actions are crimes, but God is the only one with authority to define sin.

If the evolutionary view of man were true, we would be seen to be getting better all the time, but world history simply does not show that to be the case.

Marc Roby: I can completely agree with that assessment. Is there any other external corroboration for the biblical narrative between the time of creation and Abraham?

Dr. Spencer: I think so. Let me go back to the headings that E.J. Young notes, which begin with “These are the generations …” as we saw in Chapter 2 verse 4.

After discussing the creation of Adam and Eve and the fall, the Bible goes on to tell about Cain slaying his brother Abel, which is the first example of the terrible consequences of the fall. Then, in Genesis 5:1 we see the next of these headings, which in the 1984 NIV Bible we are using begins “This is the written account of Adam’s line”. That is followed by a listing of some of Adam’s descendants and a description of the increase in human sin, which culminated in the famous declaration in Genesis 6:5, that “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” This led to God’s deciding to wipe out almost all of mankind with a flood. And that account begins in Genesis 6:9 with the third of our headings, “This is the account of Noah”.

Marc Roby: And is there external evidence to support the flood narrative?

Dr. Spencer: There absolutely is. There was clearly a massive flood in the ancient world that we call the Near East. I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether that flood was truly global or local, I don’t consider that to be an extremely important point; it is much like the age of the earth, it can be a severe distraction and divide Christians unnecessarily. But, it is relatively clear that there was such a flood if for no other reason than it is a common theme in several ancient accounts, not just the Bible.

For example, in Kenneth Kitchen’s excellent book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,[4] he cites three Mesopotamian “Primeval Protohistories”, as he calls them, from the early 2nd millennium before Christ; the Sumerian King List, the Atrahasis Epic, and the Eridu Genesis. Now I know a lot of people are familiar with the Epic of Gilgamesh, so before we go on I’ll point out that it is not included in that list because it appears to have taken its flood account directly from the Atrahasis Epic.

Marc Roby: I assume that all three of these extra-biblical sources have a story of a massive flood?

Dr. Spencer: Yes they do. And all three accounts share certain key features with the biblical account. In all three accounts the flood is sent as divine punishment, one man is told to build an ark and then he and some group of people, in the biblical accounts his family, and a number of animals survive. But, the differences in these accounts are, as Kitchens explains, “so numerous as to preclude either the Mesopotamian or Genesis accounts having been copied directly from the other.”

I’ll let our listeners consult his book for details, but I think there are three points of particular interest to take note of: First, that the Sumerians and Babylonians treated their accounts as historical; for example, they had historical lists of kings before and after the flood.  Second, floods in that part of the world were quite common, so this was obviously not just another flood, it was something quite extraordinary, one could say of biblical proportions I guess. And, third, even though these other accounts include their gods and other mythological features, that does not in any way mean that they aren’t based on a true historical event, nor does it imply that the Bible’s supernatural explanations for the event are wrong.

Marc Roby: Is there anything else of importance that we should know about the Mesopotamian  flood accounts?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. I think they are illustrative of the fact that the Bible is clearly distinct from all types of mythology. In the Mesopotamian versions the gods are angry with man for being too noisy, which is rather silly. Whereas, in the Bible, God’s anger is because of the wickedness of man.

Secondly, in the Mesopotamian versions most of the gods hide what they are going to do from man, but one man was secretly told by a friendly god, about what was happening. And the other gods were then angry that some people survived the flood as a result of this warning. This is the kind of petty fighting between gods that is common in mythology; the intent of all but one of them was, evidently, to wipe mankind out, but they didn’t succeed.

Whereas, the true and living God who has revealed himself in the Bible had a clear purpose in bringing the flood. He then communicated clearly to Noah what that purpose was and what Noah was to do. And no one can thwart God’s plans; he accomplishes what he desires.

Thirdly, the Mesopotamian versions describe a ship that is completely unrealistic and unseaworthy; it is shaped like a giant cube! Hardly a believable account. Whereas, in the biblical account, the ship has perfectly believable and functional proportions.

Marc Roby: Those are pretty significant differences. Of course, you and I both grew up being taught that religion started out as primitive man coming up with explanations for the lightning and thunder and so on – things that scared him, and then – or so that story goes – religion evolved with man and became more and more sophisticated. Eventually culminating in the development of monotheism.

Dr. Spencer: That is the picture we were given, and not just us. I think that is still the picture many people have in their heads. There may be some truth to the fact that myths were made up by men to deal with things that scared them, and I’ve always personally thought that the Greek and Nordic mythologies, along with Native American mythologies and so on must have developed as a combination of these kinds of explanations and just plain old-fashioned story telling. But, Christianity is in no way the end result of some kind of evolutionary development of religion beginning with myths.

First of all, the Bible and mythology stand side-by-side historically. Greek mythology is thought to have developed from stories beginning sometime around 2000 BC, which is right about the time of Abraham and probably well before the time of development of Nordic or Native American myths. Secondly, God is never presented in the Bible as merely an explanation for natural phenomena like lightning. Rather, he is presented as the Sovereign Creator of everything and the Genesis account is, in many ways, a polemic against the mythologies that were around at that time.

I think that the theologian and mathematician Vern Poythress put it well in his book Redeeming Science.[5] He discusses some of the ancient Near Eastern creation stories and compares them with Genesis and writes that “In contrast to the crass, immoral, quarreling gods of polytheism stands the majestic, ordered, unopposed work of the one true God. Instead of creating man to serve the needs of complaining gods, God creates man out of his sheer bounty, blessing him and caring for him. Disorder and suffering come from the human fall and apostasy, not from the disorder of gods in conflict.”

Marc Roby: That does summarize the difference quite well. But, returning to extra-biblical evidence to corroborate the early chapters of Genesis, what else do we have?

Dr. Spencer: Well, the next one of our major headings occurs in Genesis 10:1, right after the account of the flood. It reads, “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons”. This section of Scripture is sometimes called the Table of Nations.

Marc Roby: Do we have external evidence for these descendants?

Dr. Spencer: We do have external evidence that the names are legitimate names from that period and location, which in itself is very strong evidence that the document was written at that time. As we’ve noted before, someone writing a few hundred, or more than a thousand years later, as the biblical minimalists would claim, would simply not have been able to get these names right. I’ll let the interested listeners look in Kitchen’s book for the details.[6]

Marc Roby: This is all fascinating evidence for something so ancient. I look forward to getting into more of it next time, but we are out of time for today.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011, pg. 172

[3] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957, reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 121

[4] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, see Chapter 9

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006, pg 72

[6] Kitchen op. cit. pp 430-438

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing to look at external evidence that corroborates the Bible. Last time, Dr. Spencer, you argued that the Genesis account of creation is not intended to be a scientific description of how the universe was created and also that it was not intended to tell us when the universe was created. You then briefly outlined what is important for a Christian to believe about the Genesis account of creation. So, I think we are now ready to discuss how the Genesis account of creation can possibly be consistent with our modern scientific understanding. How would you like to proceed?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to proceed by giving a sampling of different ideas that have been proposed for how to reconcile the apparent differences between what we know from Genesis and our current scientific understanding. It would take far too long to go into any of the proposals in great detail, and I don’t think it would be profitable for most of our listeners, but I will give some references for those who want to look into this topic in more detail.

What I hope to accomplish is simply to demonstrate that there are a number of possible ways in which our modern scientific understanding might be in complete harmony with the truth presented in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. So, if you are a believer, you should not in any way fear science, nor should you think that science is entirely wrong. And if you are an unbeliever, I hope to make you realize that you don’t have to abandon science or reason to believe the Bible, nor do you have to believe that Genesis is just a myth. The rest of the Bible treats Genesis as factual, and so should we.

Marc Roby: Fair enough. The controversy really centers on how we interpret the six days of creation; so, what about the days in Genesis 1? What do you think about them?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of different views about those days and I’m not certain which one is correct. I do, however, favor the idea that they are normal days, not long epochs or mere literary devices, but, I must emphasize that I would not be dogmatic on that point.

Also, even if they are indeed real days, that still does not by any means settle the question about how long the process of creation described in Genesis 1 took. I would like to briefly examine three possible ways to understand these days.

First, it has been suggested that these days could be normal 24-hour days that are markers at the end of long periods of time, so they are six normal days, but they are not consecutive. This suggestion can be found, for example, in the book Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth, by Robert Newman and Herman Eckelmann, Jr.[1], although there are others who hold the same view. The book is a bit old, but it still provides a reasonable summary of the scientific evidence pointing to the age of the Earth and then also a reasonable possible exegesis of Genesis 1.

If you read the Genesis account carefully, even in the English, you will note that it does not say that all of the creative activity took place on the day mentioned; rather, it lists the activities for a given period of time and then concludes by saying, “and there was evening, and there was morning, the first [2nd, or whatever] day”. [2] So, it is certainly possible that there were extended periods of creative activity separated by special days called out by God as markers.

Marc Roby: OK, you mentioned three views that you wanted to examine; what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second view I want to mention has to do with the point of view of the one writing the Genesis account. If you are going to try and read Genesis 1 in what I would describe as a woodenly literal way, then you have a problem to deal with. The sun and moon are not mentioned until the fourth day, and many take this to mean that that is when they were created. But, of course, we define a day by the rotation of the earth and the concomitant appearance of the sunrise and sunset, so how do you know the length of the so-called days that occurred prior to the fourth day?

Newman, and others, have proposed that the description of creation in Genesis 1 is from the perspective of an observer on the surface of earth, and have pointed out that the sun and moon would not have been visible to this observer at first because the atmosphere was originally opaque. The appearance of plants on earth however, which consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, helped to change the earth’s atmosphere so that it was no longer opaque. Therefore, after plants had been around a while, the sun, moon and stars would become visible to this earth-bound observer. And remember that plants are created on the third day, so the sequence is correct in saying that the sun, moon and stars would then become visible on the fourth day. If you don’t adopt something like Newman’s view, you have a problem determining the length of the first three days.

Marc Roby: Alright, what is the third view you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: The third view I want to mention again has to do with the location of the observer through whose eyes, if you will, the creation account is described, and I must warn you and our listeners that this view is a bit difficult, but I will keep the description as brief as I can and then will also summarize the main point at the end to try and make it clear.

Marc Roby: Thanks for the warning – we all know to listen a bit more carefully for a while. So, what is this difficult view?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we tend to think of time as immutable, but this is not at all the case. One of the most shocking developments of 20th-century science was Einstein’s theory of relativity, which clearly shows that under some conditions the passage of time is different for different observers. And I don’t mean that their subjective experience of time is different, their perception of time is actually the same. I literally mean that time is different for different observers under some conditions. This sounds very much like science fiction to most people, but it absolutely is not fiction. The theory of relativity has been experimentally verified time and time again and has been proven to be correct.

Now, there are really two theories of relativity, one dealing with observers moving at a constant velocity relative to each other, this is the special theory of relativity, and the other dealing with observers who are accelerating, or, equivalently, are in a gravitational field, this is called the general theory of relativity. In any event, the special theory shows us that if you are sitting stationary on the earth and I am moving past you at some constant velocity, you will observe my clock to be running slow compared to your clock. And this has been confirmed experimentally many times. The difference is extremely small at normal speeds, but at speeds approaching the speed of light, the difference can become quite large. The general theory of relativity says that clocks also run slower when they are accelerating, or equivalently, when they are in a gravitational field.

Marc Roby: Alright, that is very troubling. Does this mean that the movie Back to the Future might describe something that is actually possible?

Dr. Spencer: Not at all. Time travel, in the sense that science fiction presents it, is not possible. What is possible, is for two different people to age at different rates.

Marc Roby: I’m glad I don’t need to worry about anyone going back and changing the past. But, can you give us any common examples where these theories make a difference?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, let me give you one concrete example with which everyone is familiar and where relativity matters a great deal. That example is the GPS system most of use for navigation. The operation of that system depends critically on being able to accurately measure time. But, the GPS satellites are in orbit around the earth and so are moving very rapidly relative to us on the ground, which causes their clocks to run slower than ours in accordance with special relativity. In addition, the satellites are in a smaller gravitational field than we are here on the surface of the earth, which means that we observe their clocks running faster than ours in accordance with general relativity. It turns out that the gravitational effect is the larger of the two, so overall, we observe the clocks in the satellites running faster than ours do, but both effects must be taken into account, or the GPS system will not work properly. And the error that would occur if we didn’t take these effects into account is not small, one estimate I found[3] said that the errors would accumulate at the rate of 10 km per day if relativity were ignored!

Marc Roby: Wow, that is a huge error. But, I think it’s time to slow down a bit now because a lot of people might be confused at this point. How is this relevant to our understanding of Genesis 1?

Dr. Spencer: Alright, this is the most important point certainly. It’s relevant because of the fact that time progresses at different rates for different observers. And, when you are talking about extremely large gravitational fields and high velocities, as would have been present everywhere in the early universe, the difference can be massive. So, where you place the observer in Genesis One can make a huge difference in the length of what is called a day. My basic point here is simply that time is not the absolute, immutable thing we think it is. So, when it comes to saying how long it took to create the universe, you have to know where the observer is. This particular view is explored in an interesting book by Gerald Schroeder called Genesis and the Big Bang Theory.[4]

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what you said last time about God not experiencing time the same way we do.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true, although there are actually two different points, both of which may come into play. One is that God is a completely different kind of being than we are; as we noted last time he experiences all moments in time – what we call the past, present and future – with equal immediacy. The second point, is that even creatures like us will have time pass at different rates if they in different gravitational fields or moving very rapidly relative to each other. And, while I think this view is extremely speculative, it does give us an example of how we need to be humble. A hundred and twenty years ago, no one on earth would have had any basis for proposing such an idea, but now this idea has a solid scientific basis.

Marc Roby: Well, that view certainly stretches the mind a bit. Do you want to say anything at all about other possibilities?

Dr. Spencer: I do want to mention one more, but first, I would like to summarize the main point I’m trying to make with the examples I’ve just given; namely, I think it is safe to say that there are multiple ways in which the modern scientific view that the universe began around 14 billion years ago can be true, and yet be completely consistent with the Genesis account of creation, which I am absolutely convinced is true, even though I’m not completely certain about how best to interpret it.

I do want to remind everyone of what we said last time though, and that is that how we, as Christians, interpret the Genesis account of creation is extremely important theologically. But, exactly how long it took God to create the universe, and when, exactly, he began that creation, have no theological importance whatsoever.

Marc Roby: OK. Now, what is the last view that you want to mention?

Dr. Spencer: I want to mention that it is possible, although I personally find it unlikely, that the universe is actually relatively young and God simply created it with the appearance of age.

Marc Roby: But, wouldn’t that be a deceptive thing for God to do?

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly the main objection that’s usually raised against this view. Why, for example, would God create light on its way to earth, apparently showing us things that never really happened? We see many super novae for example, each one of which appears to be the death of a star that occurred billions of years ago, but if the universe is truly only thousands of years old, then these events never actually happened.

But, I think it is worth mentioning a response to that objection given by Vern Poythress in his book Redeeming Science.[5] In that book he discusses what he calls a coherent mature creation, and by that he means that God created a universe in which things that were directly created by God are coherent with things that then later arise through natural processes. For example, the ground in the Garden of Eden probably had nutrients in the soil that we would conclude came from decaying plant material even though no plants had existed before.

The point is that God could have created a world in which it was possible for man to learn about the physical laws God put in place by examining that world, and, therefore, the things that God created directly had to look as if they came about by those natural processes; there would then be continuity between the present and what Poythress calls “ideal time”, which is the time before creation, which never really existed, but is coherent with real time. I’ve summarized his argument very briefly, but I hope not unfairly, so if anyone is interested, I recommend that they read his book. The references for all of the books I’ve mentioned today are given in the transcript of this session, which you can find online at whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: I must say that’s an interesting view. There are, of course, other views you have not mentioned, aren’t there?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of other views. For a discussion of some of them I would recommend the book Seven Days that Divide the World, by John Lennox.[6] I think this it’s a marvelous book, and it is quite short and easy to read.

And, I really want to say that if some of our listeners are Christians who believe in a young-earth and are bristling about some of what I’ve said, I would encourage them to read James Boice’s commentary on Genesis,[7] particularly Volume 1, or, if they want something much shorter, Wayne Grudem does an excellent job in Chapter 15 of his Systematic Theology text.[8]

I would also point out to them that it simply is not true that people only disagree about how to interpret the days because they are capitulating to modern science. For example, in his essay The Literal Meaning of Genesis, St. Augustine – who lived well before modern science existed – proposed that the universe was created in an instant!

Marc Roby: Very well. I think that wraps up our time for today, I look forward to continuing our discussion of the evidence corroborating the veracity of the Bible next time.

[1] Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Gensesis One and the Origin of the Earth, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1977

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] See http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html

[4] Gerald L. Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible, Bantom, 1990

[5] Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, Crossway Books, 2006

[6] John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Zondervan, 2011

[7] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982

[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by continuing our survey of extra-biblical evidence, all of which, when properly understood, corroborates the Bible.

Dr. Spencer, last time you claimed that the Bible itself is our best source of information for the times and places about which it speaks; in fact you called it our “greatest archeological document by far.” You then argued against the popular minimalist view that claims that the Old Testament was written just a few hundred years before Christ, rather than at the time it claims to have been written.  You showed how this view is false by giving us some examples of details that someone writing at that late date would not have been able to get right. How would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin by making a very important point. People may take exception to individual pieces of evidence that are presented to corroborate the Bible’s presentation of ancient history, but, most often, they argue from silence, saying that one event or another must not be true because we have no extra-biblical evidence for it. So, I want to emphasize and expand a bit on the point I made at the beginning of Session 7; the Bible itself is the most reliable archaeological document we have. It is completely accurate about all sorts of details that cannot be explained away. And wherever we have clear extra-biblical evidence, it corroborates the biblical narrative. We have absolutely no evidence at all that the Bible is wrong in anything it asserts. And that is particularly amazing when you consider that many people have tried, for many years, to prove the Bible wrong.

Therefore, we should have great confidence that it is also correct when it tells us things for which we have no other evidence. If the Bible did not speak about God, I have no doubt that it would be the most revered archeological document in the world. But, because it does tell us about God, people who do not want to deal with the reality of God are compelled to try and discredit his Word.

Marc Roby: In other words, their atheistic presupposition—that is, their ultimate heart commitment to the notion that there is no God, gets in the way of their properly evaluating the evidence!

Dr. Spencer: Quite right.

Marc Roby: Last time you mentioned the Old Testament prophecies about Christ as evidence to corroborate the biblical narrative. What other evidence would you like to present?

Dr. Spencer: Well, I’d like to give a very brief and selective summary of evidence for the Old Testament as a whole, and I’d like to do it in the order the information is presented in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: Alright, I presume that means that we’ll start with Genesis.

Dr. Spencer: Correct.

Marc Roby: And, of course, most modern people believe that the Genesis account of creation is completely at odds with what we know from modern science. So, how would you respond to such people?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond by first saying that we need to think a bit about why the Bible says anything at all about the creation of the universe, and then also think a bit about the audience for whom the Genesis account was written. If we think about these questions, we won’t come to the account with an unreasonable expectation about what to find.

Marc Roby: OK, so why does the Bible include a creation account?

Dr. Spencer: There are multiple reasons, and we won’t touch on many of them I’m sure. But what is most important is that these reasons do not include two things modern man seems to be particularly interested in. The first of these is that I think it safe to say that when the universe was created is of no importance at all theologically, and therefore, is never an issue discussed in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Now that is a controversial statement that we need to come back to, but first go ahead and tell us the second thing that modern man is interested in, but which is not one of the reasons for the writing of Genesis.

Dr. Spencer: Alright, the second thing is that at least some modern people are very interested in is a scientific description of how the universe was created. But, that is absolutely not one of the purposes of the Genesis account, nor could it be. So, we must get rid of that notion right up front. Nevertheless, the account given is completely accurate as far as it goes. We just have to be careful to be sure we are interpreting it correctly and we have to approach the subject with a great deal of humility because both the Bible and the science can be difficult to interpret.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that providing a scientific description of how the universe was created couldn’t possibly be one of the purposes of the Genesis account?

Dr. Spencer: For a reason that becomes obvious the instant you answer the second question I originally said we need to consider; namely, “For whom was the Genesis account written?” The answer is that it was written so that the people at the time of Moses could understand it, and also so that it would be useful to all people at all times. Therefore, the modern vocabulary and scientific understanding necessary for a detailed scientific description simply did not exist. And, you have to think about it, if it had been written to be intelligible to people at the present time, not only would it have been useless to those who have gone before us, but it would most likely still be incomplete or wrong because there are things that we don’t know yet.

Marc Roby: OK, you make a compelling case for why the book of Genesis could not have been intended to be a scientific description of how the universe was created. So, now let’s return to the statement you made, that it is not at all theologically important when the universe was created. Given the occasionally very rancorous debate even among Christians concerning how old the earth is, I think that is a statement that will surprise many. How can you defend it?

Dr. Spencer: I can defend it very simply. First, you never once see any mention in the entire Bible about the time of creation. The Genesis account is referred to many times, but the time of creation is never mentioned once, not explicitly or even implicitly. Second, exactly when the universe was created has absolutely no theological importance whatsoever.

It does not have any effect on the doctrine of creation for example; which in its most basic form simply says that God created the visible universe out of nothing. It also has no bearing on the doctrine of man; which could perhaps be best summarized succinctly by quoting the answer to the 10th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.” The time of creation also has no bearing on the doctrine of God himself, which I will again summarize by quoting from the Shorter Catechism, this time the answer to Question 4, which says that “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” So, we see that when he created the universe is completely irrelevant to his being and his works.

It also has no bearing on the doctrine of redemption, which could be briefly summarized by quoting the answer to Question 20 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”

We know from the Bible that God the Father planned this redemption, the Son, Jesus Christ, accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit applies it to individuals. The whole purpose of creation and history is the establishing of God’s church, his people, to spend eternity with him in a new heaven and a new earth. I could go on, and on, but I think you get the message, exactly when God began this creative work is irrelevant theologically. The question is also incoherent from God’s perspective, because he does not experience time like we do.

Marc Roby: Hold on a minute there – what do you mean by that last little comment, that God does not experience time like we do?

Dr. Spencer: That is a difficult point for us to grasp because we have a very hard time conceiving of any being that does not experience time like we do, as a continual progression of events, one after the other. We only know fully how we feel, or what we think, right at a given moment in time. If I want to know how I felt or what I was thinking even a few minutes ago, I have to conjure it up from my memory, and my memory will never be perfect. And, of course, the further back I go in time, the worse my memory gets. I also don’t know the future at all.

God, however, is completely different. He is not limited to living in the present, remembering the past and wondering and hoping about the future as we are. The Bible hints at this in a number of places. For example, the psalmist declares to God, in Psalm 90, verse 4, that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” [1] And this verse is loosely quoted by Peter in 2 Peter 3:8 also.

Also, in Psalm 139, verse 4, we read that “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.” And in verse 16 of that psalm we read that “All the days ordained for me were written in [God’s] book before one of them came to be.” We are also told many times in Scripture that God has seen what we have done, that he knows our thoughts, and our motives, that he has heard our silent prayers and so on. So, it is absolutely clear that God has an immediate experience of everything that what we, from our perspective, consider to be the past, present and future. He knows everything about everyone and about every moment of time. And, he knows it immediately; he does not need to scratch his head and try and remember.

Marc Roby: Now that is something to ponder. But, getting back to our topic at hand, and assuming that you are right in saying that the time of creation is of no real importance, why do you think it remains such a major issue in many people’s views?

Dr. Spencer: I think that most people who hold to a young-earth view, whether they hold to Bishop Usher’s mark of the universe being created in October of 4004 BC, or some other date, do so because they believe that is what is taught in Genesis itself and that to hold any other view is to surrender the inerrancy of the Bible. They often have a second reason too, even if they don’t state it, and that is that they think agreeing that the earth is billions of years old somehow lends credence to the theory of evolution as the explanation for life; but, as I pointed out in Session 1, you can have a trillion years and a trillion earths and it doesn’t help the argument for evolution one whit.

So, returning to the first point, we must say up front that we agree whole heartedly with these people that the Bible is the completely inerrant Word of God. We also believe that Genesis is a historical account and not just some kind of creation myth. Where we disagree is in their insistence that there is no other possible way to interpret the Genesis account than the view they hold, which usually includes saying that the six days of creation are literal 24-hour days and that they are consecutive.

Marc Roby: Well, how do you think the creation days should be interpreted?

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that I’m going to disappoint you and our listeners with my answer, but the only honest answer I can give is that I don’t know. But, before people start turning us off or jumping all over me for being non-committal, let me explain myself a bit and then also make my position as clear as I can – although there won’t be time enough to do that today.

I have read many different views on how to reconcile the Genesis creation account with modern science and none of them are fully satisfying to me, which is why I say that I don’t know the answer. But, I do firmly believe that the biblical account is accurate and that it can be reconciled with modern science, at least to the extent that modern science is correct. We must however, be humble enough to say that modern science could be wrong about many things.

We also need to be humble enough as Christians to say that the Genesis account is not quite as obvious as we may at first blush think, and so we should avoid being dogmatic in our interpretation when that is not necessary. We don’t want to say that the Scripture says something it does not say, which is a trap that Christians have fallen into before.

Marc Roby: What then do you think is essential for a Christian to believe about the Genesis account?

Dr. Spencer: Well, at an absolute minimum, a true Christian must believe that it is a historical account and that God truly created the universe. We pointed out in Session 2 that this is one of the most important things we must understand; we are just creatures and we must never lose sight of the creator/creature distinction. But, beyond that, a Christian must also believe that Adam and Eve were real people, created directly by God, as opposed to being the result of some evolutionary process, that they were made sinless, but with the capacity to sin, and that they did, in fact, sin against God. We must also believe that they sinned after Eve was tempted by Satan, who appeared to her in the form of a serpent. And all of their natural children, which includes everyone except for Jesus Christ, are born sinners as a result of that fall.

There are also other things we learn from the Genesis account of creation. For example, there was an order and a plan to creation as there is to all of God’s activities. He didn’t just create energy and the laws of physics and then step back to see what happens, as a deist might say, rather, he imposed his will upon his creation to bring about order and to produce a particular result.

The final thing I will point out today is that man is the focus of creation. This is the point that unbelievers often find the most offensive. They think it is unbelievably arrogant of man to assume a starring role, and so they dismiss the Genesis account of creation as simply man writing a story in which he is the star.

The interesting thing, is that I agree completely that man would write a story in which he has the starring role. But, I would contend that Genesis is not at all the story man would come up with. Man would, of course, have to recognize that he wasn’t there from the beginning, so he couldn’t make himself the creator. But, the story man would come up with is very different than Genesis. He would come up with a story in which human beings, once they did appear, as a marvelous “accidental collocations of atoms”  [2], to borrow a phrase from Bertrand Russell, are able to examine the world around us and understand this whole process. And, of course, we then feign humility by declaring ourselves to be no better or more worthy than any of the other lesser animals, which is patently absurd given the simple fact that none of these other animals are able to understand the science or make such lofty moral pronouncements.

Marc Roby: Alright, I agree that the Genesis account puts man at the center, but in a subservient role that he would not likely chose for himself. And I look forward to hearing more about how the Genesis account of creation can be reconciled with modern science next time. But, it looks like we are out of time for today.

Outake: (need something of similar length, but appropriate for the next session)

In our next session Dr. Spencer will continue to examine the Genesis account of creation, we hope you’ll join us.

 

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, Ed. By R.E. Egner & L.E. Denonn, Simon and Schuster, 1961, page 67

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of biblical theology today by looking at external evidence that corroborates the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. So, Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: Before we take a look at any of the specific evidence, I want to emphasize that the fundamental reason we believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God is that it tells that it is. As we spoke about in Session 4, everyone has some ultimate standard, by which they evaluate everything else, and as Christians our standard must be the Word of God. We must not shy away from the fact that circular reasoning is inescapable in justifying your ultimate standard.

With that said, however, since the Bible is in fact true, the evidence we find in our world having to do with science, history, and ourselves, must corroborate what the Bible teaches. In other words, all of the data we encounter, all of the facts we discover—when properly understood and interpreted—cannot contradict the Bible, for God is the author of both. If we think that a given scientific or historical “fact” falsifies the Bible, then we must conclude that either our science is wrong and/or our interpretation of the Bible is wrong. But, if someone tells you that science or history have proven the Bible wrong, challenge them. Don’t be intimidated, because they are wrong. Christians should never shy away from pursuing science and history, they cannot prove that the Word of God is false.

In addition, since God is the author of both creation and the Bible—and since the Bible is vital to man’s salvation—we would expect God to have placed a good deal of obvious evidence in creation that backs up the Bible’s propositional statements, and that is exactly what we find.

We can only touch on some of the evidence here, but there are other good sources to look at. For example, Dr. Stephen Meyer has put together a good series of lectures on evidence for the Bible called Is the Bible Reliable? That series is available from Focus on the Family.[1] There are also a number of good books and websites that contain information about biblical archaeology, which has produced a massive amount of evidence in the past couple of centuries.

Marc Roby: OK, so what do you consider to be some of the best evidence?

Dr. Spencer: The first, and most important, piece of evidence I would cite is the Bible itself. The Bible itself is, without any doubt, the greatest archaeological document we have in our possession by far. And it is its own best evidence.

Marc Roby: Let me stop you there for a moment. What do you mean by saying the Bible is an archaeological document?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that it is itself an archaeological artifact. It was written at the same time as many of the different artifacts that have been dug up and recovered in the near east during the past 150 to 200 years of archaeological discovery. But it has been miraculously preserved through time, so that what we have in our hands today, in our own language, is a faithful replica of those ancient documents. We should treasure the Word of God first, of course, because it is the very Word of God. But, we should also treasure it as the most extensive and accurate record we have of at least a portion of ancient human history.

The Bible is unique. It comprises 66 books, written by at least 40 authors from vastly different backgrounds and all walks of life, over roughly 1,500 years, covering a myriad of topics, and yet it is perfectly consistent in all that it teaches. Of all the books we have from antiquity, the Bible also stands alone in our ability to say that we know, with a very high degree of certainty, what the original manuscripts said. We do not, of course, have any of the original manuscripts anymore, but we know what they said, which cannot be said with anywhere near the same confidence for any other book from antiquity.

Marc Roby: How can we know for sure what the original manuscripts said?

Dr. Spencer: We can know with great confidence for at least three reasons. First, speaking about the New Testament, we have vastly more extant copies and portions of copies than we have for any other book from antiquity, and the earliest extent copies are much earlier, this is sometimes called the bibliographical test. [2] For example, if you look at Homer’s Illiad, which is the best attested non-biblical book from antiquity by far, we currently have about 1,800 extant manuscripts, which means copies, or partial copies, made by hand before the printing press. The earliest of these copies is from 400 BC, which is 400 years after Homer composed the poem.

With the New Testament, there are more than ten times that number of manuscripts. Now, admittedly, most of those are not in the original Greek, but about 5,800 of them are. Many of these early manuscripts are also small portions of material, rather than full books. But, the bottom line is that even non-Christian scholars will admit that the New Testament is the best attested book from antiquity by far. But, the bibliographical test is just one small piece of evidence, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Marc Roby: What about the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: That is my second point, and it is quite dramatic. We don’t have nearly as many extant manuscript fragments for the Old Testament, although we still have quite a few, but in one major way we have something much better; we have compelling proof that Jewish scribes preserved the integrity of the text to an almost unimaginable degree. Prior to 1947, the oldest complete Old Testament manuscript was from about 1000 AD. And, it was a common argument prior to that time, that if we were to find a manuscript that was much older it would be significantly different. That claim was made because that is what is seen with other ancient documents; errors get made every time a document is copied and after centuries those errors accumulate and become quite significant. But, in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and they changed everything.

The Dead Sea Scrolls came from a Jewish sect that lived on the western shore of the Dead Sea around the time of Christ. The scrolls that have been found contain at least portions of every book of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther, and most notably, they contain a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The amazing thing about them however, is that when they are compared with the Hebrew Old Testament from about 1000 AD, there are no significant differences! This is truly astounding and is, I think, great evidence that God has seen to it that his Word has been preserved for his people.

Marc Roby: And this is what we would expect isn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, absolutely. Since the word of God is essential for salvation, it stands to reason that God would preserve his Word for his people. And the simple fact is that there is abundant evidence that the Bible has been preserved in a way that is simply unmatched by any other ancient document.

Marc Roby: The Dead Sea Scrolls are amazing confirmation for the Old Testament, but what about the New Testament?

Dr. Spencer: A similar statement is true about the Greek New Testament; although there are differences in the many extant manuscripts, the differences are almost always extremely minor, and the few substantive differences that exist do not in any way effect any doctrine of Christianity.

Marc Roby: Very well. You mentioned a third reason for our confidence that we know what the original text said, what is that?

The third reason is the science of textual criticism. This science is used on other ancient documents as well, so it is not unique to the Bible. But it is a set of methodologies that allow people to reconstruct from a number different fragments, which have slight variations in them, what the original document must have said. I’m certainly no expert on this topic, and it wouldn’t be something to go into great detail about here anyway, but E.J. Young provides a marvelous example of how this can work in his book Thy Word is Truth.[3] He says to consider a schoolteacher who writes a letter to the President of the United States. To her great joy, she receives a personal reply. It is a treasure which she must share with her pupils and so she dictates the letter to them and collects these assignments, which gives her 30 imperfect copies of the letter. Then, she loses the original letter. The question is, can she reconstruct it from the 30 imperfect copies? And the answer, of course, is yes. With a very high degree of certainty she can reconstruct the original letter. The different copies will contain spelling errors, missing or added words and so on, but these errors will be different in the different copies, so by comparing the 30 copies she can surely correct these errors and arrive at a very good copy of the original.

When this technique is applied to the Bible, we are able to reconstruct with very high confidence what the original documents, which are called the autographs, said. And, unlike most ancient documents, we don’t have to fill in holes where there is material missing. When you combine our many different manuscripts, we have complete copies of the entire Old and New Testaments.

Marc Roby: OK, I think that is pretty convincing evidence that we know what the autographs said. What external evidence do we have to corroborate that what these autographs say is true?

Dr. Spencer: There are many pieces of evidence. The Bible tells us a great deal about ancient cultures, and whenever any of the details are found in other sources, we find that the Bible is correct. For example, place names, the common names of people, the political conditions and so on are all accurate. This may not sound amazing unless you stop and think about it for a moment.

So, picture yourself, for example, wanting to write a novel set in 14th century France. You would have to do a lot of research to know what names were common, how much things cost, what towns were there, what they were called and so on. All of these details matter. But, now imagine someone trying to write the Old Testament a few hundred years before the time of Christ – and I pick that time because some scholars, called minimalists, have argued that is what happened. A person writing at that time would not have any access to the kind of documentary and archaeological information we have now, so they would have no way of getting these details right. You have to remember that prior to the printing press, which was invented in 1440, the only way to get a copy of a book was to copy it by hand. So, people didn’t have anything even remotely like the kind of access to documents from the past and from all over the world that we have now. Also, archaeology was unknown at that time. So, the somewhat counter-intuitive truth is that we have vastly more information available about these ancient cultures today, than would have been available to someone a few hundred years before Christ. It is simply irrational to believe that someone writing at that time could have produced a book with the scope of treatment and accuracy in details that the Bible has. The only reasonable explanation is that the books that make up the Bible come from the times and places they claim to come from, and that God inspired the writers so that what they wrote is infallible.

Marc Roby: Can you give us some specific examples of these details?

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. When Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, we read in Genesis 37:28 that the price was 20 shekels of silver. This would have been the early part of the 19th century B.C. The code of Hammurabi, which dates from the middle of the 19th century B.C., was discovered on a 7½ foot tall stone in 1901. Parts of it have also been found on clay tablets, and it says that if a man kills another man’s slave he must pay one-third of mina.[4] A mina was worth 50 shekels, so one-third of mina is 16⅔ shekels, very close to the price listed in Genesis. It is interesting to note that the prices given at other points in the Old Testament also agree with the prices we know from extra-biblical sources. For example, in Exodus 21:32, we read that if a bull gores someone’s male or female slave, the bull’s owner must pay 30 shekels of silver in restitution, which agrees with the price known from extra-biblical sources during the time of Moses.[5] It is impossible for me to imagine that someone writing these documents a few hundred years before the time of Christ could possibly have gotten such details right.

Marc Roby: that does seem pretty unlikely. What other evidence do we have?

Dr. Spencer: The form of treaties and covenants is another powerful piece of evidence. This is a complicated subject and we certainly can’t go into a lot of details here, but the forms of treaties and covenants changed radically from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 2nd millennium B.C., and again from there to the 1st millennium B.C. We know about these treaties and covenants from a number of extra-biblical sources. So, we can compare these treaty and covenant forms with the ones we find in the Bible.

For instance, the Bible gives examples from the time of the patriarchs, which is early 2nd millennium B.C., which are completely consistent with the forms in use at that time. In Genesis Chapters 21 and 26, for example, Abraham and his Son Isaac both make separate treaties with Abimelech and the form of these treaties agrees with the form for early 2nd millennium B.C. treaties known from extra-biblical sources.

Also, the covenant God makes with his people through Moses at Mount Sinai, which we read about in Exodus Chapters 20–31, and 34–35, agrees perfectly with the seven-fold structure of Hittite imperial treaties from the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.[6] This information would not have been available to someone trying to write such an account a few hundred years before Christ, so it is again impossible for me to imagine how such a writer could have gotten it right.

Marc Roby: That is, again, pretty compelling evidence. And I’m looking forward to hearing more evidence next time, but it looks like we are out of time for today.

[1] Is the Bible Reliable? Building the historical case, Dr. Stephen Meyer, The Truth Project, Focus on the Family

[2] See J. McDowell & C. Jones, The Bibliographical Test, updated 8/13/14, available from
https://www.josh.org/wp-content/uploads/Bibliographical-Test-Update-08.13.14.pdf

[3] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 57

[4] See law number 252; http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Assyria/Hammurabi.html#Hammurabi.Law.252

[5] Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Patriarchal Age: Myth or History?, Biblical Archeological Review, March/April, 1995

[6] Ibid

 

Play
Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

Marc Roby: We resume our study of biblical theology today by continuing to examine why we should believe that the Bible is the Word of God and should therefore submit to its authority.

Dr. Spencer, we have been addressing the Bible’s testimony about itself, and last time we discussed the fact that a central issue in this regard is authority. God has ultimate authority and, therefore, his Word has ultimate authority. We ended by noting that Jesus himself spoke with authority and not only affirmed the Ten Commandments, but gave us a deeper understanding of them. What else do we need to say about this topic?

Dr. Spencer: I think the main point is that the Bible speaks with authority and we need to take its claim seriously; it is God speaking. Jesus Christ himself spoke clearly about the authority of the Old Testament as we discussed in Session 4. We noted then, for example, that in John 10:35 Jesus said that, “the Scripture cannot be broken”. [1] But, there are many other verses we could cite. For example, in Luke 22:37 Jesus said that “what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

His point was that the Old Testament was a completely reliable witness to future events, and more specifically, that it had in many places and in many details prophesied his coming and what would happen to him in some detail. When Jesus spoke with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, we are told, in Luke 24:27, that, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” The main topic of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ. The Old Testament tell us about sin, and about God’s plan to deal with sin. There is a progressive revelation of God’s eternal plan of salvation in the Bible.

Marc Roby: And that revelation begins in Genesis 3, right after the fall, doesn’t it?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In Genesis 3:15 we have what it is sometimes called the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message. Most people have heard the story, but before I tell it I want to emphasize that this story is factual, not mythological.

After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But, when God called to them and they confessed their sin, he then pronounced the curse that would fall on them and their posterity as a result of their sin. That curse was death, both spiritual death and physical death here, and eternal hell hereafter. Adam and Eve immediately lost communion with God, which is the result of spiritual death, and they immediately started to age and move inexorably toward their physical death as well. And, finally, and worst of all, they, and all their natural descendants became subject to eternal punishment in hell.

But, God also pronounced a curse on Satan, who had appeared as a serpent. And, that curse included the gospel, which means, “Good news.” In verse 15 God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This statement that the offspring of Eve would crush Satan’s head is a reference to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he would defeat Satan totally by freeing his people from their bondage to sin and Satan. So, when God pronounced his curse on man, he gave them the gospel of salvation at the same time. There was hope.

Marc Roby: And, as you said, there is a progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: There most definitely is. This isn’t the time to go into it in detail because we want to stay focused on what the Bible claims about itself, but I think this deserves mention now, and it provides an important piece of evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. What needs to be mentioned at this point is that this progressive revelation throughout the Old Testament includes dozens of detailed prophecies about the Messiah, or Savior.

Messiah is a Hebrew word, which means anointed one. And, while a person can be anointed for various different offices, such as a priest or a king, the Old Testament also speaks of the Messiah, who is God’s anointed savior of the world. For example, we read about him in Psalm 2, where we read, in verses 1 and 2, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” The “Anointed One” in this verse is Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Perhaps it would be good for some of our listeners to explain who “the LORD” is in that verse. I think most have heard Jesus called “the Lord Jesus Christ”, so there may be some who are confused when we hear the LORD being spoken of one person and “his Anointed One” being spoken of another person.

Dr. Spencer: The word LORD in this passage, which is in all capital letters in our English Bibles, is the Hebrew tetragrammaton, which simple means four letters. Biblical Hebrew writing did not use vowels, so we aren’t sure how to pronounce the word, but it is usually rendered as either Jehovah, or Yahweh. In any event, it is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It comes from the Hebrew verb “to be”, and so we can translate it, if spoken by God, as “I Am”, or if spoken about him, as “He is”. In either case, the point is clear. God is the only one who can say “I am” in an absolute sense. He is eternal and unconditional. We, on the other hand, like all creatures, have not existed eternally, nor do we exist independently. We will cover the nature of God in later sessions, but the Bible reveals to us that God is triune; meaning that he exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp, but it is absolutely not a contradiction, and it is a clear teaching of Scripture as we will see later on.

Marc Roby: Alright, so you were speaking about the Messiah, or God’s Anointed One, who is referred to in Psalm 2.

Dr. Spencer: Right. And my point was simply that the Greek word for anointed is Χριστός (Xristos), which is transliterated into English as Christ. So, when we speak of Jesus Christ, we are speaking about Jesus, the Anointed One, or, in other words, the Messiah. All of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the son born to a young virgin named Mary, who was engaged to be married to the carpenter Joseph. And the Old Testament revelation includes more than just a lot of details about his birth, life, death and resurrection, it also includes a tremendous amount of information about the justice of God and how the death of Jesus can serve as an atonement to pay for the sins of his people. This is, again, not the time for us to get into that in detail, but I want to clearly make the point that the Old and the New Testaments are part of one revelation. They are not two separate revelations. It is all the revelation of God, telling us who we are, where we came from, what our problem is, and how God has solved that problem.

And, in speaking about the detailed prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I’ve always thought that they are truly amazing evidence for the fact that the Bible is God’s divinely inspired Word. How else could you explain the detailed fulfillment of these prophecies about Christ? Only God can accurately tell us about the future. And we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that these prophecies were truly written long before the time of Christ. No reasonable argument can be made, as it used to be, that someone cooked the books to make it look that way.

Marc Roby: Certainly, predicting the future requires authority!

Dr. Spencer: Yes. And thank you for bringing us back to our topic of authority. Only God has the power and authority to bring about what he intends, and so only God has the ability to accurately tell us about the future.

Marc Roby: I notice that you didn’t say God can accurately predict the future!

Dr. Spencer: You’re quite right, and that was – as you surmised, deliberate. To predict the future would imply that God can look ahead and see what will happen, which is certainly true. But the Bible goes much further and tells us that God has ordained what will happen. But we’ll leave that for a future session and get back to this issue of authority.

We have been making the case that the Bible claims authority, and have extended that case to show that Jesus himself claimed authority. In fact, one of the most wonderful examples of this is the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. The story is told to us Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5. There is a paralytic who has four wonderful friends. These friends have heard about Jesus and have seen him perform miracles, so they want their friend to be healed. They carry him to the village of Capernaum, at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus is teaching and healing. But, there is such a crowd gathered that they can’t get near Jesus. So, they go up onto the roof of the house Jesus is in and they make a hole in the roof and lower their friend on his mat so that he is in front of Jesus. Just imagine how everyone’s attention would be riveted on this man! This was certainly a pretty bold maneuver. And what did Jesus say to the man? We are told, in Luke 5:20 that Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Marc Roby: I’m going to hazard a guess that this was not the response he and his friends were looking for!

Dr. Spencer: I think your guess is a good one. Jesus often surprised people, but always with a purpose. And we quickly find out what the purpose was in this case; it was to reveal his authority, that he is God. We read in the very next verse that, “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” And, of course, that was precisely the point. Then, in verses 22-25 we read, “Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”

Marc Roby: I would say that Jesus made his point pretty clearly.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. Jesus is God. He knew what they were thinking and, far more importantly, he has authority to forgive sins. So, the Bible has authority because it is the Word of God, and Jesus has authority because he himself is God. And Jesus gave authority to his apostles to preach the gospel and to rule the church.

Marc Roby: OK, now you’re treading on thin ice with many modern Christians again. They don’t like the idea of the church having any real authority. What would you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would turn to the Word of God, as always. After Jesus’ resurrection he gave his disciples what is called the Great Commission. We read in Matthew 28:18-20, that “Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” And he goes on to say “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’”

Notice that Jesus didn’t make suggestions, he commanded. And the church is to teach people to obey these commands. And the church is clearly given authority by God to do so. For example, we are given a command in Hebrews 13:7, which says, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” This clearly establishes that this section in Hebrews 13 is speaking about leaders in the church. Then, in verse 17 we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” We are to obey our church leaders and submit to their authority. But, notice that they are men who must give an account. And it is God to whom they will have to give an account. So, they should lead for the benefit of those who are under them. And that is why the writer says it would “of no advantage” to us if we don’t obey.

Marc Roby: And, of course, it isn’t just church authority that we should obey. In Romans 13:1-2 Paul wrote that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Dr. Spencer: And we need to remember that he wrote this while living under the very wicked rule of the Roman Empire! As that passage notes, there is “no authority except that which God has established.” God has given us clear lines of authority. A husband has authority over his wife, a father and mother have authority over their children. Church leaders have authority over the members of their church. And civil leaders have authority over their citizens.

Marc Roby: Since this idea of authority is so alien to our society, I think it would be good to remind everyone of one thing you said earlier; biblical authority should always be exercised for the benefit of those who are under you.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Our culture has a problem with authority, but authority is necessary, and it is good if it isn’t abused. Someone has to have the final say. Think about a company for example. If you get all the managers together to make some decision and they cannot come to a consensus, someone has to have the authority to make the final decision. And, if the company is operating properly, the others will all get behind that decision and do everything they can to make it work.

I think we are near the end of our time, so I’d like to read a passage from the book I mentioned last time, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is called Authority, and on page 60 he has a wonderful summary about the progressive revelation we have discussed in the Old Testament, and the gifting given to the apostles and others for writing the New Testament. He says,

“Here is God’s revelation of Himself, given in parts and portions in the Old Testament with an increasing clarity and with a culminating finality, coming eventually ‘in the fulness of the times’ to the perfect, absolute, final revelation in God the Son. He in turn enlightens and reveals His will and teaching to these apostles, endows them with a unique authority, fills them with the needed ability and power, and gives them the teaching that is essential to the well-being of the Church and God’s people. We can build only upon this one, unique authority.”

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful summary to end our discussion of the Bible’s teaching about itself.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

 

Play