Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

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Objections: Can the Bible Prove Itself?

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Part 1: “Unity in Diversity”

It’s as if he were saying, “I’m speaking to you on every available frequency.  Are you listening?”

The last post briefly surveyed the evidence that the Bible we read today is essentially the same as it was when it was written. That makes it a collection of Reliable texts.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the events reported in the original manuscripts were real.  Is it possible that the Bible we have today is an entirely accurate reproduction of ancient fraudulent documents?  Could the events reported in the Bible have been fabricated?  If so, Christianity is the greatest hoax ever to have been perpetrated against humanity!  If not, the implications are far reaching…

Are there reasons to believe that the Bible is not only faithful to the original documents, but a truthful account of ancient events?  In this post, we’ll have a look at the evidence within the Bible itself, as opposed to historical and current evidence from outside the Bible.  We would say these are “internal” and “external” evidence for the truth of Scripture.

Internal Evidence  Does it make sense to use the Bible to show that the Bible is true?  What if I were to rent an office, buy a lab-coat, selling my services as a physician?  People might ask, “Why should I believe you are a doctor?”  If I respond, “Because I say I am a doctor”, there isn’t a good reason to trust my medical opinion.

Isn’t that the same thing as using the Bible to show that the Bible is true?  Not really.  The Bible isn’t actually one book, but a corpus of writings.  It is like an entire library of “peer reviewed” material.  The Protestant Bible is composed of 66 individual books, in a variety of genres, written by 40 different people from every walk of life, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, over a period of roughly 1500 years.  The amazing thing is they all talk about the same person.  No other religion has this type of authentication or pedigree.

Just for fun, imagine that there was a supernatural being who created everything in existence.  Let’s also suppose that this being wants to be known by humans and have a relationship with them.  How would he make himself known to us?  In the event that there is a creator who wants us to know him and have a relationship with him, the Biblical books (and God’s recorded activities therein) are entirely consistent with the types and consistency of messages he would give.  In other words, God might reasonably be expected to use every available means of communication, and each would say the same thing.  Unity within diversity.

The Protestant Bible is composed of 66 individual books, in a variety of genres, written by 40 different people from every walk of life, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, over a period of roughly 1500 years.

What does that mean?  Think about ideas and beliefs for a moment.  The ideas that people have are constantly changing.  We have ideas about the meaning of life.  Ideas about families.  Ideas about government.  About music.  About God.  Fifty years ago, popular opinion on each of these topics was radically different from what it is today!  If the Bible were written based on popular opinion about God and life, the “truth” would shift dramatically in the space of 1500 years.  Yet, the Biblical record shows us the same picture of God throughout centuries.  This is what the term “unity of scripture” means.

“Diversity” indicates the nature of Biblical texts to reflect cultural influences of their time.  For instance: the first 5 books of the Bible are written by Moses, who was raised in the Egyptian Royal Court.  He would have been familiar with the language known as “Akkadian”, and we would expect to see the influence of that language in his writing (if we were familiar with ancient near eastern languages).  Is that what scholars see?  Yes.  Another example?  Okay, in the “exilic” books (written when the Jews were deported to Babylon) we would expect to see the influence of the Chaldean (Babylonian) language, which is the case.  Each book reflects unique stylistic traits of its human author (divinely inspired), yet maintains the same, ancient ideas about its divine author.

Not only are the themes of Biblical books consistent throughout, they come in multiple literary genres (poetry, historical narrative, personal correspondence, etc.) and contain accounts of miracles performed by God and others, for the purpose of vindicating his message.  It’s as if he were saying, “I’m speaking to you on every available frequency.  Are you listening?”

One type of miracle in particular is used multiple times in the Bible: prophecy.  Predictive prophecy is especially effective at demonstrating that the Bible should be taken at face value.  The next post will give a basic introduction to predictive prophecy as internal evidence for the truth of the Bible.

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Objections: The Bride Has a Black Eye

Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.

It’s trite and it’s cliché.  It’s so very mainstream in Christian circles.  But the Church in America is losing ground.  She is under attack.  Statistics show us a very clear, very disheartening picture.  Kids that grow up in church are leaving Church the minute they have the choice.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the intention here isn’t to list all of them, but to highlight one and offer one *partial* response.  It’s obvious that the climate of our culture has become hostile, aggressive, angry and caustic toward Christians.  Some of the anger is warranted: pedophilia in the Church is outrageous and good reason for an emotional response.  Hypocrisy, greed, immorality and corruption all serve to keep the eye of Christ’s Bride perpetually blackened in the public opinion of America.  But the critical thinkers among us (Christian or not) must admit that the behavior of someone’s children doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the parents.  Some parents have rotten children.  Including God.  This shouldn’t be a barrier for people to get to know Him.  Our message (and lifestyle!) needs to be able to cut through the noise and present Biblical truth beyond the context of 21st Century Evangelicalism.

This is why Worldviews, Worship and Wineskins will feature an apologetics series called “Objections”.  Each post will focus on a major mainstream objection to the Christian worldview and offer a Biblically based response.  Some people that might find this helpful are those who have never really questioned their faith and are encountering difficult questions at work or school, those who have grown up in a Church environment and are experiencing real doubt, or those with loved ones who are facing doubt.

Difficult questions can be a good thing.  Though they are usually painful, a season of doubt can end up strengthening someone’s faith.  God is not threatened by difficult questions.  In Isaiah 1.18, He offers this appeal to Israel: “Come, let us reason together.”  The book named after Job features that man’s extended questioning of God’s methodology and motives.  In the end, Job was vindicated as having done no wrong.  The minor prophet Habakkuk was also confused about God’s methods, and makes his discomfort openly known to the Lord!  Questions are good.  There are no new questions.  People have been asking the same questions for thousands of years, and there are many good answers.  Does the Bible have all of the answers?  No.  God restored Job’s wealth and cured Job’s disease.  But He didn’t answer Job’s questions.  Sometimes God leaves questions unanswered for unknown reasons, probably so we will exercise trust in that area.   The Bible doesn’t have all the answers.  But it has the right answers to the most important questions.  “Objections” might be able to point you or someone you know toward the right answers that believers have found for thousands of years.

“but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

One word of caution: we mustn’t kid ourselves into thinking that the right answers alone will effectively convert the unbeliever.  1 Peter 3.15 gives us God’s foundation for apologetics: “but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Those are instructions: what to do.  Verse 16 tells us how and why: “However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Peter understood that good reasons won’t always convince hard hearts.  Jesus expressed it another way in Luke 16.31: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”

In fact, many people don’t even really care if the central claims of the Bible are true.  For most of us in the “first world” today, Jesus represents the cure to a disease that we don’t have.  Jesus offers forgiveness of sin before death and eternal life afterward, along with fellowship with God on both sides of the grave.  Sin is an archaic, draconian concept, to be dealt with by using guilt management techniques.  Eternal life and fellowship with God are irrelevant because our material comforts have blinded us to our glaringly obvious spiritual needs.  So the conversations swirling around faith can have little meaningful impact if the Holy Spirit has not done the work of preparing hearts for the gospel message.

Why, then, should we bother?  If the anti-Christian world will not be persuaded to follow Jesus with good reasons, what is the point of providing good reasons to follow Jesus?  Let’s circle back around to 1 Peter 3.15–“so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”  Not only are we commanded to have good reasons, we are commanded to conduct ourselves in such a manner that our aggressors will seem shameful to themselves and others.  For those who come armed with examples of corruption and hypocrisy in the church, our respectful response needs to include sound Biblical reasons to be faithful in spite of the behavior of others, and a Godly example that counteracts the shameful lifestyles of others.  This may serve to bolster the faith of others whose faith might otherwise be withering under the hostility of a world that hates God.

When that happens; when followers of Jesus can face, with grace and poise (sometimes by saying “I don’t know), the objections of seekers and scornful alike, we become one small voice in a growing chorus.  We say, together, “I don’t have all the answers.  But I have enough.  And I know the One who can fill in the rest.  Would you like to meet him?”

 

Objections: Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed Over Thousands of Years?

The Christian faith is based on the Bible.  The Bible is our ultimate authority, because in it, God has specifically uncovered His plan for mankind.  A lot rests on the Bible.  If it is untrue in its fundamental claims or otherwise, we who follow it are “of all people, most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:19.  This leads many people, both Christian and otherwise to ask a crucial question regarding the Bible: is it true?

Let’s look at three important questions that relate to whether the Bible is true:

Hasn’t the Bible changed over time?

The popular illustration of the telephone game serves to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  But is that actually how the Bible came to us today?

One of the first rules of translating ancient documents is to use the oldest sources possible.  The reason for this is that the older a document is, the closer to the original document it is.  Later copies have potential to have copying errors, modifications by editors and such.  In this sense, the “telephone” illustration is correct.  For this reason, translators are forever evaluating source documents.

Not only do they ask “how old it it?” and “How close to the original?”, they are concerned about two other criteria.  How many copies are there?  A higher number can demonstrates that the piece was widely accepted and in high demand.  Lastly, how much variation is there between copies?  This is where the “telephone” principle comes in.  Lots of variation gives us room for doubt about the content of the original, little variation gives translators a higher degree of certainty about what the original work contained.

To summarize, older, more numerous and consistent works give us a greater degree of certainty about what the original documents contained.

The graphic below is a handy chart showing what sources translators have used over time:

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Notice that more recent translations don’t rely on previous translation work to build newer translations, as the “telephone” analogy would lead us to believe.  Rather, modern translations go to the oldest sources possible, in order to preserve the original sense of the Biblical texts.

How reliable are the sources?  How do Biblical manuscripts compare with other ancient works?  When you use the 3 main criteria (age, number and internal consistency), the New testament is hundreds of percent more accurate than other ancient documents!  Check out the graphic below:

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As you can see, the New Testament is in a category all alone in terms of its reliability.  No other ancient document comes close to this degree of reliability.  This should put the “Telephone game” analogy soundly to bed.

 

Reading Leviticus and Old Testament Law: the Problems of Relevance and Human Rights

This post is specifically for my church family as we read through the Bible together this fall.  Sometimes it has felt as though we are drinking water through a fire hydrant!  Reading at this pace is a challenge and it often feels impossible to stop and meditate.  But one advantage is to be able to see recurring themes and points of connection more clearly.  If you see a prophecy in Deuteronomy, and its fulfillment comes at the end of 2 Samuel, you will recognize it more easily if the readings are only days or weeks apart rather than months or years! The first five books of the Bible are sometimes known as the “Books of the Law.”  Depending on your point of view, law can be tedious and boring in modern and ancient literature alike.  Leviticus is a challenging book!  The pace of the narration grinds to a halt as God continues his dictation of laws to his covenant people, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai.  If you aren’t bored to tears by the slowed pace, you may be shocked by the seemingly harsh judgments against those who might break God’s law.  I wanted to post this note in hopes that it would remind us of truths that God has revealed in other parts of the Bible. That way we are practicing good interpretation; we will use scripture to interpret scripture and let the Bible speak for itself. IsaacsacrificeDOMENICHINO16

Types of laws: Throughout the first five books of the Bible, God gives three general types of laws: Civil, Moral and Ceremonial.  You can see examples of each in Leviticus.  For an example of a civil law, see chapters 13 and 14 which outline laws of hygiene.  You can find an example of moral law in chapters 18 and 19.  Some of the ceremonial laws are given in 23 and 24.  Why is this part of the Christian Bible?  Why should we read it?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  In light of this New Testament declaration (which concerns the Old Testament and New Testament alike), we know that God would have us to gain something from Leviticus.  But what??  What does the grain offering prescribed to the ancient Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai have to do with Jesus’ church after the cross??  Aren’t we free from the law?
Yes, we are free from the Law.  The entire book of Galatians, Hebrews and long portions of Romans are dedicated to describing, at great length, how and why we are freed from the Old Testament law.  But there are universal truths behind each law that are useful to understand.  Some are easier than others to discern.  What do we gain from reading them?  A deeper understanding of God’s relationship with his covenant people and his design for human flourishing.  For example, the theme of the entire book of Leviticus is “holiness”.  The word “holy” is used in Leviticus 76 times in 27 chapters. (A quick comparison with the other Books of the law: in Genesis, the word “holy” is used 1 time.  Exodus: 46 times, Numbers: 35 times, Deuteronomy: 11 times.)  We aren’t bound by the laws in Leviticus, but we can see that the universal principle of “holiness” is terribly important to God.
This becomes apparent when we consider the nature of the sacrifices.  Many types of sacrifices for different occasions are outlined.  How many of them have something to do with atoning for sin or ceremonial cleansing?  All except for one: the fellowship offering described in chapter 3.  What can we learn from this?  For thousands of years God has been in the business of making a way for us to have fellowship with him!  There is even a sacrifice prescribed for unintentional sin!  God is so holy and pure he cannot dismiss sin with a wink, yet he still desired relationship with his morally bankrupt people.  The sacrifices and some of the rituals clearly foreshadow Jesus’ final sacrifice at the cross as well.
What about the human rights problems in Leviticus?  Capital punishment is an activity that some people today find disgusting. Most people today are sickened by slavery and many actively fight against human trafficking.  How come we see these two activities condoned in Leviticus?  Isn’t this problematic for the Christian faith?
Yes.  Enemies of the Christian and Jewish faiths, many of them under the umbrella of “progressivism” use passages such as Leviticus 18 and 19 as leverage for their anti-religion agenda.  How can we take the Bible seriously when it condones slavery? Can we really believe that the God who allowed people to sell their children and execute people by stoning and burning is the same God who sent his son Jesus to teach love and forgiveness?  Haven’t we as the human race moved past such draconian, stone-age practices?
Paul Copan, in his Book “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” answers these and other difficult questions with scholarly expertise.  You can purchase it by following this link: http://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412456629&sr=1-1&keywords=paul+copan+is+god+a+moral+monster   (I also have a Kindle version if you wish to borrow it.)  If you don’t find enough depth in this post, I highly recommend Copan’s work.
For now, let’s go back to what we already know about what God has said in scripture:
1. God created everything. (Genesis 1:1).  As such, he is the creator of absolute truth, morality and humankind.  He is the author of right and wrong, which stands independent of the changing winds of cultural taste.  He is the sole owner of every human being, and apparently feels within his rights to destroy every last one of us if he so chooses (remember the flood! Genesis 6 – 9).  By contrast, our cultural preferences and legal systems are man-made, temporary and subject to change with the new moon.
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2. The form of slavery in the Old Testament was not the same type of slavery we normally think of in our culture today.  With the abolition of slavery less than 200 years behind us, we naturally revert back to a despicable form of slavery, which was permanent, degrading and hopeless.  By contrast, Hebrew slavery was temporary, compassionate and hopeful, as seen in Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-46.  What about the foreigners that they enslaved?  They were likewise to be treated with compassion, as seen in Exodus 21:5, where slaves had a legal option to stay with their masters if they chose.  Slaves were allowed to own their own property, and potentially to purchase their own freedom.
Does that make sense of Exodus 21:20-21?  Apparently slave-owners could beat their slaves savagely and be free of legal wrongdoing.  If you are like me, you will find it hard to have a warm fuzzy about that law.  But consider again that we are judging from within our own cultural context into a culture that had only just been freed from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.  Beatings were commonplace.  Moses, their leader chosen by God himself had personally killed a man with his own hands!  The ultimate resolution of this problem is that it is God’s word that prevails…not our personal preference.  
Does that mean that we should re-institute slavery as a modern civil structure?  No way!  As New Testament followers of Jesus, there are no second class citizens, as we see in Ephesians 2:11-22 and Galatians 3:28.  Paul also encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom if they were able (1 Corinthians 7:21).
3. What about Capital Punishment?  Sexual deviants, blasphemers, and witches were equally condemned to public execution, usually by stoning, sometimes by burning.  What are we to make of this?  Can God still be good and order the death of an adulterer?  By today’s standards, perhaps half of our population would be condemned!
In order to gain some perspective and clarity, let’s look at three priorities that God has clearly demonstrated: His own reputation, the moral hygiene of his covenant people, and the natural order.
Priority #1: God’s reputation!  As owner of all of humanity, God is concerned that his people know Him as He is.  Knowing who God is and what He is like is an essential part of human flourishing.  As such, when his name and reputation are slandered, or anything that lessens his greatness in the eyes of his people was subject to swift and decisive correction! (Leviticus 10:1-3 and 24:10-23).  Ouch!  Can we reconcile this with the God we see in the New Testament?  Check out Acts 5:1-10.  Ananias and his wife Sapphira lied to God and were instantly killed by the Holy Spirit.  Can you see the parallel?  In each case, a covenant had only just recently begun.  In each case, someone tested the author of the covenant; God.  His reputation was at stake!  These were precedent setting events.  God had the obligation to maintain his reputation, even at the cost of human life (which he owns anyway.)
Priority #2: the Moral Hygiene of God’s People!  Many of the laws we see in the Old Testament seem puzzling: Exodus 34:26–don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.  Leviticus 19:27–don’t trim your hair or beard.  What can we make of these strange commands?  Look at the bigger picture: God was removing Israel from Egypt (a pagan nation) and bringing them to the land of Canaan (a pagan territory).  The surrounding cultures were rife with all types of witchcraft, demon worship, child-sacrifice, ritual prostitution and nature worship.  God’s priority of keeping his people separate from those influences comes out in many of his laws.  Why?  It goes back to God’s reputation (which the pagan worldviews undercut) and human flourishing (which pagan practices stunt).  God was so concerned about the cultural purity of his people that he sometimes used capital punishment as a deterrent.  Is there a modern-day application for that universal principle?  You tell me…
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Priority #3: Rebellion Against the Natural Order!  Leviticus 18:21, You are not to make any of your children pass through the fire to Molech. Do not profane the name of your God.; I am Yahweh.” Leviticus 18:22, “You are not to sleep with a man as with a woman; it is detestable.”  Leviticus 18:23, “You are not to have sexual intercourse with any animal, defiling yourself with it.”  A few of the Old Testament Laws prohibit activities that may have been pagan in practice, but also go completely opposite of natural design.  As such, they are a rebellion against the one who designed them.  Again, God is concerned about His reputation, and the moral hygiene of His people.  The category of sin in those verses bleeds into the other priorities already mentioned, as we see in the verses which follow: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these practices, for the nations I am driving out before you have defiled themselves by all these things…I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 18:24, 30).
*A quick word on homosexuality and the church today*  This is a front-line culture war issue.  The church has a bad reputation in the world’s eyes because many denominations have maintained a biblical stance on homosexuality, which stands in contrast to mainstream culture.  Open Door Church will stand on the Bible, in spite of cultural pressures.  However, we will strive to keep homosexuality in perspective: it is not the only sin.  It is not the worst sin.  We are committed to being truthful about sin of all types, and learning to love sinners of all types.  Expect us to do both less than perfectly.

Why Christians Shouldn’t Take the Bible Literally

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Maybe you’ve heard this comment or something like it before:

“The Bible is a good book, but you just can’t take it literally.”

Many Christians protest.  “We take the Bible literally!”  We say.  Then passages such as Numbers 22 with Balaam and the talking donkey, or the book of Jonah and his dramatic experience inside the fish are commonly used as ammunition to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  Can any rational person be expected to believe these tales?  Aren’t they just metaphors with moral underpinnings?

Yes.  Rational people CAN (and do) take these accounts at face value.  If we accept the existence of God (which most people do), there is no reason to reject the historical accuracy of miraculous accounts, as long as they are contained in otherwise historically accurate writings.  BUT…we shouldn’t take the Bible literally.

Before you stop reading and label me an apostate, let me explain.  Let’s dig through some basic rules of human communication and grow in our understanding of how to understand and explain the natural way to interpret the Bible.

First and foremost, no one interprets the Bible literally.  As in the WHOLE Bible.  The protestant Bible is made up of 66 books written in 3 different languages on 3 different continents over thousands of years by dozens of authors from every walk of life.  Remarkably, all of that material points to the same person who inspired it (the God of the ancient Hebrews), but it is NOT all literal!  Take, for instance, these lines that Solomon wrote about his bride:

“Your eyes are doves behind your veil.  Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young.”  

This passage is obviously poetic and contains figures of speech: metaphors and similes.  If we were to stand on our claim that the Bible should be taken literally, we would have to say that Solomon’s bride had birds for eyes!  Obviously that isn’t what he meant.  Which is what we, as readers of the Bible are looking for: what did the author mean to say?

If the author is writing historical narrative (like the gospels or the first eighteen books of the Old Testament), it’s safe to say he meant for us to interpret his material literally.  Jesus himself interpreted miraculous accounts literally: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt 12.40).  If the passage is poetic, it contains an overwhelming majority of figurative language.  If it is prophetic, the prophet generally lets the reader know whether he is using symbolism and figures of speech.

Here are three of rules of thumb that will never steer you wrong:

1: Context is king!  The author of the text usually gives you pretty clear indications of his intentions.  Let the text speak for itself, don’t take small passages out of their literary context. Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” in several new Testament books.  Do we believe that he was literally a juvenile farm animal?  No, that would be a pretty violent interpretive maneuver.  We understand that we shouldn’t read modern newspapers as though they were poetry.  We know that modern love ballads contain hyperbole.  Figures of speech are common tools in human communication, we have to interpret them the way they were meant to be interpreted.  If there is confusion about the author’s intended meaning in a specific passage, back up a few verses or a couple of chapters and pick up his train of thought.  The surrounding context will generally clear up the meaning of most of the individual verses in the Bible!

2. Ask yourself, “What is the author trying to convey?”  Ultimately, the author controls the meaning of the text, NOT the reader.  What would Steven Spielberg say if someone wrote a review of “Saving Private Ryan” that claimed it was an extended allegory about politics in the 1990s?  My guess is he would say something like “No, you doofus.  That’s not what the film means.”  If we let the text speak for itself, a large majority of interpretation is simple.  Yes, some passages are difficult, but even if we were to exclude them *gasp!* the Gospel message is clear.

3.  “I take the Bible at face value.  It is what it appears to be.  It means what it says.”  These phrase can be very helpful in conversations with those who toss out the “L” word (literally).  We can agree with them and say “No, you’re right.  I don’t take the Bible literally either.  At least not the whole thing.”  This is a good way to find common ground with people who might have never considered normal rules of human communication apply…even to the Bible.

What’s the Bible for, Anyway?

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The entertainment industry is money driven.  Period.  If people will pay for it, they will produce it, no matter what it is.  The number of Biblically based productions lately is a testament to the fact that there is still a thriving “evangelical” base in the American populace. What about Bible movies?  Are they okay for Christians to watch?  Should New Testament Christians support the entertainment industry with dollars that could be used elsewhere, when we already know what the Bible says?  To say “no” might be splitting hairs over something silly when we (the church) have much bigger fish to fry.  Besides that, Paul addresses certain cultural differences within the church in Romans 14…”who are you to judge the servant of another?”  One objection might be raised at this point, however: movie makers, while they are free to exercise poetic license, disrespect the Christian world when they insert anti-Biblical messages into their work.

While the question “should Christians watch Bible movies” is an irrelevant waste of time, I think a deeper, more important question is in need of addressing in church culture: What is the purpose of the Bible?  Did God intend for us to be entertained by His Word?  That is a distinct possibility, as he inspired the original authors to use every means of literary communication available at the time…auditory as well, when you consider that the Psalms were sung and played on instruments.  (I wonder if the Bible were being inspired today, would authors use film or other visual arts, or would they stick to written communication?)  However, entertainment is not the sole purpose of the Bible.  John explains that he wrote his gospel in order that we would know that Jesus is the son of God.  Paul explained to Timothy that scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  Is there another, overarching synthesis of these and other passages that can explain the purpose of scripture?

It would seem that the purpose of the Bible as a whole is to show us that God has made a way for our broken relationships to be repaired, especially our relationship with Himself.  And the way is the person of Jesus.  Does using the Bible as entertainment  create a problem?  Not really.  But that’s not what it was intended for.  How about this angle–does using the Bible as a moral guide create a problem?  Many people assume that’s what the Bible is.  A compilation of rules by which to live.  The problem with this approach is that the Bible itself doesn’t champion the rules as a means by which to achieve morality.  Let’s unpack that a bit.

The Hebrews were the chosen people of God, privileged above every other nation.  They were chosen, not because of any particular moral qualities, per-se, but because of Abraham’s faith.  Abraham took God at his word.  Hundreds of years after Abraham, God gave his chosen people a moral code, as they gathered in fear at the base of Mt. Sinai.  There were blessings promised for adherence to the code, and curses for disregarding the code.  It was a solemn and binding oath, a covenant.  The Israelites, having seen God’s deliverance from Egypt, had every reason and incentive to keep the covenant.  But they didn’t.  In fact, the Old Testament tells us that, in spite of their KNOWLEDGE about God, they were sometimes WORSE than the Canaanite pagans they displaced!

How does this principle apply to the Bible as a whole?  Both Old and New Testaments contain moral injunctions.  But the net result of the moral efforts of Old Testament Hebrews was abject moral failure.  If we can learn anything from the history of ancient Hebrews, it is that having rules does not make us good people.  If this is true, why would New Testament followers of God through Christ Jesus try to interpret the Bible as a set of rules?  Trying really hard to follow rules didn’t work under the Old Covenant, human nature being what it is, trying really hard won’t work under the New Covenant.  That’s why the focus of the New Covenant is the person of Jesus, foreshadowed by the Tabernacle, succeeded by the Holy Spirit in power.  Only God has the power to take a morally broken and failed person and make him or her good.  No rules can do that.

This is why the method of taking characters in the Bible and holding them up as moral role models is problematic.  I don’t believe God intended them to be role models (nor did he intend for them to be entertainers!)  People are portrayed in the Bible exactly as they were: morally bankrupt, but still bearing the image of God.  David failed in the matter of Bathsheba.  Joseph failed in his hubris toward his brothers.  Noah was a drunk.  Jonah was a racist.  Peter was a loudmouth and a flake.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  (On a side note, the fact that nearly all of the Biblical “heroes” had feet of clay is strong evidence that the Bible has not been touched up by editors over the centuries.)  Top to bottom, people in the Bible were people…except Jesus.  He was a complex person, prone to telling off the Pharisees and keeping company with gluttons.  He claimed to be God in the flesh, which would have been blasphemy for any mere mortal.  But the illegal court that convened to send him to his death had to make up a charge because there was no one who could ever say they had seen him sin.  Jesus BECAME our morality.  He fulfilled the entire moral law at the cross.  He empowers us with his Holy Spirit to be redeemed from habits of sin.  On the contrary, the Bible “heroes” merely provide us with a backdrop, an historical context for the long-view of God’s redemptive work in humanity.  They fill in the gaps of the story between creation and redemption.

Sometimes I think we tend view Jesus as simply one of a field of Bible heroes.  Probably the best.  But in the same class, to a greater degree.  We see him as the professional version of what his predecessors were trying to be.  This is a false idea.  Jesus isn’t a better version of ourselves.  He is in another class altogether.  He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because He took on human flesh, but the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in that body.  He is far superior to any person who has ever lived.  The Old Testament “saints” predicted his coming, the worship and rituals foreshadowed his atoning sacrifice, everyone who ever met him was astonished by his presence.  Three short years of his ministry precipitated the birth of the Church, and the calendar started over.  His impact on history is unparalleled.  If there is a moral role model in the Bible, it is the step-son of Joseph.  This is why we can say with confidence that the Bible is not primarily a source of entertainment.  Nor is it a moral guide-book.  It introduces us to the person and work of Jesus, in order that we might know him and be reconciled to God!

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