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Newsweek and the Bible : The Text

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 by Elgin Hushbeck

Newsweek’s initial issue of 2015 is a devastating attack, not on the Bible as they might have hoped, but on Newsweek’s own credibility.  Kurt Eichenwald’s cover story The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,  is completely one-sided, at best extremely misleading, in some places just flat out wrong, and in others just plain silly. So much so, that one would expect it to have been written by some hate-filled radical atheist, and not a reporter from a supposedly respectable news organization.  In short, it is so bad that I am sure even some of the more serious critics of Bible  will find it an embarrassment.

Eichenwald opens his allegedly objective article with what can only be described as a hate-filled invective against evangelical Christians, one that is at best a caricature.  He then laughably attempts to follow that with a claim that “Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God.”  Only someone completely ignorant of the issues involved, or someone who shares Eichenwald’s agenda, would consider his article a balanced piece.

While the article claims to be “based in large part on the works of scores of theologians and scholars, some of which dates back centuries” Eichenwald has carefully selected those scholars who agreed with the points he wanted to make, and seems completely unware that there are scholars who would disagree.  To give an analogy, it would be as if a political reporter claimed to give an objective review of a particular policy by citing “scores of sources” but all the sources were from the extreme wing of one party.

A one-sided presentation of scholarship would be bad enough, however many of his arguments would not even be accepted by the scholars he cites.  His first major argument is that the Bible we have today is “a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”

Evidence for the Bible

This is so factually in error that as an argument it is just plain silly, and could only appeal to those who have no knowledge of the history of the Bible, much less fields such as Textual Criticism or Bible Translation. While I go into more detail in my book, Evidence for the Bible, the simple fact is that modern translations are not based on early translations, but on the best texts in the original language, and these texts are the work of many scholars and based on a vast array of evidence, primarily the earliest manuscripts  and fragments of manuscripts – the earliest of these going back to within a couple of decades of the originals.

If Eichenwald presents a distorted view of the transmission of the manuscripts, he is correct about how the earliest were written, “scriptio continua—meaning no spaces between words and no punctuation.” But he describes this as if it were somehow significant, yet does not give a single example from the Bible where this is an actual issue.  This is because to do so would only show that this was not really a big problem.  In the vast majority of the places where this occurs the context is clear enough to know which meaning is intended. In the small number of places where it is actually an issue the difference in meaning, while important to understanding that particular passage, has no effect on the overall teaching of the Bible.

Eichenwald instead moves quickly on to the issue of the differences between the manuscripts, but a careful reading of his arguments actually undercuts rather than supports his claim that we cannot know the Bible.   He says that,

“But in the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries. And what biblical scholars now know is that later versions of the books differ significantly from earlier ones—in fact, even copies from the same time periods differ from each other. ‘There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament,’ says Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, a groundbreaking biblical scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina who has written many books on the New Testament.”

This would at first blush seem pretty strong evidence for Eichenwald.   His claim that there are “tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament” is true, IF one also includes all the early translations that were made, as there are only somewhat more that 5800 early Greek manuscripts of the NT.  As for his claim that “biblical scholars now know … that later versions of the books differ significantly from earlier ones,” that hinges on the meaning of significant.  Significant to what?  They are certainly not significant to the teaching of the Bible as a whole.

About the closest Eichenwald ever comes to supporting this claim is in his description of the ending of Mark. First it is important to note that this is not some new revelation. Not only are these addressed in commentaries, all the major modern translation deal with the textual variations, and give the alternate readings in footnotes, so that readers are aware of them.

Then he claims that, “These verses say that those who believe in Jesus will speak in tongues and have extraordinary powers, such as the ability to cast out demons, heal the sick and handle snakes.”  Ok, I give him the point about snakes, though, it should be remembered that handling snakes has hardly been a mainstream position in the history of Christianity.  In fact, the vast majority of those thought, and think, the longer ending is part of the Gospel,  also have rejected the belief that handling snakes is something Christians should do.

As for speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and healing the sick, the longer ending of Mark is hardly the only places these are mentioned.  And this is the key point, except for possibly handling snakes which few Christians believe in in any event, not a single doctrine depends on a verse where there is a doubt about what was the original wording of the text.

The real problem with Eichenwald’s argument can be seen in his statement concerning Luke 3:16 that, “Today, most modern English Bibles have returned to the correct, yet confusing, ‘John answered.’” How does he know that ‘John answered’ is correct?  It is because the whole field of Textual Criticism which is devoted to sorting through and comparing, not only the texts in the original language, but also the early translations into other languages, and all the quotes by early Christians citing passages, to determine what was the original text.

What Eichenwald sees as a weakness, is in reality a strength. Yes, scholars have found that the early mss do differ in places, but in the process they have shown that the text we have today is very reliable.  In fact, as I argue in more detail in my book, Evidence for the Bible, the text we have today is for all practical purposes the same as was written by the Apostles and Prophets.

There are numerous other errors and problem with Echenwald’s presentation about the text of the Bible.  His discussion of Translation and Canon are no better, but this is already a longer than normal post.  Hopefully from this it will be clear that Echenwald’s Newsweek article says much more about him, and about Newsweek, than it does about the Bible.  The Bible can be trusted; they can’t.

The Ultimate Environmentalists

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

In one sense, critics of the Bible are the ultimate environmentalists, for they recycle everything.  Refute one of their objections, and they just move on to the next, and over time they all get recycled.  The most recent example of this was Raphael Lataster’s article in the Washington Post that asks “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up. ”

There is really nothing new in Lataster’s arguments and these keep popping up from time to time in one form or another.    Gordon Stein, another critic, wrote in 1980 that while “at one point in time, the question of Jesus’ historicity was a much more popular one for discussion” he considered it “far from resolved.” Michael Martin, another critic writing in the 1990s wrote that “the historicity of Jesus is not only taken for granted by Christians, but is assumed by the vast majority of non-Christians and anti-Christians” and that “the very idea that Jesus is a myth is seldom entertained, let alone, seriously considered.”  Still he thought that “a strong prima facie case” could be made against an historical Jesus. (Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity, p 36-7)

Thus when Lataster points out that numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called ‘Historical Jesus’” he joins a long line of skeptics trying to make a case that even many fellow skeptics find questionable.  It is no wonder that he begins by trying to restrict the discussion just to those who would at least accept many of his assumptions, even if they do question his conclusions.  Believers in the “Christ of Faith” he says “ought not to get involved.”

Nor is it hard to see why he would wish to exclude them, for he assumes that a “divine Jesus who walked on water” is “implausible” and “easily-dismissed,” which it is if you start with the assumption that there is no God, and miracles cannot happen, as do so many critics. But believers do not accept these assumptions, and thus the foundation for much of his argument falls apart.

The first “problem” Lataster cites is a good example of the importance of such assumptions in his reasoning process.  He writes “the earliest sources only reference to the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.” One only need ask, why is it “clearly” fictional?  In the  19th century such claims were far easier to make, but the weight of scholarship over the last century has tended to both strengthen the reliability of the Gospel accounts, and to push the dates of their composition far earlier than skeptics originally assumed.

As for the evidence Lataster presents, key is his claim that “Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels… only describe his ‘Heavenly Jesus’” and that he avoids Jesus’ “earthly events and teachings.” One of his key supports for this this claim is that in 1 Cor 2:6-10 Paul taught that demons killed the “celestial Jesus.”  Now while fundamentalists are at times guilty of ripping a text kicking and screaming from its context, this is ripping it from the context, beating it to a pulp, and then reshaping it to fit a theory.  The key passage, states, “None of the rulers of this world understood it, because if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

And here all this time I thought of crucifixion as an earthly Roman form of execution, rather than something done by demons to celestial beings.  In fact, without an earthly, and thus historical, body to put on a cross, what does crucifixion even mean?

Later in the same letter, Paul addresses some of those in Corinth who did not believe that a resurrection of the body was all that important.  Thus in 1 Cor 15:3-8 he writes, “For I passed on to you the most important points that I received: The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures—and is still alive!— and he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Next he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and finally he was seen by me, as though I were born abnormally late.”

Death, burial and resurrection all point to a physical and thus historical Christ. Nor is this just some minor secondary teaching, but one Paul says is most important.  Note the appeal made to these skeptics concerning the eyewitnesses and the fact that many were still alive. This an implicit challenge to go and talk to them if you doubted what he was saying.

It is for reasons such as these, plus a lot more that space does not allow for here, that even most skeptics reject these claims when they periodically come up.  For example, in my book Christianity and Secularism, I look at the early non-Christian sources and just from these we get the following picture:

There was a religious teacher named Jesus. We are told that His birth was not a normal birth. During His ministry Jesus did many miracles. He had a large following, and the religious leaders of the time opposed Him. We learn that while in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus was arrested. He was condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. His death was by crucifixion. During the crucifixion there was an unexplained darkening of the sky. Finally, His followers claimed that three days later Jesus rose from the dead and still lives. (pg 132)

Again this is the picture of Jesus from the early critics. Ultimately there is the question of how Christianity got started in the first place, growing to one of the largest religions in the world, and vastly changing the course of human history. If the accounts in the Bible are true, this is what we would expect.  It is hard enough to account for this if Jesus was just a misunderstood historical figure whose follower got carried away in their claims about him. It is impossible to account for if there never really was an historical Jesus.

I think it is pretty safe to say that we can file this one away, yet again, at least until it come up next time, perhaps in another 10 or so years.


The Bible Week 16

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

The final part of a 16 part study. Bible, Bible Study, Reading the Bible.  Where to start? Goals, Effective Bible reading, Meditation on the word of God,  Bible Study,  Background, context, Book studies, Topical Studies, Word Studies, Memory Verses,  Philippians 1:6, Philippians 1:3-6,  John 3:16,  John 10:30,  My approach to Bible Study. Outlines.


The Bible Week 15

Monday, February 24th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

Is the Bible Inspired by God? Why is the Bible better than other books? 2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20, What is Inspiration? Inerrancy, Infallibility, Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Circular Reasoning, Leviticus 26:27-28, Ezekiel 36:33-36, Daniel 9:25, The accuracy of Daniel.



The Bible Week 14

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

Review of age of the earth. Internal tests for reliability, Consistency, contradictions, Acts 9:7, Acts 26:14, Samuel 31:4-5, 2 Samuel 1:9-10, Acts 2:4, 1 Corinthians 12:10, Matthew 20:30, Luke 18: 35 & 38, Mark 15:25, John 19:14-15, Dates of New Testament,  Style,  Influence of Hebrew Language on NT,  Matthew 28:18, dissimilarity, Mark 14:36, Inerrancy vs Reliability.



The Bible Week 13

Saturday, February 1st, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

Note: This video is short because of camera problems.
Creation,  Age of Creation,  how long are the days in Genesis 1.  Augustine’s view of days.  4 theories of the Genesis days.  Young earth view,  Gap theory, Revelation Day theory,  Day Age Theory, Gen 2:4.


The Bible Week 3

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 by Elgin Hushbeck

Here is week 3 of the 16 week course on the Bible.

The Bible Week 1

Friday, May 17th, 2013 by Elgin Hushbeck

This begins a 16 week study on the Bible, How we got it and why we can trust it.

Questions from a Critic

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

I recently answered some questions from a critic, and I thought I would post them here.   Initially he just sent questions and never responded to the answers except to ask more questions.  Over time however, he evidently became frustrated by the answers, became belligerent and then quickly his question devolved into name-calling and obscenity, with a wish for God to kill me; at which point I ended the discussion.  But his questions do provide a nice window into the mind of a hostile critic. Note will be editing the questions a little, as it appears that the critic may only speak English as a second, and then for the later questions, to remove the insults and obscenities.

Such questions are also important as they can reveal how the Bible can be misunderstood.  For example, questions 8 and 9 depend on a particular understanding of the word “fulfill,” an understanding that is all too often promoted by Christians.   Thus such questions not only reveal the critics incorrectly understanding of the Bible, they can also help us come to a more accurate understanding.

Question 1 Where is the original Bible?
Question 3 Can you show me a complete manuscript of the New Testament written in the 1st century?
Question 4 Can you show me a complete manuscript of the New Testament written in the 2nd century?
Question 5 HOW MANY YEARS is there from writing the last book of the New Testament to the oldest complete copy of the New Testament?

Answer: Questions 1, 3-5 all deal the reliability of the text of the books of the Bible.  The originals have all been lost, but they are not needed to confirm the reliability of the text, particularly of the New Testament. For example, the books of the New Testament were copied and distributed during the lifetime of the Apostles. From these other copies were made.  We have fragments of manuscripts starting in the early part of the 2nd century (A first century manuscript find has been announced but the details are not scheduled to be published till next year).  In all there are thousands of manuscripts and portions of manuscripts, along with the tens of thousands of early translations, along with the numerous citations of the Bible made by the early church fathers, and they are all very consistent with each other.

Now it is true that not all of these sources agree 100 percent.  Mistakes were made in copying, and we can see this in the manuscripts, but there is such a wealth of evidence, that in the vast majority of places it is pretty clear which is the original reading and which is the mistake. The few places were doubt remains, while important to the particular passages; do not affect the teaching of the Bible as a whole. No teaching of Christians depends on a passage where there is a doubt about the text.

I would also point out that there is a huge problem if you want to believe that the text has been deliberately changed and that would be:  How would it have happened?  During the life time of the Apostles they would have resisted any such corruption of the text, as would their followers. By the time of their deaths there would have been many copies scattered across the Roman world.  It simply would not have been possible to gather up and destroy all of these, replacing them with the “new” versions.  The emperor Diocletian tried to destroy all copies of the Bible in the early part of the 4th century, and even with the power of the Empire, was unsuccessful, as many Christians died protecting their copies.

Against this evidence, your questions are not that important when it comes to the issue of can we trust what the text says.  We can.

Question #2 How can you be 100% sure that the UNKNOWN writer of judges was NOT a liar? The writer is UNKNOWN and this makes the characteristics of the writer unknown.

Answer #2,   That the author of Judges is unknown, is true.  He could be a lair, or he could be truthful; and thus the much broader question is how can we know if he is reliable?  Like with the issue of the text there are a number of factors both internal and external we can look at in determining the reliability of an account.  Much of this is the same that historians use to judge the reliability of any account.  But for me there is one additional factor, which is the judgment of Jesus. Jesus repeatedly makes reference to the Old Testament in whole and in part, and considers it to be the word of God.

Question 6: Do you believe there are contradictions in the Bible?

Answer #6: The Bible is a reliable record so at times it records the false claims made by people which are in conflict with the truth, such as the Amalekite in 2 Samuel 1.  So in this sense, yes.  But in terms of contradictions that would call into question the reliability of the writers, I have yet to see one that can stand up to serious examination.

Question 7: If you read the CONTEXT Isaiah 7:14, you will realize that the verse is NOT about Jesus but about somebody else.  From the context the verse is NOT a dual prophecy.  Did Matthew make a mistake here?

Answer #7: Concerning Isaiah 7:14; no Matthew did not make a mistake. It is not quite as clear cut as you have presented it. While there is some ambiguity in the use of the Hebrew word almah in that while it normally means virgin, it can also mean young woman, the Septuagint (a Greek translation made several hundred years before Christ) used the same Greek word that Matthew used, i.e., virgin.  Nor is it clear that this is about someone else.  After all, the context here of a sign from God, and a young woman giving birth is hardly such a sign. Signs in the OT function as “present persuaders” or “future confirmations.”  The sign in 7:14 is of the latter type. The threat that was looming was not just to Azad, but to the house of David. The birth of Jesus was a future conformation of this.

Question 8: Matthew 2:15 cites Hosea 11:1; but Hosea 11:1 is NOT about Jesus.  Read the context of Hosea 11.  Did Matthew also make a mistake here?
Question 9: Matthew 2:17-18 references Jeremiah 31:15, but the context in Jeremiah 31 is NOT about Jesus. Read the CONTEXT in Jeremiah 31.  Did Matthew make a mistake?

Answers #8 and #9 Again Matthew did not make a mistake. To claim that he did requires very narrow understanding of the word “fulfill” an understanding narrower than the usage in the New Testament.  Thus, Jesus is often seen as the antitype of Israel where events in the history of Israel are paralleled (fulfilled) in the life of Christ. In addition Matthew is also citing these as contrasts with Israel, fulfillment in the sense that their failure is being replaced by Jesus success.

Question 10: If the Bible says that a part of a day is considered a whole day and whole night and if Jesus was in the tomb on Friday, then this means one day and one night.  If Jesus was also in the tomb on Saturday then this means another day and another night. But I do NOT think Jesus was also in the tomb for a part of a day on Sunday.  According to the Bible Jesus rose BEFORE Sunday began.  If this is true then Jesus was NOT in the tomb for three days and three nights as Matthew 12:40 says.  Did Matthew make a mistake here?

Answers #10 Your criticism assumes a level precision concerning time that was simply unknown before clocks and watches.  The most common time frame in the Gospels is a quarter of a day.  Frankly it is not even clear if the all the Gospels measured time from midnight to midnight or sunrise to sunrise.  Now while it is true that Matthew 28:1 can be translated as “Late on the Sabbath” it can also be translated as “After the Sabbath.” It depends on the context. Given the context here, I believe that NIV translation is correct when it translates this as, “After the Sabbath, at the dawn on the first day of the week.” This would indicate that the resurrection, as commonly believed, occurred early on Sunday, and thus there were 3 days.

The 72%-90%

Monday, June 27th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

I have been reading a new book that I find both challenging and exciting. No, it is not the latest spy thriller, and in fact is not even a novel. It is non-fiction and on a subject matter that has been dealt with many times in the past. Yet it does so by challenging cultural norms that most have simply taken for granted, and probably have not even thought much about. What is exciting is the potential it has to impact the church and thereby the world at large, which is huge.

The book is Rite of Passage for the Home and Church: Raising Christ-Centered Young Adults, by D. Kevin Brown (Energion Publications, 2011), and from its title one might question my claims of a huge impact. A huge impact can only come in the face of a huge problem. A book on study habits for those who are B+ or A- students only has a limited room for improvement. A book aimed at failing students that can transform them into A students would be huge, not only for their grades, but on what that would mean for their lives as well.

The problem addressed in Rite of Passage is larger than just grades. To put it bluntly, the church in America, as a whole, is failing its young people. This is a tough message and one that meets with tremendous resistance. I know because I have been talking in my speaking and teaching for nearly twenty years and have met with everything from skepticism and denial to, in few cases, hostility. People point to their youth programs and how many children are being reached, and how many accepted the Lord at their last vacation Bible school as evidence that I am wrong.

Yet the statistics I have been following for quite some time, and which Brown points to in his book tell a different story. As Brown points out, while attendance at youth programs may be strong, numerous studies reveal a problem. “These studies … show that between 70%-92% of ‘Christian’ teens were dropping out of church and abandoning their faith, most by their 20th birthday.” (pg. 12)

What is really exciting is that Brown solution is both revolutionary, and yet not. It is revolutionary because it runs so counter to our cultural norms. In fact, many will find it just too radical and different. On the other hand, it is not revolutionary in that Brown is really doing nothing more than returning to scripture, and asking the question “What do the scriptures say about adolescents?” (pg. 21)

Considering all the books that discuss the scriptural approach to raising teens, the surprising answer is that the Bible is completely silent on the topic. The Biblical perspective is that you have two groups, children and adults, “with no stopovers at a place called ‘adolescence.’” (pg. 22)

Thus Brown argues for a revolutionary course of action, but one that should be music to every believer’s ears: That we treat our teenagers following the biblical pattern. Most of the book is aimed at defending this view and then laying out its implications which are many. This is revolutionary when compared to the culture at large, a culture that allows young adults to drift through their teen years with few expectations and no clear line of adulthood. The current view is neither biblical, nor even very old, only a 100 years or so. As you read through Brown’s book, the individual parts are not really very new or very revolutionary, except that they are rarely pulled together and applied to, or expected of, teens.

Another thing that is clear is that Brown is not proposing yet another youth program. In fact if applied in that fashion, it would probably fail. What Brown is proposing is a vast and long term change in perspective. Given the reluctance to even face the problem, Brown will certainly face opposition from some. That is just not the way we do it. That just will not work with today’s teens. The reasons will be many, but the conclusion will be the same. It just will not work.

To those who are concerned with the current 70%-92% loss among 18-20 year olds, Brown’s book will at a minimum be a welcome point of view and a must read. To those who are skeptical I would make the same challenge that I do in all my teaching on the Bible. You don’t have to believe me, or in this case Brown. Look at that biblical evidence he puts forth. Pray about the examples he cites. Look at how teens are treated in the Bible and what is expected of them. And reach your own conclusions as to what does the Bible say. Ask yourself, if your church’s youth program is patterned after the culture, or if it is patterned after the Bible?

In the end, agree or not with Brown, this is a book that should be read by anyone concerned with the church, and in particular with those in the teen years.

Note: Energion Publications is also the publisher of my books