When the Chapters Obscure the Meaning

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The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

So opens one of the most loved and well-known passages of Old Testament prophecy, as Isaiah foretells the birth of the one whose name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The messianic prophecy fills the first half of Isaiah 9, but then the reader suddenly finds himself in the middle of a harsh denunciation of the proud and unrepentant Israelites, warning of coming punishment in the form of Assyrian invasion. And then the chapter is over.

Flip over to the next chapter, and we find another, similar denunciation of Israel, once again prophesying Assyrian attack. Then the chapter turns into a denunciation of Assyria herself, warning this “axe” of God’s judgment not to think herself above “him who hews with it.” And with that, Isaiah 10 is complete as well.

If one is reading Isaiah chapter by chapter, it’s hard in this section to avoid a sense of fragmentary thoughts strung haphazardly together. Yet, if we were to simply erase the chapter division, suddenly Isaiah 9-10 reveals a fairly straightforward structure. There is the beautiful prophecy of the future Messiah, then a shift back to the present with a warning of judgment against arrogant Israel, which then flows naturally into a warning for Assyria as well.

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Bible ‘Contradictions’ and the Goldilocks Principle


One of my first dates with Leah was a rafting trip on the Nolichucky River back in the summer of 2012. If you ran into me at church today and I was feeling talkative, I might tell you about how I enjoyed guiding our raft down the river, showing her the sights and hoping she was impressed that I kept us above water through the dangerous whitewater of Quarter-Mile rapid. Then I might talk about how I enjoyed the drive home with her afterward, talking about everything and nothing in particular.

But supposing you had rafting on your mind after talking with me and mentioned it to one of my friends from church, you might be puzzled. My friend would tell you that our whole church went on that rafting trip on the Nolichucky in summer 2012. He might casually mention that the Nolichucky is such a challenging river that we had to have professional guides; no self-guided boats allowed. And he might mention feeling sorry for me and Leah when he noticed that we ended up in different vehicles for the drive home.

Now you’d be confused, so you might ask another of my friends. He would say he remembers that trip vividly, because he enjoyed driving back home with me, Leah, and Leah’s sister, whom he ended up marrying a few years later. He might also mention how skilled his raft’s professional river guide was and how he had wished he could direct the boat, even though it wasn’t allowed.

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Answering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 2

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on the road

Last week I started a two-part series looking at the Christmas story with a critical eye, considering the objections which skeptics often raise to the Gospel accounts. The first article looked at the differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus, their accounts of which of his parents an angel appeared to, and their descriptions of where Jesus’ family lived. In each case, we saw that different details are not the same as contradictory details—and, in fact, that the varying perspectives of Matthew and Luke reinforce their credibility as independent witnesses testifying based on their own knowledge and research.

Having considered these not-really-inconsistencies between the two accounts, this week we’ll be looking at two more alleged mistakes: An apparent misquotation by Matthew, and what looks like a historical error by Luke.

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Answering Objections to the Christmas Story, Part 1

Nativity scene

The account of Jesus’ birth is one of the most famous and best-loved stories in the Bible. The pathetic little group in a Bethlehem stable would have made an unimpressive scene, but with the hindsight of history we know the instant of Jesus’ birth marked the thunderclap moment when God stepped into a dying world to beat death at its own game. And what an invasion! The Creator of the universe, born as a human infant, dependent on a young mother’s care to survive. On both a cosmic and a personal scale, it is hard to beat the story—and it has the added merit of being true.

Or so we believe. As we head into the season when we particularly celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, you are likely to hear attacks on the Christmas story, as skeptics argue that parts of it are implausible or contradictory. I hope my articles this week and next week will prepare you with good answers for the most common objections to the historical accounts of Jesus’ birth.

Of the four Gospels, only Matthew and Luke describe the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem. That in itself is an interesting window into the way in which God divinely orchestrated the testimony of four different writers to create a fuller and richer picture than any one author provides. Four parallel birth narratives would have done us little good. In fact, it would have been hard to avoid the suspicion that they were simply copying from one another. Instead, each Gospel’s introduction of Jesus offers a little window into its author’s particular passions and focuses.

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Beyond Historical Apologetics: Reasons for Trusting the Bible


In 1970, archaeologists discovered a collection of scrolls from the ancient Jewish community of Ein Gedi dating back to the first few centuries AD. Radiocarbon dating and handwriting analysis suggest that the manuscripts were written only a short time after the famous Dead Sea scrolls, making the fragments among the earliest examples of biblical text ever discovered. Unfortunately, a fire had turned the archaeological treasures into charcoal, leaving them illegible until this year, when scientists used sophisticated new techniques to scan and digitally “unroll” the scorched fragments to reveal what had been written inside.

What researchers uncovered were 35 lines of Hebrew from the beginning of Leviticus, offering a small window into the Scriptures of 1,700 years ago. And, remarkably, that snapshot from only a few hundred years after Christ was discovered to be identical with the medieval Masoretic Text from which modern translations of the Old Testament are derived. Not for the first time, a triumph of modern archaeology backed up the Christian conviction that God has supernaturally curated his Word, preserving it across the centuries from distortion and error.

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Thursday Roundup (11/17/16)

A brief programming note: I’m going to be teaching a free three-evening online seminar in early December on reasons for trusting the Gospel accounts. We’ll look at whether the Gospels bear the marks of accurate history, how we have a clear picture of what the original manuscripts said, and why the early church chose the 27 books that make up our New Testament canon. Click here for more information or to register. If you think friends might be interested, I would greatly appreciate if you shared the link!

Today’s video takes a careful look at a perennial favorite question of skeptics: If God is all-powerful, can he create a rock too heavy for him to lift? The Answers for Ambassadors podcast continues my examination of Dawkins’ arguments that we cannot trust the Gospel accounts, and the links of the week range from joy to missions to, of course, Donald Trump.

(If you receive these posts by email and aren’t seeing the video and podcast, just click the “Thursday Roundup” title to view the original post on my site.)

“He therefore is the devout man who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety by doing everything in the name of God and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.”
~ William Law

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Thursday Roundup

Today’s video is a companion to last week’s, taking another look at the Jehovah’s Witness view of Jesus as merely an exalted angel. I explain a second argument for the divinity of Christ, based on the New Testament assertion that he received worship. The Answers for Ambassadors podcast is the first of a few episodes which will consider Richard Dawkins’ arguments against the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the links of the week include an excellent response to Jen Hatmaker’s comments on LGBT relationships, a look at the historical illiteracy of American college students, thoughts on the age gap in evangelical support for Trump, and some helpful information about the conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline.

(If you receive these posts by email and aren’t seeing the video and podcast, just click the “Thursday Roundup” title to view the original post on my site.)

“We discover a striking proof of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures. In the Bible human nature is painted in its true colors: the characters of its heroes are faithfully depicted, the sins of its most prominent personages are frankly recorded. It is human to err, but it is also human to conceal the blemishes of those we admire. Had the Bible been a human production, had it been written by uninspired historians, the defects of its leading characters would have been ignored, or if recorded at all, an attempt at extenuation would have been made.”
~ A.W. Pink

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Making Men

Father and son

The article is called “The Fear of Having a Son” and it is one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Andrew Reiner, an English professor, begins by describing his response five years ago when a student asked him how he felt about having a son: “‘Terrifying,’ I blurted. ‘All I can think about is bullying.'”

He feared his son would be bullied, he explains, because “this boy’s going to be raised to feel and express his vulnerability. That’s a curse in this culture.” But in addition to fearing how his son would be received by a hostile culture, he also dreaded the appeal of that culture, worrying that his son would be drawn into the “alpha domination” and “tight-lipped John Wayne ethos” that form “the limiting script of traditional masculine norms.” Small wonder that raising a son felt like a terrifying journey.

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Why the 30-year gap before the Gospels were written enhances their credibility

Jesus Christ died, rose again, and ascended into heaven around 30 AD, give or take a few years. The church he left behind was preaching, growing, and spreading within weeks, but the written gospel accounts which describe Jesus’ life and teaching for us today were not put on paper for another several decades. Our best evidence suggests the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) were written at the very end of the 50s AD and into the early 60s, with John following a few decades later. This leaves a striking gap of around thirty years after the events recorded by the gospel writers before they first decided to put pen to paper. Unsurprisingly, this gap has become a popular target for skeptics who argue that it represents a period during which the gospel narrative could have changed substantially, with whole new episodes or ideas–perhaps even the notions of the divinity and resurrection of Christ–drawn out of imagination rather than history.

It’s easy to understand why the disciples would not have written down their accounts initially, living as they did in a fairly localized community within a society used to oral histories. And it’s equally easy to understand why, as the disciples aged and the church spread, the need for a more lasting and portable gospel record led them to write down the accounts that form the historical core of our modern New Testament. But whatever the reason, that period before the written gospels may seem like a vulnerability; an unfortunate happenstance which can only raise questions about the reliability of the gospel narrative. In fact, though, that divinely-ordained gap ought to be embraced by Christian apologists as yet another reason to be confident in the truth of the gospel narrative.

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