November 12, 2008

More on General Revelation

On Blogger, James and I have been discussing the argument I made regarding general revelation and gospel ubiquity. As a result of that discussion, some clarification seems to be necessary:

General Revelation


Paul does not claim that Creation leads cultures to general monotheism. Indeed, Paul describes many as "changing the truth of God into a lie, and [worshipping] and [serving] the creature more than the Creator" [Rom. 1:25]. The claim is not that cultures are driven to monotheism or there exists a significant cultural awareness. Rather, the argument is that the information is available to individuals, but is generally rejected.


Nor is Paul claiming that cultures gravitate towards a Christian ethical understanding. Rather, he is saying that a general sense of morality is given to all men which they and their cultures sometimes follow. For example, when a person or a culture recognizes murder as wrong, they do by nature the things in the Law as a result of conscience. I would expect a study of cultural morals to reveal similarities in some morals to those presented in the Law, just as we have already observed religious similarities across many religions. Paul attributes these similarities to a universal conscience given to all people, providing a general moral understanding and conviction of our own moral imperfections.

Burden of Proof for General Revelation

As a result, your burden of proof is excessive. First, it exaggerates my claims from personal understanding to cultural ideas. Second, our knowledge of ancient and isolated cultures is limited at best. This makes it hard enough to know what they actually believed, let alone, what ideas they may have been aware of, but rejected.

Revelation of Christ

Regarding the propagation of the final principle of salvation I am aware of two views. First, anyone who accepts the 2 principles of general revelation will be sent a human messenger to address that question (perhaps indirectly, by making literature available or directly by word of mouth). Examples include the sending of Philip the Evangelist to the Ethiopian Eunuch [Acts 8] and the sending of Peter to Cornelius [Acts 10]. If this is true, the fact that the gospel was not sent to a Native American in AD 600 is considered proof that no Native American accepted general revelation. This is reasonable and hard to contradict. The second view observes that there is no passage in scripture in which God explicitly states He will not provide special revelation to those unreachable by the common method outlined above. After all, Jesus Himself intervened in the salvation of Paul (Acts 9) and John mentions the inner light given to every person.

Your argument seems to be that it is likely some Native American accepted general revelation and was denied the final principle for spatial reasons. As a result, you conclude that Christianity violates the salvation ubiquity criteria and must be rejected as a valid world view. At best, the existence of this Native American is highly hypothetical and rejects without substantiation the possibility of special revelation for that individual.


All of the above remarks substantiate my claims. Creation and Conscience are available to all men and God is more than capable of providing the specific revelation of Christ to anyone accepting the first two. A detailed study of isolated cultures is unnecessary and would be inconclusive at best given our spotty knowledge of such cultures. Christianity clearly provides mechanisms for meeting the salvation ubiquity principle. That does not make it true, but it does make it a reasonable possibility given our discussion so far. Furthermore, the salvation ubiquity principle provides a clear example of a criteria that can rationally evaluate religions, accepting some and rejecting others, providing hope that the morass of religions is not as un-navigable as Atheist Under Ur Bed suggested in the article I originally responded to or James suggested in his initial comment on my initial post.

November 5, 2008

Old Testament Messiah

James responds to my previous claim in "More On Faith" in "An Atoning Messiah". Both my claims and his responses deal with two specific passages:

Messiah Cut Off - Daniel 9

In Daniel 9, Daniel is given the following prophesy:

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself [Dan. 9:24-26]

James essentially presents two arguments contesting the credibility of the book of Daniel and the interpretation of the passage as referring to the Messiah:

Timing and Authorship

James cites Harper's Bible Commentary in order to question the credibility of Daniel and explain away many of the amazingly detailed and accurate prophecies in this book. By assuming that the book can not be prophetic and that the manner of Antiochus Epiphanes death contradicts the death of the king in Daniel 11, with whom he is associated, Harper's conludes that the book was finalized during Antiochus's life time.

However, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 24:15, that Antiochus was a type (one who exemplifies or parallelizes the life of another in some way) of the Antichrist. As a result, the passage is about Antiochus and Antichrist and has not been fully fulfilled. The commentaries I consulted presented some reasonable arguments for where the break occurs. Speaking specifically to it would require more study, but the bottom line in relation to our discussion is that there is a reasonable approach to this passage which does not place it in contradiction with history. As such, the late date given by Harper is not the foregone conclusion they have presented, based, primarily, on the assumption that the book is not true in the first place and an easy readiness to accept supposed contradictions.

If we accept dates given in the book of Daniel, it would have been completed in the late 6th century BC, much earlier than the 2nd century BC date given by Harper's.

Messiah or others?

In responding directly to the passage of Daniel I cited, James makes the unsupported claim that the Messiah here is simply "an annointed one" or leader and tries to identify Messiah as two men in this passage, citing the New Oxford Annotated Bible. He then provides a general response that it's all history recorded after the fact and false prophecies based on the alleged contradiction in the manner of Antiochus's death. I discussed this latter claim above.

As for the identification of the "Anointed One" in the passage, a proper understanding of the prophecy seems to make this pretty clear. In the context of the passage, Daniel understood by the reading of the word of God through Jeremiah the prophet, that the Babylonian capitivity of Israel would last 70 years. Daniel prays to God concerning this knowledge and the future of Israel. While he is praying, God sent Gabriel to reveal to him the passage I cited above (and a few other verses). In the original Hebrew, the word "week" in 70 weeks is really the word seven (seventy sevens). Because the context is Daniel's prayer concerning the 70 years of captivity, this is clearly a reference to 490 years.

Gabriel gives the starting point of this 490 year period as the "going forth of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem". This is generally taken to be the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in Nisan 1, 444 BC. James claims the proper edict is that of Cyrus the Great in 538 BC, but that edict was not to rebuild Jerusalem. Cyrus's proclaimation was to rebuild the temple [Ezra 1:2], whereas the edict of Artexerxes was to rebuild the city [Nehemiah 2:5].

Gabriel further declares that from the commandment to "Messiah the Prince" shall be 69 "weeks" or 483 years. Adjusting for the Jewish prophetic calendar of 360 days versus our solar calendar of about 365 days places the end of the 483 years on Nisan 10, AD 33, considered to be the day Jesus, the Messiah rode into Jerusalem on a colt. This is much later than the lives of Joshua the high priest and Onias III.[1][2] It also presents an amazingly accurate prophecy, even if we accept the very late date of 2nd century BC, still about 200 years before this event took place.

Jesus, the Suffering Servant

While the term servant is clearly applied to Israel, it is also contrasted with Israel.

In Is. 42:7, the servant is sent to open the eyes of the blind. In verse 19, the Lord is condemning those who worship idols and refers to the servent as blind. Later, in verse 24, Jacob and Israel are identified as being judged for their sins against the Lord. Clearly, the latter servant is in need of the ministry of the first servant.

In the following chapters, God refers to Himself as the Savior of Israel [Is. 43:3] and the redeemer of Israel [Is. 43:14]. In the passage in question, similar language is applied to the servant. He bears our griefs, carries our sorrows [Is. 53:4], wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastised for our peace, striped for our healing [Is. 53:5] and so on.

In verse 6, the iniquity of us all (the world) is placed on Him. In verse 8, He is stricken for the transgression of the Lord's people (that is, the Jews). The redemptive nature portrayed for this servant is unmistakeable. It strongly contrasts with the blind and sinful state of the servant Israel, who is in need of God's redemption. In chapter 53, the ultimate redemption for sin for all and for the servant Israel is enumerated at the cost of the suffering of the one servant. This is clearly not Israel. Further, this servant is clearly identified with the redemptive role of God. The profile fits no other than "Messiah who would be cut off, not for Himself" as in Daniel and Jesus Christ, the Word [John 1:1], who suffered for sin.

[1] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 197-201.
[2] Dr. J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible Vol. III. 1982. Thomas Nelson Publishers. pg. 586-589.

November 4, 2008

The History and Audience of the Bible

Over at AnAtheist, James has posted a response entitled God: The Great Communicator? to my article More On Faith focusing on critiquing God's decision to use inspired writings to communicate His truth.

Jewish Texts

James is of course correct regarding the division of the Bible, primary source languages, etc. However, he makes several errors in later descriptions.


James claims the Jewish scriptures are written by anonymous authors. While some books may have unclear or anonymous authorship, many of the books in scripture make claims concerning authorship or have traditionally accepted authors. As the primary reason for rejecting those traditions is largely rejection of the truth of the text and not solid archaeological discoveries that contradict said authorship, the credibility of authorship critiques is largely questionable and often hangs on accepting the Word or rejecting it (and as such, is generally a circular argument when applied as an attack on the integrity of the Word). A good example is the argument James cites in the next post which regards the authorship of Daniel. Because the book is prophetic and it is assumed to be true, the author is assumed to be anonymously written after the events rather than by Daniel be for the events, primarily because the idea that God revealed the events to Daniel before they happened is rejected.

Salvation in the Old Testament

While it is true that the Old Testament focuses primarily on Jewish people, it does not teach that salvation was limited to them. Numerous non-Jews are listed as being saved in it. The best examples are probably Job and the Ninevites (to whom God sent the unwilling prophet Jonah). Throughout both testaments, salvation is offered to all.

Eternal Fate Dependency

Both testaments of the Bible are about a lot more than salvation. Salvation itself is a fairly simple proposition: Faith, not in our works, but the works of Jesus or the Messiah, as the basis for escaping the condemnation of sin (hell) and the reward of a heavenly future. A lot of the book is post-salvation details and guidance directed primarily towards believers. Your eternal fate does not depend upon a detailed study of the totality of scripture and the correct understanding of numerous intricate and complex propositions.


Moving on from his background discussion, James proceeds to make 3 distinct arguments:

Transcription Errors

This is a common claim made about the Bible, that it inevitably is inaccurate. Not only would God obviously have an interest in preserving the text, but men dedicated to the preservation of the scripture were placed in charge of maintaining an accurate transmission.

In The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell cites Dr. Gleason Archer as saying:

in this respect [to transmission] the Old Testament differs from all other pre-Christian works of literature of which we have any knowledge...we do not possess so many different manuscript of pagan productions, coming from such widely separated eras, as we do in the case of the Old Testament. But where we do, for example, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the variations are of a farmore extensive and serious nature. Quite startling differences appear...Whole clauses are inserted or left out, and the sense in corresponding columns of text is in some cases altogether different...[In contrast] even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered [among the Dead Sea scrolls] were a thousadn years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (AD 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The...variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest. [1]

McDowell also cites Dr. Robert Wilson:

The proof that the copies of the original documents have been handed down with substantial correctness for more than 2,000 years cannot be denied. That the copies in exstence 2,000 years ago had been in like manner handed down from the originals is not merely possible, rendered probable by the analogies of Babylonian documents now existing of which we have both originals and copies, thousdands of years apart and of scores of papyri which show when compared with our modern editions of the classics that only minor changes of the text have taken place in more than 2,000 years and especially by the scientific and demonstrable accuracy with which the proper spelling of kings and of the numerous foreign terms embedded in the Hebrew text has been transmitted to us. [2]

McDowell includes similar citations regarding the New Testament, such as John Montgomery:

to be skeptical of the resultant test of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament [3]

and Sir Frederic Kenyon:

besides number, the manuscripts of the New Testament differ from those of the classical authors...In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were written in the latter part of the first century; the earliest extant manuscripts (trifling scraps excepted) are of the fourth century -- say from 250 to 300 years later. This may sound a considerable interval, but it is nothing to that which parts most of the great classical authors from their earliest manuscripts. We believe that we have in all essentials an accurate text of the seven extant plays of Sophocles; yet the earliest substantial manuscripts upon which it is based was written more than 1400 years after the poets death. [3]

As a result, the claim that the Bible is an old text and therefore comes to us only in a highly distorted form is unsupported by the facts. While there may be some minor changes that scholars discuss, they do not appear to effect the message in any substantial way. If anyone has any specific examples they believe contradict this conclusion, please present them.


James also repeats the lack of ubiquity argument. I addressed this in On the Implications of Consensus and Gospel Ubiquity.

Not all Scripture is Directed to All People

James also refers to a remark a made regarding Jesus's clear intent to obfuscate teaching through parables. The point of this argument was to point out that not all the truth God has given us is directed towards all people. Some of the message clearly is, that being the message of the gospel. Other communications from God clearly were not, such as the parables of Christ.

The foundational premise to arguments regarding the inefficiency of God communicating to us via the Bible is that God intended to write an open letter to all people for the express purpose of making sure everyone in the world had access to this book in its entirety. That is clearly not the case. Based on Jesus's remarks, this is clearly not God's sole purpose in all His communications.

[1] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 70.
[2] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 71.
[3] Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. 1999. Here's Life Publishers, Inc. pg. 35.

November 3, 2008

Christianity, Historical Records and Occam's Razor

James posted two arguments as comments on More on Faith that deserve a response:

Historical Interpretation

One can list a bunch of written records pre-dating at least most of the Old Testament books, but the real argument is this: written records with similar ideas pre-date the Old Testament, therefore, the OT borrows. Frankly, this is bogus.

1 - As far back as the writings in question are, the ideas written down were not original, that is, they pre-date the writings.
2 - The Judeo/Christian narrative clearly makes claims of reaching much further back than the writings you cite. Suggesting that these writings disprove that narrative requires that the narrative have been previously rejected in order to accept the idea that these pre-dated records represent an earlier origin of the ideas rather than the actual distortions. This is circular reasoning. If you have other reasons for your initial rejection of the Judeo/Christian narrative, please present them.

Moses and Sargon

As for the story of Moses, that's a historical event, not a philosophical, spiritual, or religious concept. If it is true that Moses's mother borrowed an idea to save Moses from a historical legend, that does not in any way imply that religious tenants were appropriated. Furthermore, while Sargon's suspected life time may predate the life of Moses, the apparent source of the legend that we have is not so old. According to Wikipedia, the source of Sargon's legendary basket ride is a tablet dating to the 7th century [1], which does not predate the events of the Exodus account. If mere historical appropriation occured, it could have occurred in either direction.

Occam's Razor

My understanding of Occam's Razor or the Principle of Parsimony is that it essentially states that "one should posit no more entities than are absolutely necessary". As a result, I've never found it's application as an argument against the existence of a divine being at all compelling. Anyone who accepts the razor as an argument clearly believes God is not necessary. Those who believe He is, include Him.

Natural Laws are adequate for explaining a great deal of the world in which we live, but there is much that such Laws do not seem capable of explaining or giving significant meaning to, such as why there is something rather than nothing and absolute morality.

In other words: application of Occam's Razor requires a reason to believe the denied entity is not necessary. Make that argument instead.

[1] "Sargon of Akkad". Wikipedia.