P1 – A 12 point critique of History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed”

Jude 3-4 “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Note: If the reader would like a condensed version of this first part of the twelve part critique, the reader can refer to my other blog with the same subject at http://www.pastormahlon.blogspot.com

On Tuesday November 13, 2013 the History Channel aired the first episode of what it claims will be an unprecedented examination of the Bible in terms of its text and message. Today’s post aims to offer 6 of what will be a 12 point critique of what was said in the episode to inform believers and unbelievers alike and to offer corrections and responses the statements made in the program. The format I will follow will be to first briefly state what the documentary said, followed by my response to the statement. My prayer is that those reading this post will know how much they can rely upon the scriptures regardless of the outrageous claims made in the documentary.

1. Addressing the documentary’s biased viewpoint of the Bible

The documentary’s slate of experts were from various academic disciplines but all had in common a highly critical and at times exceeding distrust of the Bible

My Response: That may not surprise many readers, however one of the signs of a good strong documentary or program is when the panel of experts that are consulted represent both sides of the issue, not just one.  Every scholar (I counted over a dozen) in the documentary are among the most vocal, radical, liberal and critical scholars of the Bible today.  A sample survey of a few of them will demonstrate how their theories about the textual history of the Bible, church history, theology and religion guide the tone of the documentary.  Reza Aslan for instance recently completed an anthology detailing all of the literature of the Middle East written since 1967.  Conspicuously absent from his anthology are any references to Jewish authors, writers or events. Such a selective approach to history illustrates the bias with which he operates.  When questioned in a recent interview, Mr. Aslan (a former professing Evangelical Christian turned Muslim) states that the Jewish literature, though interesting, had no bearing on the overall tone of his anthology.

Dr. Elaine Pagels of Princeton University, another “expert” featured in the documentary, has been known for her untiring work in trying to discredit the four Gospels in favor of the so-called Gnostic Gospels.  Dr. Bart Ehrman of the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina is a liberal New Testament Scholar who has written many books attacking the credibility of the New Testament.  He has stated publicly that he doesn’t think we really don’t know what the Bible originally said.  This is but a sample of the overall panel of “experts” consulted in the documentary.  Their combined radical and hostile viewpoints alone already bias the program.

2. Addressing the claim that the Bible’s words are unclear and untranslatable from one language to the next   

In the program Genesis 1:26 was offered as the first line of so-called evidence surrounding the confusion that comes when translating the Bible from its original language to another. My Response:  The term “adam” in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament can be translated as either the singular “man” or as a compound word referring to the human race or more than one person or as a proper name for the first man God created. (compare Genesis 1:26, 2:7 to 5:1). However context will tell you which rendering to use.  This is clearly seen in our own English word “man” which similar to the Hebrew word for man (Adam), can mean an individual man or mankind as a race.  Whenever Niel Armstrong stated in his epic quote: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, was his use of man referring to himself or to the human race as represented by himself? The context clearly tells you which meaning he meant, and likewise does Genesis 1:26 and elsewhere in the Bible.  This first criticism leveled by the program is not really that significant and actually surprises me considering that it is mentioned by so-called textual scholars who should know better.   Read the context of the verse before and after, and you will discover which rendering fits the passage.

3. Addressing the claim that we don’t know who wrote the Pentateuch nor when it was written

The program mentioned we really don’t know who wrote the first five books of the Bible.

My Response: No one ever doubted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch until the last 200 years.  Jesus referred to the Pentateuch as having been written by Moses on nearly 40 occasions throughout the Gospels. A cross comparison between the Hebrew language of the Pentateuch to that of archaeological finds of such documents as the Code of Hammaurabi (18th century b.c), the Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions and the Rash-Shamra tablets depicting a sister language of Hebrew, Ugaritic (that indirectly proves the literacy of Moses) enables conservative Biblical scholarship to date the Pentateuch’s material. The documentary evidence of antiquity places the Pentateuch as having been written no latter than 1200 b.c and more likely 1450 b.c, and certainly no earlier than 1550 b.c, the same life-time as Moses.

The internal language of the Pentateuch itself reveals one author.  For instance the use of the pronouns “he” and “she” throughout the first five books reveals a particular shift in the Hebrew and other languages of the Ancient Near East called for technical reasons “the Canaanite Shift”, which when studied aids in pinpointing both the dating of the book and further proof of unified authorship in 1450-1400 b.c Furthermore, the Hebrew text of Pentateuch is written in a uniform vocabulary befitting of a unified author (save of course the last couple of chapters of Deuteronomy written after Moses death by his successor, Joshua). Passages such as Exodus 24:4 clearly state that it was Moses who wrote down the words of God.  It is amazing the History Channel would even bring up this old and tired criticism of the Pentateuch which has been decisively dealt with through the discoveries of archaeology, textual criticism and linguistics.

4. Addressing the criticism that the Bible has unsolvable contradictions 

In the program the panel of “experts” brought up the supposed confusion that exists over who killed Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:49-50; 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5. The claim made is that all three texts contradict one another.

My Response: Whenever one considers the 11th century b.c context of the epic battle between Goliath and David, the supposed contradictions clear up.  For one thing, we know per the normal procedures of two champions representing two nations in a conflict, it was common for each champion to have assistants who carried their armor, shields and swords. 1 Samuel 17:41 clearly states Goliath had a “shield bearer”, and thus David would have had one as well, explaining the detail in 1 Samuel 21:19 of “Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite”. Other details, such as Goliath having brothers and he most likely being the eldest help us understand why one text says the brothers were killed, while another says Goliath as killed.  Goliath being the eldest brother would had been a representative of the clan of Giants living in Gath.

But even beyond those details, parallel texts describing the same event will undoubtedly have details that will differ.  This is actually proof of the historical accuracy of the texts in question.  How? Whenever you read a news story from two different news papers, you may read of more general details in a national newspaper whereas in a more local, small town newspaper you might read of names of people, locations and so-on.  Characteristics such as these require the reader to consider all of the texts together and whenever you do-so, you come away with a composite, complete picture that is not contradictory.  If anything, the David and Goliath accounts in their varying details demonstrate the historical reliability, rather than unreliability of the text.

5. Addressing the claim that we cannot trust nor determine the authorship of the four Gospels

The program panel of “experts” claim we have no idea who wrote the four Gospels nor as to whether or not the alleged authors even knew Jesus.

My Response: The problem with much of modern day New Testament Scholarship is two-fold: the wider scholarly world’s take on the four Gospels is that they are non-inspired and secondly, such scholars ignore completely the testimony of the first four centuries of church history. Of all the people who would had known who wrote the four Gospels, certainly those men and women who lived within the life-times of the Apostles would had known. For example, the disciples or students of the Apostle John, such a Polycarp, testify to John’s authorship of His Gospel.  Eusebius in his “History of the Church”, written in the early 4th century, gives a detailed account of how the four Gospels came to be: Matthew being the first, followed by Mark and Luke being written about the same time, with John being written thirty years after them as a supplement to the first three. To ignore history’s testimony about the Four Gospels is a sign of tunnel vision and arrogance on the part of a community of scholars separated some 20 centuries from the days of Jesus and the Apostles.

So did the authors of the Four Gospels know Jesus? Matthew and John certainly did, being that they were among the original twelve.  Mark of course was associated with Peter and may had made an anonymous appearance as the unidentified man running from the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:51-52.  Luke was a physician who was an associate of the Apostle Paul, an eye witness of the glorified and resurrected Jesus.  More could be said, but let it be known – the Four Gospels which we have in our Bibles are among the most reliable and accurate documents of antiquity.

6. Addressing the claim that Matthew misinterpreted Isaiah and the prophecy of the virgin birth

The program claims that the doctrine of the virgin birth is both a church fabrication and misunderstanding of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14 by Matthew 1:23

My response: Dale Martin of Yale University and the other scholars in this particular part of the program should had known better when making the above claim.  For one thing, the Hebrew word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 (Alma) can of course mean a young maiden, but it can equally mean an unmarried woman who is a virgin.  How do we know? Compare the Hebrew text of Genesis 24:43 where this same word “ha alma” הָֽעַלְמָה֙ is used to describe Rebecca, who at that time would had been a “virgin girl”, unmarried and living at home with her family. When Matthew would had composed His Gospel, Papias, an early church father, describes that Matthew’s original manuscript was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic – meaning then that his quotation of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 would had stated the prophecy as being about the virgin birth of Jesus.

But even if we ignore Papias’ statement, we do know that in our current manuscripts of Matthew, Matthew and the other Apostles made virtually all of their Old Testament quotations from the Greek Old Testament translation – the Septuagint.  In the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14, we see the Greek word “parthenos” (παρθενος) used to translate the Hebrew “alma” (הָֽעַלְמָה֙).  What’s the point? The Greek term “parthenos” used in the Septuagint, quoted by Matthew is an exclusive word meaning “virgin”.   In short, there is no conflict to be had over the teaching of Christ’s virgin birth in Matthew, neither from a textual or theological point of view.  Matthew did not in anyway shape or form re-interpret Isaiah 7:14, but rather captured the intended meaning of Isaiah’s words as being about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

More tomorrow…         

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About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
This entry was posted in Canonicity, Contemporary Issues, Divine Inspiration, Preservation of the Biblical Text, Systematic Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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