SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES


THE ATHEISTS STRIKE BACK: THE BIBLE

GARY W. SUMMERS

   
Recently, two tracts came to the office which were designed by either an atheist or an agnostic. Although no name was attached to either tract, the author of them is Dennis McKinsey, who publishes Biblical Errancy (estimated circulation about 350). His address is 2500 Punderson Drive, Hilliard, Ohio 43026.

The first one is called "The Bible is God's Word?" and it begins this way:

Dear Believer: I can't accept the Bible as God's Word because it contains hundreds of problems and contradictions that can't be solved, only rationalized. I ask only that you read what follows in line with James' teaching that Christians should be "open to reason" (James 3:17 RSV) and Isaiah's belief that we should "reason together" (Isa. 1:18) to see just a few of the Book's shortcomings.

The careful reader will notice that the author of the tract, in just his opening paragraph, has already destroyed his credibility as an objective person. First, no one will deny that the Bible contains various passages that are difficult to comprehend or pose a particular problem; the Scriptures themselves acknowledge that fact (2 Peter 3:16). But the author of the tract makes it clear that, despite numerous resources available to all, he knows the difficulties cannot be "solved, only rationalized." One must wonder if he ever held any desire to resolve alleged contradictions. His treatment of the Scriptures indicates that he has not.

Second, why would someone who has rejected the Bible as the inspired Word of God capitalize Book?

But most importantly, the reader sees immediately the mishandling of the Scriptures. James 3:17 does not teach that Christians should be "open to reason"; it says the wisdom from above is "open to reason" (RSV). And Isaiah 1:18 does not teach that we should reason with atheists; God is the speaker. That point is not too difficult to see; says the Lord is a great tip-off:

"Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The verse is a challenge on the part of God for His people to reason with Him, something an atheist could scarcely do. He can only reason about God, not with Him. McKinsey has taken both Scriptures out of context in an effort to get us to read his tract. We therefore do not have a much greater hope that he will deal with the Scriptures any better in his future handling of them. Although we have been provided no Scriptural reason for examining the tract by Mr. McKinsey, nevertheless an inspired apostle said we are to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you. . ." (1 Peter 3:15); therefore, we do not hesitate to analyze this tract.

The first objection to the Bible cited involves babies: "If you must accept Jesus as your Savior in order to be saved (John 14:6), what about the billions that die as fetuses, infants, and mentally deficient, etc.?" This question illustrates a fundamental flaw in those who attack the Scriptures; they frequently ignore the immediate context, as well as the overall context of the Bible.

John 14:6 records Jesus saying, "No man comes to the Father except through Me." Notice that the word man is used--not infant or mentally deficient soul. God never holds someone responsible for failing to choose salvation if the individual lacks the capacity to understand such concepts. Furthermore, infants and even children are not lost in the first place. David said of his child who died: "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:23). Jesus said concerning children: "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).

Calvin taught that children are lost, but he did not get that doctrine from the Bible. If Mr. McKinsey would like to refute Calvinism, we wish him well. Many have been doing exactly that for the past 200 years.

2. "Why are we being punished for Adam's sin? After all, he ate the forbidden fruit, we didn't. It's his problem, not ours." He then cites Deuteronomy 24:16 to uphold his position; he could also have cited Ezekiel 18:4, 20. Once again, the problem is with Calvinism, not the Bible. We are lost because of our own sins, not Adam's, but we do share in the consequences of Adam's sins. Innocent people may die or suffer from another person's sinful actions (drunk driving, for example).

3. "God created Adam, so he must have been perfect. How, then, could he have sinned? Regardless of how much free will he had, if he chose to sin, he wasn't perfect." We trust that Mr. McKinsey does not teach a philosophy class. By definition, free will includes the ability to choose to do good or evil. One's state at any one time is irrelevant. One may be without sin at one moment and choose to sin the next. Likewise, one may have been guilty of great evil, yet choose to do good. If one were programmed to do only good or only evil, there would be no free will.

4. "How can Num. 23:19, which says God doesn't repent, be reconciled with Ex. 32:14, which clearly says he does?" The nature of God does not change. He can make statements, however, which are altered by various factors. Jeremiah 18:7-10 explains why Jonah preached the overthrow of Nineveh in 40 days, but that event did not occur. The people changed their behavior and expressed their sorrow. Therefore, God repented of the judgment appointed to them at that time. Later, they rejected His message and were destroyed. Repentance can affect what God has determined to do.

So can prayer. In Exodus 32:9-10, God told Moses he would destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation. Moses pleaded with God not to do so, citing excellent reasons; God agreed and relented of His original intention. Israel, however, was still punished for her sins; God's justice was still executed.

5. "How can 2 Kings 8:26, which says Ahaziah began to rule at age 22, be reconciled with 2 Chron. 22:2, which says he was 42?" They cannot be "reconciled," but the discrepancy can be explained. Somewhere along the line a copyist made an error. No one claims that we today have a perfect Hebrew or Greek text--we have only affirmed that the Bible as originally written was flawless. The problem of varying texts, however, is scarcely insurmountable; we have enough evidence to know when a variation has occurred. We also know that God would not allow His Word, having been revealed, to become obscured regarding salvation.

6. "How can Ex. 33:20, which says no man can see God's face and live, be squared with Gen. 32:30, which says a man saw God's face and his life was preserved?" The verse in Genesis was spoken by Jacob after he wrestled with the Angel of Jehovah, who was God in the form of man. This man was neither headless or faceless; therefore, Jacob saw His countenance. What Moses saw was God in some form other than the flesh. Once again, the context enables the reader to determine the distinction between the two comments.

7. "Rom. 3:23 says 'all have sinned.'" All means all. Yet, Gen. 6:9 says Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations." First of all, all does not always mean "all." In certain contexts all has limitations. We read, for example, that all Judea went out to hear John and be baptized by him (Matt. 3:5-6). Obviously, however, all did not include the chief priests and the elders of the people, who rejected John's teaching (Matt. 21:23-25). How presumptuous for an atheist to examine God's book and try to impose his own definitions on God's words, which are defined by 1) the immediate context and 2) the general, overall context of the Bible!

The word translated "perfect" does not mean "without sin." Otherwise God would be commanding the impossible (Matt. 5:48). Perfection refers to spiritual maturity. Only one person was without sin (1 Peter 2:22). But all may grow to perfection (Heb 6:1).

8. "How could Moses have written" about "his own death and burial"? How could any prophet write about the future? God revealed it to him ahead of time.

9. "Did Solomon have 40,000 stalls for his horses (1 Kings 4:26) or 4,000 (2 Chron. 9:25)?" This is the same type of question as #5; the answer is also the same (# 11 will be skipped for this same reason).

10. "Paul says Christianity lives or dies on the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Yet, why would it be of any consequence since. . .many others rose before Jesus?" First, all others were raised by men of God; Jesus was raised by God Himself (Acts 3:15). Second, Jesus prophesied His own resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34); no other individual did. Third, the fulfillment of this prophecy validates all of the claims of Jesus.

12. "How could we follow the 6th Commandment, even if we wanted to, when the authors of the various versions of the Bible can't agree on whether the key word is 'kill' or 'murder'? Surely they recognize the difference?" If I were an atheist, I would try to make serious arguments instead of those that are silly and frivolous.

First of all, the police in Hilliard, Ohio, might do well to keep Mr. McKinsey under surveillance since we are not sure whether or not he is inclined to avoid killing or murdering (he says, "even if we wanted to").

The King James says, "Thou shalt not kill," and most other translations say, "You shall not murder." There is no raging debate over the matter; murder is the more precise word. Obviously, God did not intend that no killing be done whatsoever since the very next chapter lists offenses for which a man was to be put to death.

13. "We are told the Bible has no scientific errors, yet it says the bat is a bird (Lev. 11:13, 19), hares chew the cud (Lev. 11:5-6), and some fowl (Lev. 11:20-21) and insects (Lev. 11:22-23) have four legs." Once again, the author of the tract seeks to impose modern definitions upon the Bible text. God always uses language that accommodates human beings at the time. Bats and birds both fly; God did not deem it necessary to use terminology that would not be in vogue for over 3,000 years. Why is the atheist so absorbed in such meaningless criticism instead of being impressed by the health tips God gave long before mankind knew the reason for them? Concerning hares chewing the cud, Wayne Jackson, in Essays in Apologetics, Volume 5, quotes from an article by Leonard Brand:

Rumination does not necessarily involve a compartmentalized stomach system. One definition of "ruminate" is simply "to chew again that which has been swallowed" (Webster). And oddly enough, that is precisely what the hare does. Though the hare does not have a multi-chambered stomach, which is characteristic of most ruminants, it does chew its food a second time (104).

14. "Matt. 27:9-10 quotes a prophecy made by Jeremy the prophet. Yet, no Bible believer has ever been able to show me where it lies in the Book of Jeremiah." If Mr. McKinsey had only been present for our Annual Denton Lectures on the book of Matthew, he would have known the answer to this question.

In Studies in Matthew, Robert R. Taylor quoted Jim Laws as writing: "Everyone understands that some prophecies were spoken and not written down while some were written and not spoken, while others were both spoken and written" (539). Thus, such "an alleged difficulty is removed when one realizes that Matthew did not say Jeremiah WROTE (emph. GWS) such a prophecy but that he said Jeremiah spoke this prophecy concerning the thirty pieces of silver and the purchased field" (539).

(to be continued)

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "THE ATHEISTS STRIKE BACK: THE BIBLE (11/22/98)."


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