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Inconceivable for Its Day: Notes on The Reliability of the Bible

Melodie croppedToday we have a guest blogger. Melodie Sargent is a student at Northpoint Bible College and has written a short reflection paper on issues related to the reliability of Scripture. Rather than work the typical saws that we Evangelicals work in terms of fulfilled prophecy and the like, she chose to reflect on some points raised by John Oswalt in his book, The Bible Among the Myths. I hope you enjoy it.

 

No book in human history has been as widely distributed, translated, or influential as the Bible.[1] This is not up for debate. The sticking point, however, is that Christians insist that this book is divinely inspired, though no proof exists to quantitatively measure this. Lack of proof, however, does not suggest lack of evidence. Of the many defenses that Christians have offered for the inspiration of Scripture over the years, such as fulfilled prophecy, archaeological validation of historical details, and the like, my favorite is the fact that the greatest literature of all time emerged from the least likely source. Scripture contains concepts of God, leadership and society, and time and eternity that were diametrically opposed to contemporary ideologies. These concepts are responsible for transforming pagan worldviews across the globe and for laying a foundation for the modern world. The theology that changed the world did not come from Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, or Greece, but from insignificant village people.

God Concepts

As the highly developed civilization of Egypt enjoyed the golden age of classical literature under its 12th dynasty[2], a nomad from Ur emerges. He owns no property at a time when land ownership defined someone’s worth; he has no biological off-spring in a world where inheritance is paramount, and he is not connected to formal civilization, which was an indicator of uncouth ignorance. In defiance of the concepts of deity present from all of the nations in which he sojourned, Abraham describes God in a way hitherto unknown to any of his contemporaries. Religious thought during this time period was connected to mythological views that defined deity as a continuity of everything that exists. “Thus, mythical descriptions of the gods invariably depict them as human in every respect, only more so. They are strong; they are weak; they are good; they are bad; they are trustworthy; they are fickle. All that humanity is, the gods are.”[3] The ancients believed that there were many gods expressed in many ways, all contained within the same continuous sphere as humans and matter. From this prevalent worldview, Abraham, a simple travelling tradesman, not a philosopher, not a king, not a scribe, steps forward as the father of monotheism, and passes his beliefs of God to his off-spring, describing a single transcendent God, who exists apart from matter. This is nothing short of remarkable, perhaps even miraculous.

Leadership and Society Concepts

During a period when advanced societies developed law codes that discriminated on the basis of class, wealth, and gender, and during a day in which ruthless brutality and conquest were necessary to grow and establish an empire, when law was less about what you did, and more about who you were, and against whom you did it, biblical law emerged, redefining the basis of all law. Skousen describes six key tenants of biblical law before which nothing like it existed: 1) It is built on a commonwealth of freemen (Lev. 25:10), 2) organized into small manageable units (Ex 18:13-26), 3) emphasizes strong local self-government (Ex. 18:26), 4) has a justice code based on restitution, where possible, versus fines and punishment (Ex 21, 22; Num 35:31), 5) appoints leaders and approves laws by common consent (II Sam 2:4), and 6) presumes accused people to be innocent until proven guilty.[4] Genesis 1:27 states that man is created in the image of God, forming the basis for respecting each individual. Genesis 9 commissions humankind to govern each other with regard to respecting this image of God—the seed of all just law and the basis for natural rights. Deuteronomy 17:20 instructs kings to rule as brothers to their subjects as both are subjects under the same God. Lord Acton celebrates the Federation of Israel even as it gives way to a limited monarchy bound radically to divine law in other-worldly contrast to the high handed rule that characterized the pagan nations that surrounded them. [5]

Time and Eternity

Ancient Near Eastern people held a mythological worldview in which they concerned themselves solely with the present. Ritual acts for deities in their world were intended to achieve what was necessary for survival.[6] Time was viewed as a perpetual cycle of seasons with no advance forward. Essentially, there was no plan, and no purpose beyond survival and a level of present prosperity. In contradistinction to this prevalent worldview, the Hebrews proclaim an eternal God, who created the world and man to fulfill a divine purpose. His creation stands on the same historical timeline as their own, and time, though rotating through seasons, is seen as spiraling on a linear path toward a climatic end, bound in the purpose of an all wise creator. The Bible indicates that God created the world with a plan for His glory, intended to be enjoyed in an eternal, loving, harmonious relationship with His creatures. Israelite conceptions of past, present, and future, thus, stand alone in the ancient world—evidence of a divine hand.

Conclusion

The Bible contains concepts about God, leadership and society, and time and eternity unique to the time period in which it was penned. These concepts that have influenced world views over the centuries did not come from the highly advanced societies of Old Testament times. Rather, they arose from a humble man and a small, otherwise insignificant nation, indicating that the God they describe may have influenced and contributed to these ideas.

 

Works Consulted

  • Kitchen, K. A. “Egypt.” in New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., J. D. Douglas et al. Repr., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991.
  •  Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, http://www.acton.org/research/history-freedom-antiquity (Referenced March 4, 2015).
  •  McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
  •  Oswald, John N. The Bible Among the Myths, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.
  •  Skousen, W. Cleon. The 5000 Year Leap, United States of America, NCCS, 2006.

[1] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 8.

[2] K. A. Kitchen, “Egypt,” in New Bible Dictionary, 2nd ed., J. D. Douglas et al. (repr., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 296.

[3] John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 45.

[4] W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap (United States of America, NCCS, 2006), 15–17.

[5] Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity, http://www.acton.org/research/history-freedom-antiquity

[6] Oswalt, 50, 51.

One thought on “Inconceivable for Its Day: Notes on The Reliability of the Bible

  1. frank reedy says:

    Well said melodie

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