Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Difference between the Bible and the Qur’an (part 4)

The is the fourth post in response to Dr. Miller’s article “The Difference between the Bible and the Qur’an” where I intend to address his mention of mistakes in the Bible.

Preparing for this response caused me to remember how the rationale behind such argumentation from any critic of the Bible intends to suggest that the Bible demands belief, whereas other tolerant approaches only invite belief. In other words, the Bible (subsequently, biblical Christianity) is less preferred because it is too demanding. I could not help but remember that Martin Luther is quoted to say, “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing, and he must do his own dying.” God’s Word demands belief and expects obedience for upon his death man must give account for what He has done in context of God’s standard, which is found in scripture.

Dr. Miller’s entire contention is less about what the Muslim perspective is on scripture and more about his personal response to scripture. I am convinced the more I read, the more he is voicing his personal objection to scripture than represent the Muslim view. What Dr. Miller intends to do is separate himself from the authority of scripture by attacking the doctrine of inspiration and in this case, inerrancy. Since the Bible clearly carries the authority of God, it is therefore binding upon man in his conscience, will and heart. No person is free from that which God hath spoken. Does not the Qur’an warn, “O believers! Believe in Allah, His Rasool [a prophet who has been given the Book of Revelations and Shari’ah (Islamic Law) and is selected by Allah to pass on His message and be a model for a particular nation like Ibraheem (Abraham), Lut (Lot), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus) or for the whole mankind like Muhammad (pbuh)], the Book which He has revealed to His Rasool, and every Book which He previously revealed. He who denies Allah, his angels, His Books, His Rasools and the Last Day has gone far astray.” (Surah 4:136)?

Before addressing some specific areas introduced by Dr. Miller, there is one question I wish Dr. Miller could answer: what does he mean precisely by “mistakes in the Bible?” Usually one is eager to expose so-called contradictions as there is greater difficulty to find, much less expose, outright errors. In his paper, “What the Gospels mean to Muslims,” Dr. Miller makes this curious statement:

“When people single out errors to say, "Look, there is a mistake in the Bible," they are claiming that no where else in that book is there a verse which would clear up this apparent error. It would be pretty hard work to demonstrate that is the case. It would have to say, okay, here is chapter 1 verse 1, this verse does not clear up that mistake. Now this verse, that does not put a new light on that verse and go through all these thousands of verses to show that there is no verse to clear up what apparently is an error. That would be pretty hard work.”

If I read Dr. Miller correctly, he is hoping that his declaration of mistakes demonstrates he has read enough scripture to verify there is indeed a mistake; also, he intends to show that disproving his declaration would be a daunting, if not impossible task. Consider this explanation concerning so-called mistakes in the Bible and the nature of scripture:

“The Bible has many seeming contradictions within its pages. A contradiction is an inconsistency or discrepancy, which may give the appearance of an error . . . an elementary rule of scripture is that God has deliberately included seeming contradictions in His Word to “snare” the proud. He has “hidden” things from the “wise and prudent” and “revealed them to babes” (Luke 10:21), purposely choosing foolish things to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).”[i]

The first so-called mistake Dr. Miller hopes we do not tackle comes from 2 Samuel 10:18 (“David killed 700 charioteers of the Arameans and 40,000 horsemen and struck down Shobach the commander of their army”) and 1 Chronicles 19:18 (“David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army”). Dr. Miller would like to know, “How many of whom?” But is this even the right question, much less a “good” one? The wrong question only leads to the wrong answer.

One way to resolve this apparent discrepancy is to ask, “Where does the text say this event took place in one day, in one battle? Why could David not have killed 700 charioteers of the Arameans on one day and more on the next until 7000 total were killed when the entire battle was over? Could he have killed 40,000 horsemen and 40,000 foot soldiers?” This kind of thinking is more in line with the Hebrew mind. The only other explanation is the possibility of copyist error (which begs the question as to why we don’t correct the copy since we have older manuscripts that do not contain the error).

Also consider the entire context to discover the point of the record--the victory of David, his leadership and reliance on advisors and the importance of counting the cost. He is carrying out what the conquest under Moses started, and the Judges did not complete: the conquest of the land and the establishment of Israel as a kingdom. Dr. Miller intends to exalt the superiority of the Qur’an and discredit the God of the Bible and His Word because of a reading error that one must really hunt for in order to find. These two passages are obviously not well known except to those who actually have read, and read deeply (as he is hoping we will not). Furthermore, the accounting of those lost contains no doctrine or doctrinal reference or difference. Dr. Miller’s contention proves only that if a person wants to search long and hard enough for a mistake, he will find one.[ii]

Two other passages from which Dr. Miller attempts to make his case are Matthew 27:5, where Judas “went away and hanged himself” against Acts 1:18 describing how Judas “acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.” Dr. Miller wants to know which record is correct: Matthew or Luke’s. Did Judas hang himself, or jump off a cliff headfirst? Interestingly, no text exists that says, “Judas jumped off a cliff headfirst” though there is one that says he did hang. The other text merely says that Judas fell. Could there be a remote possibility that the tree branch on which Judas hung himself broke, which dropped his body so it burst? Does the combination of both records supply the reader with a problem, or a fuller picture? The apparent discrepancy only proves there was no corroboration between writers.

“If an ungodly man refuses to humble himself and obey the gospel, and instead desires to build a case against the Bible, God gives him enough material to build his own gallows . . . . God has turned the tables on proud, arrogant, self-righteous man. When he proudly stands outside of the kingdom of God, seeking to justify his sinfulness through evidence that he thinks discredits the Bible, he doesn’t realize that God has simply lowered the door of life, so that only those who are prepared to exercise faith and bow in humility may enter . . . . Since every word of the Lord is pure, any seeming “mistakes” are there because God has put them there, and they are therefore not mistakes. In time, we will find that the “mistakes” are actually ours.”[iii]

Dr. Miller next says, “Well in the Bible as Titus 1:12 the writer is Paul and he is talking about the Cretans. He says that one of their own men—a prophet—said ‘Cretans always lie’ and he says that what this man says is true. It is a small mistake, but the point is that it is a human mistake, you don’t find that if you carefully examine the true content of that statement. It can not be a true statement.” He builds his case on what he calls the “Effeminites paradox,” to mean that if the Cretan who spoke lied, then he is always lying. “If he is not lying then he is telling the truth then the Cretans don’t always lie! You see it cannot be true and it can not be false, the statement turns back on itself.” If scripture is without error can it be true (as Paul says) if this is really a false statement?

I must agree with Dr. Miller. There is a small mistake, but it does not lie with the passage. To make his case, Dr. Miller has failed to quote the entire passage (a human mistake, I am sure) to an audience that is unlikely to check the source (a Satanic deception, to be precise), subsequently inferring that Paul was a racist—and that alone would cause problems for the churches being planted there! The quote actually reads, “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” (Titus 1:12-13).

Dr. Miller’s error begins by referring to a paradox that does not exist, “Effeminites paradox.” What he means is, “Epimenides paradox.” We don’t know if Dr. Miller misspoke, or if what was recorded to be said was in fact a scribal error; nevertheless, an error is established in the beginning. Epimenides was a 6th century Greek poet, a native of Crete, who “had characterized his own people as the dregs of Greek culture. . . . This quote is directed at the false teachers’ character.”[iv] The apostle Paul is not evaluating the statement, “Cretans always lie” and declaring that statement true. He is actually describing those Cretans “who are rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” These, of all Cretans, are liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons. That is what is true.

“Presumably most members of these churches, and especially the elders in those churches, whom Paul expects to be blameless, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined (Tit 1:8), would not qualify as “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Even among the general Cretan population there were surely many who led good and upright lives. Thus the definition of Cretans as “always liars” is hardly justified.”[v]

The Bible still remains inerrant in all it affirms, whether historical, scientific, moral or doctrinal. “Inerrancy extends to all of scripture and is not limited to certain teachings of scripture.”

[i] Cameron, Kirk and Comfort, Ray. “Contradictions in the Bible,” The School of Biblical Evangelism.

[ii] First Chronicles 18:4–5 is the fullest and best statement of what took place at this encounter. If this is true, the Chronicles figure of seven thousand charioteers, or horsemen, is no doubt the correct figure and the one that lies behind the transcriptional error of seven hundred in 2 Samuel 10:18. Note that some Septuagintal texts of 2 Samuel 10:18 agree with Chronicles. Furthermore, the forty thousand “foot soldiers” of Chronicles is the correct reading, not “horsemen” as in Samuel, for the figure matches closely, as a rounded number, the twenty thousand plus twenty-two thousand foot soldiers given in 1 Chronicles 18:4–5. This seems to be the best solution to the problem. The present Hebrew manuscripts for the books of 1 and 2 Samuel have more transcriptional errors in them than any other book or combination of books in the Old Testament. From the preliminary checks seen in the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts of Samuel, the Greek translation of the Septuagint appears to reflect a much better Hebrew manuscript. Another attempt to resolve this problem suggests that when Samuel talked about the “[men of] chariots” or “[men of the] chariot divisions” (to which the seven hundred presumably belonged), he was speaking of a separate group of personnel from the (seven thousand) “charioteers,” but no evidence exists to support this distinction. (Kaiser, Walter C. Hard Sayings of the Bible, Page 511. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996.)

[iii] Cameron, Comfort, Ibid. Also, “Matthew is more interested in the purchase of the field, which he sees as a fulfillment of Scripture. He combines Zechariah 11:12–13 (the thirty pieces of silver and the potter) and Jeremiah 32:6–12 (buying a field), perhaps with overtones of Jeremiah 18:1–4 (going to the potter’s house), and links them all under Jeremiah’s name (see comment on Mt 27:9–10). Luke has another concern, which is that Judas got what he deserved, a horrible death. (A similar situation is reported in Acts 12:21–24, where the author narrates the story of Herod Agrippa I’s death.) The focus is not on the purchase of the field (which would have appeared a reward, especially to Jews for whom landowning in Palestine was important), but on his death in the field (which was ghastly). Both authors want to point out that the field was called “The Field of Blood,” thus memorializing the deed.” Kaiser, Ibid.

[iv] MacArthur, John Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed., Tit 1:12. Nashville: Word Pub., 1997, c1997.

[v] Kaiser, ibid.

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