Check Your Facts!, God

I enjoy listening to the hubristic claims by some in the media that they only report the truth; that they are rigorous in checking their facts, and so their reports can be trusted. Then someone comes along with impeccable evidence that proves the inerrant reporter is made of clay like the rest of us.

The brothers following the trajectory of Dr. Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation would have us believe that God is very much a clay-e-reporter. They do so with the intention of encouraging us that he is trustworthy after all. (More can be read on this in the previous posts, Incoherent Inerrancy, Who Ya Gonna Believe, and There’s Accommodation, and then There’s …?.)

Huh? God knowingly communicates in the Bible via errors, and this makes him more, not less trustworthy?

In this post I want to offer some suggestions to counter this irrationality. Contrary to the position that says we have to live with the fact that the Bible is filled with errors, there are perfectly rational alternative explanations for the (supposed) errors in the Bible, alternatives that do not begin with the presupposition: God trustworthily communicates truth via error.

I do not propose to offer any “proof” here. (I think there are reasons why God does not offer us proof – a future post will address that topic.)

Rather I propose to offer perfectly reasonable alternatives; alternatives which presuppose God trustworthily communicates truth inerrantly. I hope to show that there is no need to bow before the unbelieving higher-critical scholars, and then try to come up with a position of error-laden inerrancy.

Let’s use Daniel 9:1 one as our example passage (ESV): In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans-

The problem, according the errantists is that ancient near eastern (ANE) historical sources prove that this is wrong. These ANE sources prove that there never was a Persian king named Darius who was the son of Ahasuerus. Thus, the Bible must be wrong.

I’ll leave it others to list all the viable alternatives to assuming the Bible is wrong. Instead, I want to put the shoe on the other foot. Which is more plausible, that the Bible is wrong here, or that the ANE sources are wrong? Here are three common characteristics of secular historical sources, characteristics which mark their errancy and fallibility.

ANE Name Usage

Ancient naming practices were not as controlled as our modern western name process – recorded on the birth certificate it is as good written in stone! Not so in the ANE. Like any culture, ANE cultures used names in a variety of ways naming individuals, that when recorded in history, can lead to confusion.

E.g., sometimes a given name of one important person becomes an honorific title for others following after him. “Caesar” was one of Julius’s personal family names. With his successor and nephew, Augustus “Caesar” this name became a title ascribed to all succeeding Roman emperors (and their titular descendents in Germany, “Kaiser” and Russia, “Czar”.)

Sometimes someone just did something that added a name to his names. I’m sure most American readers will know who I mean when I say I love the Duke. (Movie actor John Wayne for those amongst us who have not had the cultural development of the rest of us ;-).) It would be easy 500 years from now, with spotty records from our period, to get confused: John Wayne, Duke, Marion Morrison (John’s birth name) – are we talking one guy, two guys, three guys, etc.?

Other times adoption, political maneuvers, critical societal shifts, etc., resulted in names being associated with individuals that were not well documented in historical records. E.g., there is some evidence that “Ahasuerus” was something of a titular name that was assumed as a part of the names ascribed to a Persian king.

Whether or not this is the explanation is not the point. What is the point is that there is sufficient evidence from ANE sources to provide plausible naming explanations for Dan. 9:1.

Spotty Historical Records

Of course, those who believe the ANE sources that “prove” Dan 9:1 is an error, are assuming that these secular sources are themselves inerrant! Yet history is replete with examples of such inerrancy assumptions being proven false.

One of the best examples is the claim that Belshazzar was not the last king of Babylon, and that Daniel was wrong in calling him so. After all, “inerrant” ANE secular sources “proved” that Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king.

That was until some ANE records turned up that explained that Nabonidus had appointed his son Belshazzar to be his regent, his “king-in-fact” in Babylon while he went off to fight an enemy. So what of all those claims that the Bible was proved wrong by these ANE records? Ooops …

Again, I’m not claiming this is the explanation for Dan 9:1. I am challenging the presupposition that the ANE records are inerrant. Why do we need to assume that the Bible must be wrong? It is just as likely that the historical record is spotty, that there is information missing from the ANE sources.

Propaganda History

The cliché “the victor write the history,“ is not always true. Sometimes the loser writes it, and he is believed.

My favorite example of this is the supposed victory of Ramses II over the Hittites at Kadesh in 1274 B.C. This was possibly the largest chariot battle ever fought in the ANE, with over 5,000 chariots involved. Due to the large amount of Egyptian records, it was commonly accepted that this was a stunning victory for Ramses II and the Egyptians.

That was, until Hittites records were discovered – and they told a significantly different story. In the end, scholars debate whether Ramses II secured a Pyrrhic victory (brought his army home, but did not capture Kadesh,) secured a draw with the Hittites, or suffered a stunning defeat.

So what of Ramses II’s claims of an overwhelming victory? Pure propaganda!

Now again, I’m not proposing such a solution for the question in Dan. 9:1. I am pointing out that ANE sources are just as likely to be nothing more than propaganda, lies intended to serve political ends, as they are accurate historical records.

I’ve given these three examples, again not as solutions to the “apparent” error in Dan. 9:1. Rather I’m seeking to make one simple point. The ANE cultures whose historical records “prove” that the Bible has errors in it were cultures just like ours, filled with error-prone people.

On what basis do we presuppose that these sources are more trustworthy than the Bible? If the Bible were nothing more than another ANE record written by error-prone men, well then of course it would be no different, and equally as likely to be in error as the contradicting secular sources.

However, we’re talking about God’s record here. Do we really want to presume that God needs to check his facts?

- Reed DePace

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24 Comments

  1. Pete Myers said,

    June 2, 2009 at 9:51 am

    [A] One of the best examples is the claim that Belshazzar was not the last king of Babylon, and that Daniel was wrong in calling him so. After all, “inerrant” ANE secular sources “proved” that Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king.

    That was until [B] some ANE records turned up that explained that Nabonidus had appointed his son Belshazzar to be his regent, his “king-in-fact” in Babylon while he went off to fight an enemy. So what of all those claims that the Bible was proved wrong by these ANE records? Ooops …

    And to perhaps add some more food for discussion… what should Christians have believed about the matter in between A and B?

    What was the right thinking Christian thing to do?
    Go with the secular scholars, and believe the Bible was wrong, until proven otherwise?Go with the Bible, and believe the secular scholars were wrong until proven otherwise?Be agnostic about the issue?
    And so that naturally leads us onto open ended issues at the moment on the current cutting edge of scholarship. Issues today where scholarship has said the Bible is wrong on something (so we’ve passed point A), but before the scholarship has met a decent Evangelical rebuttal (so we haven’t reached point B). What is the right thinking Christian thing to do for those issues right now?

  2. Pete Myers said,

    June 2, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Ok, the “ordered list” tag didn’t work in the comment for some reason. Sorry.

  3. Reformed Sinner said,

    June 2, 2009 at 9:58 am

    #1 Peter,

    I am very surprise, pastorally, on your question (unless you’re asking it rhetorically.) Since when are believers of Christ been called to always double-check their faith with the academia before we can “really” believe it? I have no problem with the empty tomb and resurrection story no matter how much science and the academia scream in my ear with “proofs” that it’s impossible for a human being to resurrect back to life, let alone be “taken up” in the skies and to the heavens.

    Reed has posted a solid point of view – why are erranists so quick to uplift ANE materials (which in themselves are incomplete, errant, and corrupted) as inerrant and uses them to “proof” about the authenticity of the Biblical accounts? Why are they so quick to dismiss the Biblical accounts as “errand” but not have the same critical and cautious eye towards these same ANE materials that they use judiciously to discount the Bible? At the end of the day how do errantists really define the uniqueness of the Word of God compare to words of men of ANE?

  4. Reed Here said,

    June 2, 2009 at 10:00 am

    RS: no, I’m pretty sure Pete was using sarcastic rhetoric (inerrantly I might add :) .) He’s with you on your observations.

  5. Pete Myers said,

    June 2, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I wasn’t intending to be sarcastic, but I was intended to demonstrate the “starkness” of the positions that Reed has managed to reveal in his post.

    If you’re not sure how I’d answer the questions I pose above, I’m sure that will become clear in the ensuing conversation :)

  6. Reformed Sinner said,

    June 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Excuse my gullibility.

  7. Reed Here said,

    June 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Shoot no! We’re gonna hold it over your head until we get some satisfaction.

    A promise of a nice beverage at some unknown future time would be sufficient :-)

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    June 2, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Reformed Sinner: “Excuse my gullibility.”

    Excused.

    And if the historical-critical errantists and their enablers, the incoherent inerrantists, ask to be excused for their gullibility and for leading others to adopt harmful gullibility, then they will be excused as well.

  9. Steven Carr said,

    June 2, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Reed,

    This is an excellent post. You are right, you haven’t “proved” anything, but then again, no one is ever going to “prove” anything in this debate. You have done as you said you would: provided some very excellent alternatives which presuppose the trustworthiness of God in a very credible way.

    I am tired of the assumption that it is more scholarly to presuppose that the Bible contains errors. I am also tired of the assumption that the human intellect is capable of producing proof of errors in the Bible. It is high time that “biblical” scholars start admitting the limitations of human knowledge. These “biblical” scholars should be open to the possibility that their interpretation of facts is not infallible; that there is a plausible explanation for the difficulty in the Bible, which we may or may not discover.

    Ok, enough of my tirade. To buttress your argument, Shane Lems has some interesting points on historiography that we don’t have a univocal nor an equivocal perspective on history, but a pilgrim perspective, i.e., analogical.
    Here

    http://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/historiography-and-eisenhower/

    and here

    http://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/historiography-and-eisenhower-part-ii/

  10. Steven Carr said,

    June 2, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I meant to say “biblical history.”

  11. Roger Mann said,

    June 2, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    On what basis do we presuppose that these sources are more trustworthy than the Bible?

    On the basis of unbelief — plain and simple! Those who presuppose that secular ANE sources are more trustworthy than the Bible are hypocrites. They shouldn’t be given an iota of respect as so-called biblical scholars. And any faithful Presbytery would discipline them for their blasphemy against God’s written word.

  12. wsparkman said,

    June 2, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    In short the “modern” student is trying to restate in terms of a more or less frankly naturalistic evolution what the Bible states in terms of supernatural redemption. No wonder the “modern” student finds contradictions in the Bible and has to tear it chapter from chapter, verse from verse, and line from line, since he would so completely change its message. But those who study it reverently as the Word of God and seek the guidance of His Spirit will be more and more impressed with the harmony and the heavenliness of its glorious message of redeeming love in Jesus Christ our Lord.
    O.T. Allis, “The Scriptural Method of Bible Study” [http://continuing.wordpress.com/]

  13. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    June 3, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Great post, Reed.

  14. Reed Here said,

    June 3, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks Joshua.

  15. Reed Here said,

    June 3, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Wayne: helpful reminder that we all live in Quoleth’s world; nothing new under the Sun.

    I do wish our friends coming up with a “new” way of resolving the supposed problems of the Bible, would take seriously how much they repeat “old” answers.

  16. June 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Reed:

    In partial reply and a tangential rabbit trail to boot, does anyone know if the curriculum under Enns gave favorable audience to Cassuto’s devastating refutation of the documentary hypothesis? Were his students even exposed to Cassuto’s work?

  17. Reed Here said,

    June 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Wayne: it may be my faulty memory, but Cassuto’s name does not ring a bell.

    I found the following from the Wickipedia article on Cassuto:

    Cassuto’s criticisms, while influential amongst many Jewish scholars, were dismissed by the overwhelming majority of Christian scholars at the time. It cannot be said, however, that many of them were really familiar with his work. Very few make reference to it at all, and hardly any of these to his La Questione della Genesi. Most who do cite Cassuto in this connection do not actually take up his assertions and attempt to refute them but merely add the title of The Documentary Hypothesis to their footnotes listings.

    I’m open to correction from students who paid closer attention than me, but this quote seems to sum up my memory.

  18. wsparkman said,

    June 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    My copy of Cassuto’s Documentary Hypothesis dates from when I was at Westminster in the late 70s (to date myself!–it was $6.95 back then). Basically he employs literary analysis to pick the documentary hypothesis to pieces. To give an example of his argument, he shows that use of the various names of God follow a careful pattern–that YHWH is used in relation to Israel and in legal texts, while Elohim is used in relation to the nations and in wisdom literature.
    I would highly recommend it.

  19. Ron Henzel said,

    June 3, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Reed,

    You wrote:

    I enjoy listening to the hubristic claims by some in the media that they only report the truth; that they are rigorous in checking their facts, and so their reports can be trusted.

    You mean like Dan Rather?

  20. ReformedSinner said,

    June 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    As a person that took Enns class, and has help many underclassmen review OTI since, not once was Cassuto’s work been mention or referenced.

  21. Pete Myers said,

    June 4, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Would people recommend Cassuto’s Documentary Hypothesis to a soon-to-be freshmen seminary student like me then?

    Will this be yet another Green Baggins Amazon trip?

    :)

  22. rfwhite said,

    June 4, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    19 Ron Henzel: Wouldn’t that be Bill O’Reilly with his No Spin Zone and Reality Check segment.

  23. June 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    [...] June 6, 2009 at 5:44 pm (Bible, Inerrancy, Myth, OT-Genesis, Romans) Tags: creation, Enns, Inerrancy In these discussions on the supposed errors in the Bible there is an unacknowledged gorilla in the room. (See Incoherent Inerrancy, Who Ya Gonna Believe, There’s Accommodation, and then There’s …?, and Check Your Facts!, God.) [...]

  24. Puritan Lad said,

    October 28, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I especially love the title of the post. As I have suggested in apologetics debates, the unbeliever’s problem isn’t a lack of evidence, for he has the same evidence that the believer has. His problem is metaphysical. He must be born again.


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