This is a response to Shane Himes’s article: “Israel’s Journey to Know God: Progressive Revelation Part One”
Again, in the desire for brotherly love and unity, and to keep myself from polemicizing a brother in Christ with whom I greatly disagree, I’ve written to Shane personally.
Hi again Shane,
To be honest, I hesitated for a few moments before clicking on your most recent article. The thoughts running through my head sounded something like, “What if there is some argument he brings up that I’ve never heard of before and can’t answer?” This initial thought led me to ask a couple of questions: “Why do I feel the need to answer your denial of biblical inerrancy?” and “How much of this discussion deals with our presuppositions before ever even coming to the passages in the text that are a bit troublesome?”
To answer the first question, I feel the need to answer because I believe inerrancy to be foundationally important to the Christian faith, for the reasons I stated in the previous article. Secondly, despite the litany of alleged biblical contradictions, why do I still hold so stubbornly to my belief that the Bible is, in fact, a unified collection of documents and does not contradict itself?
It seems to me that we are dealing with our presuppositions. You and I are looking at the same evidence and coming to two different conclusions. It’s not that the issue with Exodus 6:3 absolutely convinced you that the Bible was prone to contradiction. I know that because when I look at this discrepancy, I (and others like me) don’t have the “ah-ha” moment you mention.
It saddens me that you felt limited to two options when addressing this issue.
“I could declare the Christian faith a hoax due to contradictions in certain parts of the Bible, or I could nuance my understanding of biblical inspiration and my expectations of the Bible.”
Have you considered a third option? I could hold onto my trust in the reliability of the Scriptures, dig deeper, and find an explanation that reasonably reconciles this passage with the times God is known as YHWH to the patriarchs.
Yes, I think the issue you initially brought up can be addressed reasonably and without stretching the text. The foundational issue here, however, is whether or not, at its very core, the Scripture is accurate and trustworthy. Do we get to subjectively decide where we think God’s Word is right and where it must be wrong?
When God states that He was not known by His name to the patriarchs, how can we account for the 100+ times that He (or they) use that name in Genesis 12-50? Here’s my attempt to answer it, but like I said (and will continue writing about), the issue we are dealing with is so much deeper than just one (of hundreds) of apparent discrepancies.
We are dealing with the storyline of God’s name, which doesn’t climax until Exodus 34:5-7. The concept of God’s “name” is never biblically emphasized as the four letters that make up the tetragrammaton, but the very character and nature of God. He is consistent and faithful. He will always be who he always has been (YHWH). The reason we can trust Him is because we can have absolute surety in “who” He is. The writer of Exodus was very familiar with Genesis and wasn’t contradicting it, but pointing out that Moses’s connection with God was so much deeper than what the patriarchs might have experienced. The point wasn’t that they didn’t know the word “Yahweh” in connection with God. The point is that God’s might was revealed to Abraham, but the fullness of His character wasn’t revealed until Moses, and even then it had to be limited so that Moses wouldn’t be destroyed (Exodus 33:17-23).
Can you answer how as a young boy Samuel “ministered before Yahweh” (1 Sam. 2:18; 3:1) but he “did not yet know Yahweh” (1 Sam. 3:7)? Did he know who he was serving or not? Clearly to know in this passage means more than simple recognition of existence.
What about every other time in Exodus when yadah, the Hebrew word “to know,” is applied to human engagement with Yahweh (6:7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:29; 10:2; 14:4, 18; 16:6, 12; 29:46)? Each of these passages indicates so much more than simple recognition of existence. Is it good exegesis to use a modern Western definition of know in Exodus 6:3, when it is clearly much more than that?
What about the fact that yadah is applied to the intimate sexual experience between husband and wife? Did Abraham really not know Sarah before that happened?
What about Jeremiah 16:21 and Isaiah 52:6? Did the people of Israel really not know how to pronounce God’s name? I don’t think either of us would make that claim.
This isn’t stretching the text. This is exactly what you have been asking us to do, recognize the cultural, linguistic, narrative, and historical context of the Writings. We can’t apply the Hebrew word yadah to our cleanly defined 21st century Western understanding of what it means to know something, when it is clear from Scripture that it means so much more.
Moving to the bigger issue, however, where does my trust in the Scriptures come from? Is it a game of circular reasoning? I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible because I believe Jesus because I believe the Bible…and so on? I don’t think so.
I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
I believe in the “gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-2).
Because He was declared to be the Son of God, I believe the things He said to be true.
I believe what Jesus taught about the Old Testament. When did He ever cast doubt on its origin? Did he teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, He taught exactly the opposite. Jesus regularly referred to passages from the Old Testament as “the commandment of God” (Matt. 15:3) and “The word of God” (Matt. 15:6; John 10:35). In fact, Jesus, Himself, quoted the very passage that convinced you that the Old Testament must contain errors.
“And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31-32; Jesus is quoting from Ex. 3:6)
Who did Jesus credit these words to? You have attributed this passage from Exodus to a mistaken human, when Jesus attributes it to God Himself.
I believe in Jesus’s promise to the apostles that they would be given the “Spirit of truth” who would teach and remind them of Jesus’s words (John 14:17, 26).
I believe what Jesus said to those same apostles when he promised,
“When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15).
For those reasons, I also believe what the apostles say about the Hebrew Scriptures. When do they ever cast doubt on its origin? Do they teach that the Old Testament writings were just the author’s interpretation of what God wrote? Actually, they teach exactly the opposite.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
When Paul writes this about the Hebrew Scriptures, he emphasizes God’s intimate involvement in the Word. Where exactly is the room, according to Paul, for the Hebrew prophets to misunderstand Him and write their own interpretation of their experience with God?
2 Peter 1:19-21
“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Prior to this quote, Peter emphasizes his own role as an eyewitness and how God’s revealed words are even more concrete and trustworthy than what he had previously experienced walking daily with the incarnate Lord. Should this passage read, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as best as they could understand him, while of course being limited by their unscientific, morally unrefined, ancient worldview”?
I’m just not comfortable with the presuppositions that would allow for Jesus and the apostles to be mistaken on their teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures.
I really do appreciate your attempts to show that the Bible must be seen in the cultural and historical context that its authors lived. I agree wholeheartedly, but to suggest that God was not able (or willing), in those ancient times, to communicate his words accurately is contrary to Jesus’s teachings. The term “inerrancy” might be a modern construct, but its definition has been the foundation of most Christians throughout history: the reliability that anyone with a copy of it has access to God’s own words.
As for the Akkadian texts you mention, I think they are amazing finds that really shed light on the Torah! If the global flood really did happen, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that other ancient cultures (even those who began writing their histories before the ancient descendants of Abraham) would recount these stories? Even the ancient Māori, in the land I’m currently living in, had a story of an overwhelming flood. Most ancient cultures do. That should increase our faith in the Hebrew Scriptures!
Sidebar: Does the Bible claim that Moses was the first person to ever write anything down? Does the fact that these Akkadian texts are older mean that they are in some way better? The Sumerian Code of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin is actually much older than Hammurabi.
It’s great that you’ve listed some of the laws from the Code of Hammurabi, written centuries prior to the Exodus. Aren’t they amazing? The similarities to the Torah are awesome! If God did give His Law to a theocratic society that had recently departed Egypt, wouldn’t we expect some of the civil laws found therein to be similar to other ancient law codes? Of course we would. But, I think you forgot to mention some of the important differences. Hammurabi’s law is completely inundated with polytheism, like all cultures of the day (except the Hebrew). The Torah continually declares the Israelites’ reasons for believing and obeying it: God’s faithfulness and rescue. Before giving any laws, God states: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) Throughout the Torah He emphasizes the mandate for obeying Him is tied to His love and his previous action (Lev. 25:38; 26:11-13, Dt. 4:7). Yahweh’s laws are tied to His real presence and righteousness among His people. Is this something that Hammurabi can claim?
As for Joshua 10:12-14, I hope you can maintain consistency and never again use the phrases “sunrise” and “sunset.” Otherwise, people might consider you ignorant and unscientific. It might be more reasonable to allow the Bible to speak the same language that ancient people spoke, and in this case, the way people still speak today, as things appear from our perspective.
You mentioned in a Facebook post that “these articles are fun, but they aren’t going to be the best means of academic engagement.” You suggested that we read your thesis if anyone really wanted to “dive into the issue.” While I appreciate the hard work and study that goes into a thesis, I think that since you’ve introduced the topic in a nonacademic venue, its best for us to continue the conversation down here. I also enjoy spending some time in academia’s ivory tower, but if conclusions reached there can’t be effectively communicated to those without access to it, we’re doing a great disservice to the Lord’s people.
I’m not sure if you plan to respond to my responses, but I think I’ve voiced some questions that many of us have when inerrancy gets the boot. Perhaps you didn’t intend your articles to be a large scale defense of your position of “errancy,” but when you finish your series I would really appreciate your time in helping me understand your point of view in some of the questions I’ve raised.
Shane, I appreciate you and hope we can come to a better understanding of God’s truth together.