From: Defending Biblical Inerrancy Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2016
Are Jesus’ “Verifications” of Old Testament Inspiration, Authorship, and Events
In our Concise Handbook on Biblical Inspiration: Almost 800 Internal Claims of Accuracy and Revelation, we repeatedly surveyed what Jesus had to say as He quoted various Old Testament texts as being from certain authors and how He referred to various events as if representing genuine historical events. Unbelievers and semibelievers can hardly accept this evidence without surrendering their claims that the Pentateuch has little or no Mosaical content and that key historical events that are mentioned therein did not actually occur. The same is true in regard to a variety of other attributions and events as well, of course.
Because of the way the Concise Handbook was structured, the emphasis was inherently on the evidence rather than on ways to avoid that evidence. In the current volume, however, we have a more appropriate context in which to examine the question of how seriously we should take these attributions and references—with an emphasis on those given by Jesus but, to a lesser extent, similar remarks by Paul will also be defended.
Three lines of attack are quite common so we will zero in on them and see how well they survive.
I. Kenosis Theory
This line of assault is built upon Philippians 2:6-8, but we’ll quote the preceding verse as well for it’s also useful in determining the real intent:
Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
The kenosis theory to explain Jesus’ “mistakes” in attribution and historicity ignores what the text is really talking about. From verses 6-8 the claim is made that when Jesus left being solely “in the form of God” in heaven and took “the form of a bondservant” by taking upon Himself a physical body, that this resulted in mental and intellectual limitations that prevented Him from being as reliable as when he purely / solely existed in the form of Deity. The key words are “made Himself” or “emptied Himself” (New American Standard Bible): the key word being the first one, kenosis. He became something He wasn’t previously.
It is strange how one can overlook the obvious. Twenty-five years or more after I wrote the initial draft of this material, I occasionally looked for additional materials on selected aspects. And it was through doing that I finally noticed what should be obvious when one pays attention to the full text and not become obsessed with one word to the exclusion of everything else: The text is talking about the humility of Jesus and not His “losing” some previous power or knowledge He had had in heaven (62)—Note the “humbled Himself” in the text. And, yes, I’ve heard it preached that way but, mentally, had never linked it up with the passage when this particular issue was discussed.
Note how the text begins by commanding “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). “Let this mind”—this way of thinking and acting. We can’t, by the very nature of the situation, give up what we are. But we can alter how we reason and behave.
He’s saying: Imitate Jesus’ humility. And what a profound humility it was! He had been in the exact same form as the Father (2:6) but was willing to give that up by taking on human form (2:7-8). The humility context to explain the intent of the passage is further stressed in verse 8: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (verse 8). The point is not that He gave up His knowledge of the Divine will, but that He gave up His place in heaven. Does not anything He demands of us pail into insignificance when compared to that?
Let’s pursue the theory further, for even if the central point of the text is ignored the unbeliever / semibeliever analysis suffers from other faults as well.
Do even knowledge limitations imply the necessity of erring? Not with a full memory of what He knew in heaven or with Divine discourse from the Father while on earth! There is a world of difference between having limitations and being in error—between not knowing everything and being in error in that which one thinks one does know. So even if we were to concede “limitations” on Jesus’ knowledge while in the flesh, that does not in any way require us to assert that He also taught error while in the flesh.
Especially is this so if He retained a full memory of everything from heaven or even just the teaching He was to deliver.
John the Baptist—possibly John apostle, for there is much discussion as to where and whether the text shifts from the Baptist to the apostle—indicates that Jesus had just such a recall:
John "He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.
The gospel of John records Jesus making a similar claim: “I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father” (John ). Sure does sound like a claim to a reliable memory of everything He knew from heaven.
But perhaps we misread the intent of these texts. (Doubt it, though.) But let us examine another alternative: That the Father, through the Holy Spirit, provided Him with everything He taught. Make that as a detailed/exhaustive “briefing” before He came to earth or, at least part, while He was on earth itself, and you have the same result: He had to be right on whatever He taught because the contents were, for lack of a more adequate term, inspired.
There are a significant number of texts pointing in this direction. Perhaps the semibeliever can “nickel and dime” out of a few of them, but this “poker hand” still wipes out the credibility of his or her claims! In fact all of them could actually be a reference to Jesus being taught in heaven what to teach—and remembering it. So even those cause the opponent to go down in flames: Would the hostile critic rather do so at the hands of teachings Jesus brought from heaven or from teachings heaven gave, at least in part, after He arrived?
John Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.”
John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.”
John "But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.”
John “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
John “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. [Interesting—not “ideas” or “thoughts” but the very words.]
John “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me.” [Again “words” and not some vaguer reference.]
John 17:8 “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” [And a third time we hear of “words” rather than mere “ideas!”]
It doesn’t look like the kenosis theory is going very far, does it? Why even the “words”—think of the references to “Moses” and “Isaiah” in passages semibelievers deny they wrote. Think references to historical events such folk deny ever happened. The “words” are intended to encompass all His teaching—including these! Might Jesus be right after all and His hostile foes be the ones who are sincere but misguided?
What the kenosis theory actually requires—and no one is likely to want to say it this bluntly—is this: “Jesus didn’t know that He didn’t know the wrong attributions were being given and He didn’t know that He was citing non-existent pseudo-historical events.” Unless this was the case, He would have been consciously dishonest, telling the authorship/historical falsehoods that He threw out so indiscriminately. And what an ethical problem that would present! Jesus, the conscious and knowing liar!
But if He went
out of heaven without a full retention of the absolute truth about what really
happened in Jewish history, we face two incredible and interlocked
problems: (1) As Deity incarnate, why would Jesus permit
Himself to be so limited as to teach anything which could ultimately be exposed
as error? As the modern semibelievers are convinced they have “established” time
and again: The traditional authorships
He alludes to are often wrong. His
references to events like the repentance of
As the Man presenting Himself repeatedly as the Redeemer—and whose acceptance as such is as fundamental a part of Christianity as you can get—to be so guilty of repeated erroneous claims . . . how can He possibly be so erroneous on so much when we are so dependent upon His salvational power? Why in the world should we then even trust His claims of redemptive power? Why can’t He be in well intentioned error here as well?
If His teaching “errors” are so clearly exposable by scholarly thought and analysis, why would He tolerate functioning with such limited knowledge while on earth? Why those “ignorant and unlearned masses” would one day come to be far, far more astute and perceptive than He--“conclusively” establishing the “blunders” of that pitifully ignorant Nazarene!
Or must we say that He was ignorant in His incarnate form of such things as well? Wow, that would play havoc with traditional concepts of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit—wouldn’t it?
But granting traditional assumptions of His vast supernatural knowledge base, to deny it to Him would be like sending a gladiator into the arena—without his sword. He was involved in the very creation of mankind: “God who created all things through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:9). Yet on earth, He was so stripped of such vast amounts of insight and knowledge that he made errors that modern “Biblical scholars” easily detect!
The mind recoils in horror. But there is yet another problem.
(2) The second massive problem of Jesus being sent out without a full knowledge of religious history (authorships, events, etc) concerns God the Father’s own character and ability: Would He send His Son to earth incapable of telling truth from falsehood on anything concerning the Jewish religion He had originated through Moses?
This would have been irresponsibility of the highest order. The Person being sent not being able to be sure whether what He said was fully reliable or not! Was the Father so powerless to provide protection on such matters? We may have all types of arguments on all the connotations implied (or, for that matter, not implied) by the traditional description of God as “omniscient,” but surely it covers the ability to assure that His Son would always get the facts right. Hence the kenosis document is a fundamental assault on God’s very power and ability; so it carries a lot more freight than our current controversy.
Furthermore, God could, as with human prophets, provide Jesus direct supernatural guidance and inspiration. Whatever knowledge “loss” there may have been in the transition to having a fleshly body could easily have been compensated for by this means.
Of course unbelievers and semibelievers tend to get very skittish about inerrant revelation as well. For their theories fundamentally attack the supernatural origin of Christianity and anything that would give it authority to require us to act contrary to our own preferences. Except for “love” of course—which they will twist on the political level into the grand authority for the superpowerful tyrannical state that will “act for your good.” And on the moral level, into the removal of whatever “thou shalt not” that currently stands between them and the sensual appetites of their supporters.
Trying to separate His historical allusions (as unreliable) from His spiritual teachings (as reliable) isn’t a viable option—the two are intertwined.
Jesus refers to Moses and His teaching—but Moses wrote little or nothing. Yet Jesus cites it to vindicate His spiritual teaching.
Jesus refers to David writing Psalms—but he probably didn’t, the number of genuine ones varying from one semibeliever to another. But even the ones referred to by Jesus weren’t necessarily by Him. And yet Jesus cited them to prove His own teaching and as predictive of His life and death—interlocking historical and spiritual.
Jesus’ references to
Is it credible for the religious lies of the Old Testament (but that, in effect, is what we are being called on to believe them to be) are adequate or even APPROPRIATE precedents for valid spiritual teaching? To attempt to separate these two strands of teaching is one of those grand conceptual ideas that don’t work so well in practice.
(Yes, in all fairness, they’ll use more polite language. But their fundamental understanding of what these Old Testament events and attributions were in the original writers is pious fiction. Pious lies for they are presented as truth—but are pious lies a legitimate foundation for genuine spiritual truths and insights? And does not their free use demand we throw out the entire New Testament as based upon inherited fictions and illusions? Delusions even. Again, the kenosis concept carries a lot more implications that those who innocently introduce such arguments usually recognize.)
The kenosis theory in regard to Old Testament events and attributions embraced by Jesus also falters on the ground that He had the same attitude after the resurrection, when one would expect all those purely human limitations to have been removed. We read in Luke’s resurrection account:
24:44 Then He said to them,
“These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all
things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the
Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend
the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was
necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of
sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at
How pregnant with meaning is His assertion: “These are the words (1) which I spoke to you while I was still with you, (2) that all things must be fulfilled (3) which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”
Jesus has died and been resurrected and He is still teaching the same things when “I was still with you.” In other words, whatever He taught about Biblical attributions and the genuineness of historical events was what He continued to embrace.
Has not His changed state restored His understanding of the true facts about the Old Testament? Or could it be that He was never “wrong” in the first place?
Or shall we go for the option that even after the resurrection, He never got back His original true knowledge of events? His earthly experience blotted out His original Divine knowledge? Doesn’t sound like a good theory. That His humanity destroyed major elements of His supernaturalness is the “freight” carried with that scenario, however.
Or, if you wish, did He not get His full knowledge consciousness back until He got to heaven, where His pre-incarnation knowledge was then “restored”? That assumes He had not already been there during the 40 days between resurrection and (final) ascension. And if He hadn’t been there already, then he could have used the Spirit He promised (verse 49) to teach them what He had previously been unaware of. But we have not a hint of that.
Furthermore He is still a believer in prophecy: “all things must be fulfilled.” There was something shaping these earlier writers that provided them with insight into what was ultimately going to happen.
Yet advocates of kenosis based ignorance are hardly likely to be thrilled with this being true either. A scripture reduced to purely human terms and invention—that fits their preferences far better. It makes the text far more “human” and due to their intellectual pretensions and degrees, they are surely better qualified to have their conclusions accepted . . . surely they must be far more reliable than those pious but ignorant Jews of olden time. (Is it just my annoyance or do we smell yet again a certain odor of anti-Semitism in the air?)
Then there’s the embarrassment that He still believed in “the Law of Moses” when one of the “assured results of scholarship” is that only modest sections (if that) actually came from him. Now Jesus came from heaven. (Or is that to be branded a Christian fiction on par or worse than the Jewish one that the Law came through Moses?) And Jesus claimed it was Moses’ Law.
Odd that . . . that mere mortals should now know more than the Creator.
Odd that . . . that mere mortals should reason better than the One sent to redeem us from our sins. Smarter than the Redeemer. Hmmm.
We need go on no longer. If the point hasn’t been grasped by now, it never will be.
What we have said in no way denies that there was a stage on earth in which He was a learner. Of His youth we read, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke ). The text does not say “increased in wisdom and knowledge”; normally we think of a distinction between the two and that growing in “wisdom” would mean the capacity to effectively and appropriately use knowledge rather than the gaining of it. In modern terms, we would probably word it, “His people skills increased;” He learned the practicalities of dealing with others.
But perhaps we misjudge. Maybe “wisdom” is intended to cover both. After all, there is nothing inherently improbable that there was an extended period before the fullness of His preincarnate knowledge and insight was allowed to become fully operative in His mind. In a purely human analogy: think of the difficulty of getting the insight and knowledge of a Ph.D. inside the brain of a six year old in such a way that human sanity would be preserved and the data would be as usable as any other daily activity!
Whether it was done over extended months or at His baptism or however one wishes to work out a conjectural chronology—for conjecture can be all that it ever can be--one fact can not be overstressed: Luke 2:52 is talking of the period before He became a public teacher.
If there was imperfection in His knowledge of spiritually related things, He was not yet ready for that public role in which He would be “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). To have Him ready for that profound a role, He had to have the full depth of Divinely related truth to deal with any and all situations and to keep from misleading others.
Could He really have played this central a role in God’s agenda without having an accurate knowledge of what happened in the Biblical records and who wrote them? Hence to knowingly misattribute a volume was to lie by omission. Is that possibly compatible with the pivotal human-Divine role He was supposed to play?
Even assuming that the degree of pre-incarnation knowledge He had was limited while in the flesh, that could just as easily have been quantitative rather than qualitative: There were surely many things of that period that would have been of little or no use to Him while in the flesh and dealing with others: what was His daily routine in heaven, to give but one obvious example. Of such things, no harm would have resulted if He had only the dimmest recollection—but still enough to protect Him from misstatement.
But when it came to anything in any manner related to what the Torah and Prophets taught—contents, origin, intents—well that would have crippled Him in His intended role as fully authoritative and reliable Teacher. Hence we have every reason to believe that such limitations were not allowed.
And this is true regardless of whether or not there were other limitations such as those we’ve discussed. We have no way of really knowing. What we do know is that whatever He taught He claimed to be truth—reliable, authoritative, and to be counted on. Not idle human invention and myth. If you believe otherwise, your Jesus is a mere shadow of the real one. Consider giving up the fictitious “ghost” you’ve invented and embrace the real historical Jesus—the Redeemer of all who will take advantage of the opportunity!
II. Accommodation Theory
This is the concept that Jesus used the commonly held convictions of His day as mere preacher tools without embracing them Himself. Any allusions to traditional authorships that “established Old Testament scholarship:” It is no problem if they are erroneous . . . because He was just speaking their language, not his own conviction.
If He refers to ceremonial teachings of Moses—“But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded” (Luke 5:14, referring to Leviticus 14)—well the chance of that being a command of the historical Moses borders on zero. Jesus simply must have been accommodating Himself to the assumptions others were accepting.
Nor are His allusions
to historical events to be considered anything more. Did He refer to the destruction of
By taking this approach both the unbeliever and the semibeliever attempts to avoid having to decide between accepting Jesus as a fully reliable authority on whatever He preached on and rejecting the critical claims so popular in much of religious scholarship today. Of course Jesus is not around to rebuke them so they don’t have to worry about answering to that source—at least not before they die.
If He were here, would they change their teaching? Unfortunately, not likely. Those in the first century Jewish religious “establishment” did not think they needed to change any of their teaching or behavior—even after hearing Jesus speak and teach. Hence it is hardly character assassination to doubt whether our modern religious “elite” would either.
Regardless of how we judge this hypothetical situation, their theory is fundamentally wrong and a number of weighty objections can be lodged against it.
1. There is a difference between adapting a truth into a form that people can understand and teaching something as if true when one knows full well it is not. Both can be called “accommodation,” but it is the second that is under consideration in the current context. Yet the subject is often approached as if the latter were just as innocent and appropriate as the former. As if not one ounce more harm were being done.
Adaptation involves presenting truth—not error—in a form that is more easily comprehensible. Perhaps in the only way that the idea can be comprehensible to human ears. In the Bible God is often spoken of in anthropomorpic terms: as if He had literal physical hands, arms, tongue, and other bodily organs. Many can not comprehend even the existence of an intelligent, action-doing being except in such terms. So the images are utilized to convey the reality of God’s existence and His ongoing ability to act in a world of flesh and blood creatures.
When the Bible uses adaptation it often warns us such is the case. In the examples we have just cited, it does so by explicit statement: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). In other words God is not flesh and blood and, therefore, does not have the fleshly hands, arms, tongue, etc. that we normally envision when we hear such terms being used.
This is perhaps the most clear-cut text making the point, but there are certainly others. “God is Spirit” (John ) and “a spirit does not have flesh and blood as you see I have” (Luke 24:39)—contrasting the difference in Jesus being in human form and how He would otherwise be. (With the implication that the Father would similarly be in such a non-fleshly form.)
If “flesh and blood
cannot inherit the
Likewise when Jesus came to earth, He “shared” in the “flesh and blood” nature of other humans (Hebrews 2:14), again arguing that heavenly Deity does not have such a nature.
So when the Eternal Father is depicted in terms normally used of fleshly beings, we know that such is used to communicate information about His ability to act and intervene in this mortal world and not intended to tell us that, in Heaven, He has a body just like ours. Hence the description is used to communicate truth in a form that we can best understand it.
But when that which is
being communicated is untruth, nothing is being adapted because nothing
ever occurred. “Remember
There was no
There was no
Nothing happened to her.
Least of all the destruction of the city they were supposedly fleeing from.
Some—normally all of these—are regarded as pious tales of ancient antiquity. No historical example to learn from. To the extent that Jesus is communicating any principle of behavior to us (rather than to His original listeners who were too ignorant to know any better), it is this: “Say whatever you have to even when you know it is brazen hogwash—so long as it gets people to do what you think they need to do. If Jesus did it so freely, what could possibly be wrong with us doing so.”
Now none of them are going to say this outright because none of them consciously would embrace such a hideous idea. (Except, perhaps, for a small band of highly partisan preachers who would utilize and twist any Biblical text in order to accomplish their covert secularist agenda.) Yet how can one legitimately not say this? How can it legitimately be avoided?
How can it be described as anything but the Lord repeatedly and repeatedly embracing error and untruth to fulfill His agenda? This from the Man who gave the Pharisees down the river for how they bent their religion!
2. There is a profound difference between telling part of the truth and telling an untruth. The former may be a responsible means to accommodate to the age or maturity level of the individual we are talking with; the latter, however, is told either out of a desire to deceive or a lack of sufficient personal moral strength to tell the truth and take the criticism.
An easy example to make our point: “There is a difference between not telling small children all about sex and telling them the ‘stork story.’ The former is truth appropriate for the circumstances whereas the latter is a fabrication” (6-60).
Likewise God may only reveal to mankind part of the truth at a given point in history, but humans can place total confidence in the fact that what is revealed is absolutely reliable. In the accommodation theory, we have God “revealing” through Christ and His apostles not part of the truth but (allegedly) what was never true in the first place.
3. If the theory of accommodation were true, it would effectively destroy our ability to place confidence in anything Jesus taught concerning matters in the past. Once accepted as a valid interpretive tool, “accommodation” can be utilized to dismiss virtually any doctrine or historical reference that has any root in the Old Testament. Rather than being an approach that merely explains, it easily feeds on itself and breeds super-skepticism in which the “accommodative errors” multiply and the historical core shrinks.
As Geisler and Nix write: “If Jesus accommodated so completely and conveniently to current ideas, how can it ever be known with certainty just what He actually believed? ‘If such a principle be admitted into our exposition of the Bible, we at once lose our moorings and drift out upon the sea of conjecture and uncertainty’ (Terry)” (6-60).
This is impelled, in major part, by the attitude that modern colleges and universities usually foster: Whether you are a great teacher and explainer of your subject is almost an irrelevancy. You have to get published and published and published if you are to gain tenure and to establish a reputation “appropriate” to one in your academic position.
If you are laboring in a semibeliever or secular university, your road to fame is to come up with some new “wave” in interpretation—preferably one that shows past interpretation has been in error and (if you are really good) that the text is even less reliable than such folk already believed. (Digging deeper the “grave” of Christianity rarely has done anyone harm in such academic settings!) So there is an inbuilt academic secularistic/semibeliever bias in favor of what denigrates the credibility and historical truth of the text. It advances alleged scholarship and their careers. A heady combination!
(Addendum: Nor is it honorable if Bible believing scholars play such stunts in the opposite direction. Truth and not career advancement should be the central goal of all.)
4. If we can not trust the historical references that concern this world, how can we accept the reliability of His spiritual teachings that rest on His unsupported testimony alone? In John 3, Jesus Himself raises a question that is very germane to our present discussion:
10 Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of
Although not speaking specifically of the historical allusions to the past He made in His teaching, the language is clearly broad enough to include it. For that matter, perhaps He did intend to include it: “You haven’t learned the warning lessons from the past I’ve used to plead for repentance and to point to the danger of God’s wrath coming again, can you possibly believe what I tell you about heavenly things?” It would fit well, wouldn’t it?
This is true even if we take the view that, in context, the “earthly things” “are not necessarily strictly physical things, but are so called because they take place on earth, in contrast to things like v. 16, which take place in heaven” (63). The historical events of the Old Testament also “take place on earth” and could—and were—invoked by Jesus to make spiritual points.
Therefore His statement that the unwillingness to accept the true things of this earth means one will be blind to the spiritual realities we have to be told about and accept by faith—this also applies to the historical precedents we should learn from. Cf. our modern adage, “Whoever doesn’t learn from history is doomed to repeat it.”
If Jesus was unable to accurately represent the past, why should He be trustworthy about the future—including how to obtain happiness in eternity rather than anguish? Why hasn’t his rational nature been so “corrupted” by becoming human in body that it has also gutted His sense of spiritual matters as well? Why should historical matters only be affected and not everything else?
Actually those who reject Jesus’ infallibility in regard to historical Biblical matters often already do the same in regard to spiritual matters.
Is Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), i.e., is He the sole way to salvation in eternity or can one make it through other world religions??
Is there such a thing as unending punishment after death for those who have rejected God’s way, as Jesus taught?
Is there a physical resurrection?
Is there a judgment of the entire human race?
Was the shedding of Jesus’ blood essential for human redemption?
What percentage of those who deny the reliability of Jesus’ allusions to the historical events recorded in the Old Testament and to the authorship of its various parts would actually embrace the above spiritual realities taught by Jesus?
10%? 20%? It’s hard to imagine the percentage being much larger. If anything, one would anticipate it being lower.
You see the sad reality is this: a denial of the reliability of Jesus’ “temporal” claims overwhelmingly goes hand-in-hand with a repudiation of his “spiritual” ones as well. Which side of that spiritual chasm would you rather stand on? You see, no one can make that decision for you. It’s one that can only come from within you.
Judge wisely, my friend. Judge wisely.
5. At some point, Jesus’ supposed use of “accommodation” would have crossed the line into outright deception. Unless one adopts the “kenosis” approach as well—and we’ve seen the major holes that has in it—then we are dealing with Jesus knowingly teaching what He knew to be untrue. And doing so in such a fashion that no one would question that He accepted it as true. To state it as bluntly as possible:
He was saying something He knew was a flat out lie.
He knew that they believed it was true.
He did absolutely nothing to discourage them from believing it.
His very use of a historical argument would encourage them to accept its truthfulness even more.
Even if one can “understand” why on some point or other Jesus might seem to accept the untruth in order to deal with an even greater problem they had—not taking the time to deal with a “secondary” matter--at what point does this cross the line into an outright pattern of deception? At what point does a prudent refusal to argue . . . cross the line into a repudiation of one’s personal integrity?
If He so routinely threw around brazen untruths— things He knew were untruths and which He could have avoided using at all or used in such a manner as to disassociate Himself from accepting their genuineness—at what point does He cross the line and become a sinner? No, that is not strong enough. A chronic, unrepentent sinner?
We could at this point wander through a variety of texts pointing to Jesus as being sinless. We’ll abstain for this volume is already getting longer than anticipated. Yet we all know that they are there. How do we avoid throwing out the Biblical doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness? Isn’t that a terribly high price to pay for our insistence that Jesus chronically taught things about the Old Testament that we are smart enough to know are inaccurate and untrue?
You see we begin with “accommodation” and we end somewhere with a whole lot bigger an impact than we expected!
Addendum: Don’t forget to consider carefully our remarks that He could have avoided the historical and authorship allusions entirely or introduced them in a way so as not to bind himself to their genuineness.
For example: “The law of Moses” could easily have become “the law,” leaving out all mention of authorship or origin. Everyone would still have known what He was talking about.
In historical allusions, instead of naming
In short, the advocates of “accommodation” also need a viable explanation for why Jesus did not use the viable alternatives that were available to Him and which would have made our entire discussion unnecessary.
In at least four ways we can test whether Jesus was willing to pass by in silence dominant but erroneous religious beliefs and convictions.
(1) His acquiescence doesn’t fit with how He acted in the Sermon on the Mount. Five times in Matthew 5:21-44 Jesus contrasts popular interpretations of God’s law with what He Himself stood for—and, truth be told, with what it was originally intended to cover. (If you wish a book length treatment, try my The Old Testament Roots of the Sermon on the Mount; it’s still available in print and, if you can’t find it that way, you’ll probably be able to find a used copy.) In the Sermon, He tackled unequivocally those who were misusing the texts and making them say things they were never intended to.
These were well established interpretations: they were “You have heard that it was said to those of old” (). It is hard to read such expressions without concluding that He refers not just to the text being “old” but the way of it being used being “old” as well. So He is tackling well established “truth.”
And He had absolutely no problem with saying, in effect: “This may go well back in time but it still isn’t true.”
Take the subject of divorce: “It has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ (Matthew ). The law of Moses did say that (Deuteronomy 24:1) but that was only part of what it said on the subject—in the same verse the reason for giving the divorce is given: “she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her.” Which sure does sound an awful lot like what Jesus Himself proceeds to teach in Matthew 5:32: “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
In spite of this massive omission from original intent, the “blanket permission” to get a divorce had been embraced as authorized by the rest of the verse. They left out the part that would prove themselves wrong. (A warning here for us as well--of the profound difference between prooftexting and prooftexting that actually runs contrary to what the specific text or other scriptures clearly teach!) Jesus simply would have no part of it, however much it would have been an unsettling teaching to much of his audience.
Later we find it was so even of the apostles (Matthew 19:1-9): “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (verse 10).
Yet He still taught it and did not back down.
The willingness to defy widely accepted convictions indicates a fundamental unwillingness to hold back from publicly embracing unpopular, dissenting views. Hence if the “law of Moses” did not mean that Moses was the pivotal / overwhelmingly dominant / sole author of that document (use whichever term you prefer . . . it comes out essentially the same way!) then we have every reason to believe that Jesus would not have used the expression because it was fundamentally in error.
(2) Jesus bluntly rejected the errors of even the premier religious leaders of His day, something utilizing the most scathing of language. Even when Jesus spoke “softly”—as in the Sermon on the Mount, for example—He made no compromise with error, pointing it out clearly and specifically.
But He could also “roar” when there was need for it. Take Matthew 23:13-33. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” are the words that begin verse 13. Verse 14. Verse 15. He then shifts to, “Woe to you, blind guides” in verse 16. And proceeds to give them a list of examples of where they were exactly that. And later in the section He returns to further stringent denunciation of their irresponsibility and unreliability.
You practically need asbestos gloves to read the verses. Such denunciations do not come from a man who “goes along to get along.” It does not come from a man who easily “accommodates” Himself to what He full well knows to be error!
(3) He was uncompromisingly opposed to humanly invented religious traditions. For Him it was loyalty to the Divinely revealed will that was essential. Human inventions that passed themselves off as such--or as equal--were anathema to Him: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9; cf. verses 1-8). He quotes this because “you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (verse 6).
In the original usage in Isaiah 29:13 the wording is “their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,” i.e., to the extent they were “faithful” it was not because they really believed it but because they had been taught / raised this way. The same, Jesus seems to argue, was true in His day except now they were running into the consequences: The same human authorities who you follow could teach you the right thing or the wrong thing and since your faith was in them and not God’s word you would follow them into the thorn bushes.
His “track record” was one of not “accommodating” when Scripture was blatantly misunderstood or misused or ignored. Tim Chaffey and Roger Patterson provide two other examples worth considering as illustrative of Jesus’ willingness to cross swords with the pseudo-truths of the religious establishment (64):
Jesus routinely rebuked people who held beliefs contrary to Scripture and corrected those who were in error. He specifically told the Sadducees, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew ). This is hardly accommodating someone’s errors. Furthermore, Jesus often reacted strongly to accepted practices that were contrary to the Word of God. He drove the moneychangers out of the temple (John -16). . . .
That second example is especially intriguing. If they had, indeed, invented false though pious tales of authorship, would He not, at some point, have exploded in rage? Would He who chased the moneychangers out of the temple have restrained Himself forever?
(4) For convenience, we’ll put this under our current section, but it could well stand on its own as a separate item: It was not Jesus’ manner of life to present things as fact unless He was absolutely sure they were. (The accommodation approach assumes that the opposite was His standard of practice!) This factual only approach can be well illustrated when we look at the one time He lacked information—the ending of the world.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Not knowing, He did not even attempt a guess. He was provided by God with sufficient enlightenment to know where His knowledge limits were—at least in regard to this particular topic.
But we are supposed to seriously believe that He was provided no warnings about false events and attributions that would be common currency among the Jews so He could avoid making them? He was provided enough information to know when and why to rebuke human religious traditions (Matthew 15:1-9 and Matthew -33), but He was not provided adequate guidance so that He could avoid errors in these other matters?
Is this a credible scenario? We think not. How do you judge it? Am I being over-indignant or does the weakness in the scenario cry out for such language? Or even something stronger?
III. Infallible Only on Spiritual Matters?
The “partial inspiration” scenario in which only a limited amount of text is really by the purported author and in which a wide selection of “historical” events that are referred to never really happened is surprisingly common among those who wish to retain the full reliability of Jesus and Scripture in regard to spiritual matters. They perceive it as a kind of trade-off: you give up the this-world aspects of authorship and “historical” incidents but get to retain the assurance that the spiritual promises are fully reliable.
To them these are not “possible” errors that “may” have occurred but they are errors confirmably such “by the best results of modern religious scholarship.” Of course this is proving the system by the system itself—for “the best results of modern religious scholarship” couldn’t possibly be such if it held otherwise. A claim on this point or another may even be conceded, but if that scholar were to appear to be leaning toward a general reliability (much less inerrancy!) of the texts—well, that would put him “beyond the pale” of acceptability.
One quick evidence: the utter horror that unbelieving and semibelieving religious scholars held—and still hold—at the unquestionably religious liberal John A. T. Robinson’s quite impressive opus Redating the New Testament. He out “early dates” conservatives at times! Not because he changed his theology but because he was convinced that anywhere from reasonable to extremely good evidence led him to such dates. Most folk you and I run into aren’t like that.
To the believer in Christ’s supernaturalness, an obvious and immediate problem with this approach is that there is nothing in Christ’s approach to the various parts of the Old Testament to suggest that He embraced the historical / spiritual distinction that is assumed. His use of the Mosaical Covenant was abundant and He made no distinction in truthfulness and accuracy and reliability between doctrinal, historical, and spiritual texts. In reference to all types of material, He utilized it as if literally true.
Shouldn’t there be at least warning signs in the text if He embraced the approach we are studying? After all, it would be fundamental to a correct understanding of His own intent and purposes! How could a core component be present, weaving in and out of the gospels time and again, without some warning being given to us?
Without such, how can we conclude anything else than that Jesus was ignorant of such matters—be it from whatever cause. But here is the real insult: As the result of this ignorance, we are faced with the obscene incongruity that modern unbelieving and semibelieving scholars actually understand more on the matter of “true” authorships and the non-historicity of Old Testament events than Jesus Himself did!
The word “blasphemy” some how haunts the back of my mind. Is it too harsh? Or does it barely do justice?
But there is an alternative to such fundamental insults to the Lord’s moral integrity: that the hostile theories themselves are deeply flawed, with erroneous assumptions and distorted texts invoked to support unjustified conclusions. Don’t get me wrong for a second here: We are talking about results not intentions. The captain of the Titanic had no intention to sink his vessel and these folk have not intentionally set out to dishonor the Lord. Just that if they are right, this is the result.
A second major obstacle to our embracing a Christ who freely teaches error on authorships and historicity while retaining confidence in spiritual matters is that New Testament spiritual, historical, and doctrinal texts are interlocked and found in the same argument and passage as references to their Old Testament precedent.
As to the historical aspect first: When Jesus discussed His death, He presented it as being just as literal as Jonah being in the belly of the specially prepared sea monster--and for a similar length of time: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Here we are not interlocking OT historical with NT spiritual teaching but OT history with NT history. But it will still serve as a useful jumping off point.
Will any deny the fundamental New Testament claim of Jesus being in the tomb three days? He clearly intended people to believe He would be and that Jonah was “buried” a similar length of time. Did Jesus’ human knowledge deficit include comparing real New Testament history with invented Old Testament history?
(More “moderate” theorists will go that route. Alas, many of these folks do deny that either is objectively historical. Men paid salaries to defend the faith who utilize their time undermining it. Is it any wonder that such folk can come to anti-Biblical conclusions such as we are examining?)
Here’s another example of future history
being argued on the basis of historical evidence from the prior testament: “The men of
But that was pious mythology, wasn’t
Our next also interlocks historical
precedent with spiritual teaching:
Because the people of
And this is not the only case of Old Testament history being used to encourage the New Testament spiritual / moral demand for repentance—accompanied with a warning that if it doesn’t come the consequences will be dire indeed (65):
said, “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you,
if there was not any judgment on
So He made the spiritual warning to flee sin now on the basis of events that never happened in the first place? Oh, yes, such might have worked. But using deceit to encourage moral reform. Isn’t there—well, hypocrisy involved in that? Doesn’t that bring us to Jesus as sinner for saying what He knew full well was untrue? Or for being left functionally deluded by being sent to earth without the ability to know it?
And if He was sent without full knowledge of such matters, why did the Father send out someone in that lamentable a shape? Was the one repeatedly spoken of as if omnipotent really that powerless? Of if it had to be this way, for some unknown reason, why didn’t God quietly correct Him as He began to speak? None of the options are very good here!
Or how about in Matthew 19 and His endorsing of Genesis as containing accurate history and containing reliable testimony of what God had said:
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" 4 And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
Jesus either based His moral teaching on divorce on alleged historic words spoken at the beginning of the human species or on a pious legend. (The exception clause in verse 9 is exactly that—an exception rather than the norm to be aimed for!) Either way, moral teaching and alleged history intertwined and the latter is part of the basis for the former.
Oh how about Matthew 24, where the justice of a swift and unexpected judgment coming upon the spiritual leaders of His day is justified on the basis that the same thing had happened in the days of Noah’s flood: “38 For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
The moral propriety of unexpected judgment was based on a mere ancient myth. Or was it based on a devastating earth-shattering disaster that really occurred? Was it based on a pile of hot air and bombast or upon real history?
Was Jesus’ hidden lie actually: “Repent! Because of this mythical event that never happened but I’m going to use it because it makes a more powerful argument for me!” Perhaps that is good utilitarianism, but hardly good morality—of anyone . . . much less One who is presented as sinless and sent to earth to shed His blood to redeem us from our sins.
A sinless one who wrapped lie after lie into His teaching. Either out of ignorance or intent.
The blood of a chronic liar whose blood could save us from sin.
Redeemed by the blood of a chronic liar. Not a reassuring thought, is it? It takes a lot of work to get one’s mind around those concepts, doesn’t it?
(In all fairness many semibelievers deny one or both of these assumptions as well—sinlessness and/or redemption by Jesus’ blood. Its “truth” . . . symbolic truth at the most. The virus of unbelief can’t quite seem to be restrained, can it?)
I like the remark of Gleason L. Archer on such cases (66-92f.):
This kind of accommodation would have bordered on the duplicity employed by unscrupulous politicians in the heat of an election campaign. But in contrast to this, Jesus made plain to his hearers that "he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him" (John ). Again, "I speak of what I have seen with my Father" (John ). The words of Jesus were the words of God, and the God who pronounced judgment on falsehood could not himself have resorted to falsehood in the proclamation of His saving truth.
Could He? Or must yet even more of traditional faith be consigned to the doctrinal trash heap to keep the semibelievers hiding behind their academic sheepskins in their jobs?