Monthly Archives: December 2008

Newsweek attacks biblical authority & marriage

Perhaps you have already seen the cover, and cover story, of Newsweek (Dec. 15, 2008). The cover, showing a drawing of a Bible, touts the main article by Lisa Miller, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Miller is the religion editor of Newsweek.

Rather than write my own reply, I would like to direct you to the Blog by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Read it here.  Mohler correctly points out that the real issue in this discussion is one of biblical authority.

As always, the bottom line is biblical authority.  Lisa Miller does not mince words.  “Biblical literalists will disagree,” she allows, “but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history.”  This argument means, of course, that we get to decide which truths are and are not binding on us as “we change through history.”

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham says,

No matter what one thinks about gay rights–for, against or somewhere in between–this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt–it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition. (Newsweek, Dec. 15, 2008, p. 4)

Well, there you have it. The editor of Newsweek has resolved this matter with one editorial.

If you are interested in a good study of this subject you might enjoy the video by Dr. Robert Gagnon, author of  several works on Homosexuality and the Bible, here. Or, read Dr. Gagnon’s 26 page response to the Miller article here.

Bethlehem and Shrines

Shrines. Throughout the lands where Bible events transpired church buildings have been erected over this or that “sacred spot.” These buildings, whether in Jerusalem, Nazareth or Bethlehem are little more than show places. Tourists stream through them at a steady rate observing the ancient ornamentation.

In Bethlehem the traditional place where Jesus was born, now covered by the Basilica of the Nativity, would hardly remind one of anything he reads in the New Testament. The visitor now finds a building which reveals “a succession of slow decay and hasty repairs” The Middle East, 1966 ed., 622). In this building he sees mosaics with gold backgrounds dating from the 12th century, and art of the middle ages. The ruins of the large buildings erected by Justinian in the 6th century simply serve to cover the 4th century building by Constantine. The student of church history never forgets that all of this was the activity of an apostate church and does not reflect New Testament Christianity.

Their value. The shrines do serve a useful purpose. We have no record to indicate that the earliest Christians built any shrines at the sites associated with the ministry of Jesus. One can imagine, however, that fathers would tell their sons and that residents would tell visitors where certain events happened. If this information was faithfully transmitted from the first to the fourth century when the first shrines were erected, then the shrine has kept alive the memory till now.

The shrines have preserved sites, which if left in the open would have eroded or been damaged or built over so that the memory would be lost.

This photo shows the interior of the Greek Orthodox Church that is said to be built over the birthplace of Jesus.

Interior of the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our study about Bethlehem brings to our mind the reality of the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Bethlehem we see the expression of the love of God who sent His own son to the earth.

The next photo shows the Armenian chapel in the Church of the Nativity. It stands between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

Armentian altar in the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Armenian altar in the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bethlehem – the Birthplace of Jesus

Years ago we would say that Bethlehem is located in the hill country of Judea about six miles south of Jerusalem. Today, Jerusalem stretches all the way to Bethlehem. It is no longer easy to get to Bethlehem. The massive wall built by Israel (Israelis call it the “fence”) separates Bethlehem from Israel.

During the Patriarchal period the town was called Ephrath (Genesis 48:7; 35:9-27). Later, as part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah, it was the home of Ruth and Boaz and became the birthplace and early home of David (1 Samuel 17:12, 15). The town was sometimes called the “city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11), but is most famous as the birthplace of Jesus (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4-15; Matthew 2:1-16).

When one visits the Bible lands today he must realize that 2,000 years of history, involving both repeated building and the destruction of what has been built, has left nothing to remind one of the original place where Jesus was born. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 160) said Joseph “took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village.” Origen (mid-third century) said the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome, a resident of Bethlehem (A.D. 386-420), tells how the birthplace of Jesus and other places associated with the ministry of Jesus were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot.

Today I have chosen to include a photograph of vineyards in the hill country immediately to the west of Bethlehem.

Terraces in the hill country of Judea near Bethlehem. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Terraces in the hill country of Judea near Bethlehem. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Gordon Franz has written a good article about Bethlehem which is posted on the ABR web site. Read it here.

Jerome in Bethlehem

Recently I was reading a manuscript written by a friend on the general subject of how we got the Bible. Of course, he mentioned Jerome and his work of translating the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into what would be called the Latin Vulgate.

The earliest English versions of the Bible were translated from the Latin Vulgate. Even though the translations of today rely mostly on the Hebrew and Greek texts, we are still indebted to the work of Jerome.

Jerome lived in Bethlehem from about 384 A.D. to 420 A.D. In the front of the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem there is a modern statue of Jerome showing him in the act of writing. Everyone always asks about the skull at the foot of the statue. Some have suggested that Jerome kept a skull on his desk to remind him of his mortality. That would do it for me!

Statue of Jerome in front of St. Catherine's Church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Jerome in front of the church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Underneath the Church of the Nativity there are a series of grottoes or caves. One of these is said to have been the place where Jerome did his work of translation and writing. This sign presently marks the place where he once lived.

The place where Jerome once lived. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The place where Jerome once lived. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts

Earlier I mentioned hearing Dr. Daniel Wallace speak on New Testament Textual Criticism at the annual ETS meeting. Dan is NT editor of the NET Bible and a respected textual critic. He has a DVD video of this lecture and of another one (“Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?”) available for the small sum of $15.00 plus $3 S&H. This is good, up-to-date, material on this subject. I ordered my copies this morning. Here is the info about the DVDs:

“Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?”
A lecture at an apologetics conference in Providence, Rhode Island, 2008, about whether our printed New Testaments today accurately represent the original text.

“Challenges in New Testament Textual Criticism for the 21st Century”
A plenary lecture at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, 2008, on current issues in NT textual criticism.

Use this link to get to the order page: Wallace DVDs. To read a bit more about the DVDs and see comments by readers, click here.

Information about The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, which is headed by Wallace, is available here.

McGarvey’s Land of the Bible

J. W. McGarvey was one of the best scholars of the 19th century Restoration Movement. He was president of the College of the Bible in Lexington, KY. One of my first books was his practical New Commentary on Acts of Apostles (1892). He had earlier (1868) written A Commentary on Acts of Apostles dealing with some of the critical issues of the book. McGarvey addressed some of the critical questions of the day in The Authorship of Deuteronomy, Jesus and Jonah, and Biblical Criticism.

McGarvey visited Palestine in 1879. His former students paid for the trip [I like that!], with the understanding that he would write a book. They would get their money back from the sale of the book. His book, Lands of the Bible, was published by J. B. Lippincott & Co., London and Philadelphia, in 1881. The title page indicates that 15,000 copies were printed. Impressive for a book on that subject.

J. W. McGarvey’s Lands of the Bible is available at the Restoration Movement pages here. For other works by McGarvey and other Restoration leaders begin with the home page here.

When I led my first group to the Bible Lands in 1967, one friend in the group had studied McGarvey’s book carefully. He took a tape measure with him. When we came to certain sites he took out the tape to take measurements. He wanted to be sure he was at the same place McGarvey visited.

Chapter IX in McGarvey’s book is titled “Argument from the Agreement of the Land and Book.” I have an outline of this material in my Introduction to Christian Evidences [OP], and use some of this material in my Daily Life in Bible Times series. One would be mistaken not to move beyond McGarvey, Thompson, Robertson, and the other early explorers. On the other hand, it would be amiss to dismiss what these scholars wrote.

What prompted all of this? Todd Bolen recently wrote a post on The Acoustics of Mounts Gerizim and Ebal in which he quotes from one of McGarvey’s letters here. I urge you read his post now. Also follow the link to the Biblical Studies and Technology Tools post showing the valley between Ebal and Gerizim using digital mapping tools.

I wanted to contribute something to this study by including here a scan of the plate from my original edition of Lands of the Bible (opposite page 288).

Shechem from the West. McGarvey, Land of the Bible.

Shechem from the West. McGarvey, Land of the Bible.

Todd Bolen has a great photo of Mount Ebal from Mount Gerizim. I would like to add the other side of the valley. Here is a photo showing Mount Gerizim from above Mount Ebal. It is an aerial shot made for me by the well known photographer Zev Radovan.

View of Mount Gerizim from above Mount Ebal.

View of Mount Gerizim from above Mount Ebal.

Maybe later we will discuss some of the important biblical events that took place in this area. For not let us note that this is where the blessings and curses of the law were read after the children of Israel entered the promised land (Deuteronomy 11:19). Here is the account of that event:

All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had given command at first to bless the people of Israel. Then afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the law.  There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel with the women and the little ones and the strangers who were living among them. (Joshua 8:33-35 NASB)

An invitation from Issuu by mistake

A short time ago I received a notice that a newsletter I was interested in was available. When I followed the link I ended up at something called Issuu. When I registered I was able to get the newsletter. In the process of registering I allowed Issuu to begin issuing invitation to my Gmail mailing list. I have no way of knowing how many invitations when out.

Several of you have already joined.

Sorry about that. It may be a wonderful service, but I don’t like to receive unwanted Emails and I normally try to avoid sending them.

Please forgive!