"OUR LIFE TOGETHER" A Call To Fellowship INTRODUCTION 1. In Ac 2:42, we have this account of the early church: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." 2. Today, many churches place great importance to being true to the Word of God, observing the Lord's Supper, and being fervent in prayer 3. These things are certainly important, but what of "fellowship"? a. Do we properly understand this facet of the Lord's church? b. Are we practicing it in a way consistent with the example of the early church? 4. Beginning with this lesson... a. I want to examine the subject of "fellowship" in the light of the Scriptures b. With the objective in mind of ensuring a proper understanding and application of this Biblical subject [Let's start by first noticing...] I. THE PROBLEM OF SELF-CENTEREDNESS A. AS OFTEN MANIFESTED IN A LOCAL CONGREGATION... 1. What if an observer came to make a careful analysis of the church's life in reference to fellowship? a. Someone who was a specialist in studying how groups work together b. Who intended to compare us with other groups that have some sort of interaction among its members (like civic clubs, garden clubs, etc.) c. Who would examine such things like: 1) How we relate to one another when we assemble for worship 2) How we interact with each other away from our assemblies 3) Our group loyalties 4) Our willingness to support each other in time of need 5) The amount of time we spend in the company of others in the church d. I.e., seeking to learn how well those who sit by each other during the assembly Sunday after Sunday really know each other -- What would we expect him to discover? 2. Several years ago, some churches allowed themselves to be analyzed in this way; here is what was discovered: a. The great majority of members knew a very small percentage of the people b. Those who gathered for worship were mostly an anonymous group of worshippers c. They were not a genuine community of souls prepared to bear one another's burdens d. They expressed little interest in becoming more involved in each other's lives e. I.e., they came to worship only for the sake of their own spiritual life and personal salvation! -- "Many go to church as they would go to the movie theater" 3. The bottom line was this: a. The churches that were analyzed consisted of members who were "self-centered" b. Therefore, very little fellowship of any sort was taking place! [Please do not jump to conclusions. I am not suggesting that the same condition exists here. For the most part, I think it does not. But as we grow in number, the potential is there for losing the kind of fellowship we should experience. The purpose of this study is to ward off the kind of "self-centeredness" which can destroy the spiritual fellowship God would have us experience in the church.] B. SOME REASONS FOR "SELF-CENTEREDNESS" IN CHURCHES... 1. Most of us lived through the "Me Decade" a. The 1970's, viewed as being distinguished by self-centered attitudes and self-indulgent behavior b. A time in which there was... 1) A rapid rise of crime against others - rape, theft, assault, murder 2) An increased use of drugs and alcohol as a way of escape 3) A turn to philosophies and religions which involve preoccupation with SELF: a) "Looking Out For #1" b) Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Yoga 4) An emphasis on consumerism and materialistic gain c. A decade followed by the "Greed Decade" (the 1980's) -- Such cultural trends have produced many self-centered people! 2. We live in a highly mobile society a. New families move in, and others move away b. Many live great distances from the place of worship and from each other c. These facts do not prevent us from having proper fellowship, they just make it easier to become isolated from the fellowship unintentionally 3. Technology designed to bring us closer together, can easily move us apart a. Phones, email, etc., greatly increase our ability to communicate b. But we can become stretched out so thin through such technology that we do not develop any meaningful relationships 4. A failure to appreciate the Biblical teaching about "Our Life Together" [It is this last point that I want to expand upon in this lesson. While societal trends may be nourishing the spirit of self-centeredness, I believe God has designed the church to point us in a different direction...] II. THE CHURCH: A FELLOWSHIP FREE FROM SELF-CENTEREDNESS A. THIS TRUTH IS "EMPHASIZED" IN THE APOSTLES' DOCTRINE... 1. We are to be hospitable to one another - 1Pe 4:9 2. We are to have a care for one another - 1Co 12:26 3. We are to pray for one another - Jm 5:16 4. We are to restore one another - Jm 5:19-20 5. We are to teach and admonish one another - Col 3:16 6. We are to serve one another in love - Ga 5:13 B. THIS TRUTH WAS "EXEMPLIFIED" IN THE EARLY CHURCH... 1. By the church in Jerusalem - Ac 2:42-46 2. By the church in Antioch - Ac 11:27-30 3. By the churches in Macedonia - 2Co 8:1-5 4. By the churches in Achaia - Ro 15:26 C. SUCH FELLOWSHIP IS A NATURAL CONSEQUENCE OF THE TEACHING OF CHRIST... 1. The kingdom consists of those who love both God and their brethren - Mk 12:28-34 2. Thus the fellowship we are to enjoy in the church is both "vertical" and "horizontal" a. With God... 1) We enjoy a "vertical" relationship - cf. 2Co 5:20 2) An overemphasis on this aspect can cause insensitivity to the needs of others b. With fellow Christians... 1) We enjoy a "horizontal" relationship - cf. Ep 2:14-16 2) Of course, an undue emphasis on this aspect may cause one to neglect God CONCLUSION 1. Lessons to follow will define further... a. The fellowship that is to be enjoyed by those in the church b. The spiritual activities designed to nurture fellowship in the body of Christ c. Elements necessary to preserve our fellowship d. Biblical limitations on the extent of our fellowship 2. But in this lesson I have sought to stress... a. The importance of fellowship in the local church b. The danger of allowing "self-centeredness" to disrupt our fellowship 3. For now, here are some practical suggestions that will enhance our ability to provide the proper fellowship: a. Learn the names of EVERY member (make use of the church directory!) b. Take notice of the cares and the joys of fellow Christians (listen to the announcements!) c. Pray for those with special needs, mentioning them by name in your private prayers d. Allow yourself to have... 1) An "approachable personality" (where people feel comfortable in your presence) 2) A "transparent lifestyle" (where you are not afraid to let others know the "real you") NOTE: In preparing this series of sermon outlines I have borrowed rather heavily from a book and resource kit called "OUR LIFE TOGETHER: A Fresh Look At Christian Fellowship", by James Thompson, published by Sweet Publishing Company and distributed as part of the "Journeys Through The Bible" series.
"MORAL ISSUES CONFRONTING CHRISTIANS"
Dishonesty INTRODUCTION 1. A survey of 29,760 students in USA high schools revealed the following about stealing... a. 30% admitted stealing from a store within the past year b. 23% said they stole something from a parent or relative c. 20% confessed they stole something from a friend -- Josephson Institute's 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth 2. In the same survey addressed the subject of lying... a. 42% said they sometimes lie to save money b. 83% confessed they lied to a parent about something significant -- ibid. 3. Again, the survey revealed the following about cheating... a. 64% cheated on a test during the past year b. 38% cheated two or more times -- ibid. 4. Amazingly, these same students have a high self-image when it comes to ethics... a. 93% said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character b. 77% said that when it comes to doing what is right, they are better than most people they know -- ibid. [Such dishonesty is a problem confronting our society, and certainly not just young people (e.g., elected officials, employers and employees, etc.) and likely affects many Christians as well. So let's consider...] I. THE PROBLEM WITH DISHONESTY A. IN GENERAL... 1. Condemned by God's Word a. In the Law of Moses - Lev 19:11; Pr 6:17-19; 11:1; 12:22 b. Liars will have their place in the lake of fire - Re 21:8 2. Common wisdom tells us that "honesty is the best policy" a. False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil - Socrates b. The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold - Aristotle c. Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom - Thomas Jefferson d. No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar - Abraham Lincoln B. IN PARTICULAR... 1. Destroys reputations a. Once you are caught lying, stealing, or cheating, you will rarely be trusted again b. Even if you do it for someone, with someone - you prove yourself untrustworthy c. With lies you may get ahead in the world, but you can never go back - Russian Proverb 2. Demolishes families, friendships a. Relationships depend on trusting one another b. If you marry a man who cheats on his wife, you'll be married to a man who cheats on his wife - Ann Landers c. Even if we lie for one another, we are undermining that trust d. Who lies for you will lie against you - Bosnian Proverb 3. Disrupts workplaces a. Some believe that lying, cheating, stealing is necessary to conduct business b. If I am willing to lie for you, how do you know I won't lie to you (the same for cheating and stealing)? c. Once a company implements a policy of dishonesty to customers, employees will employ it against employers whenever convenient [The problem of dishonesty in the form of lying, cheating, and stealing is really self-evident. Only those blinded by pride and greed can deny the harmful effects of dishonesty. In God's Word we find...] II. THE SOLUTION FOR DISHONESTY A. PUT AWAY LYING, STEALING... 1. We are to "put on the new man...in true holiness and righteousness" - Ep 4:24 2. Which involves "putting away lying" - Ep 4:25; cf. Col 3:9 3. Which includes no longer stealing, pilfering, etc. - Ep 4:28; Tit 2:10 B. SPEAK THE TRUTH... 1. "let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor"
- Ep 4:25 2. "let your 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no,' 'no,'..." - Mt 5:37 C. LOVE ALL MEN... 1. One does not lie, steal, or cheat those they love 2. We are to love one another - Ro 13:8 3. We are to love our enemies - Mt 5:44-45 D. PURSUE WHAT IS GOOD... 1. Both for ourselves and for all - 1Th 5:15 2. Whatever we want others to do to us - Mt 7:12 CONCLUSION 1. How much better, more pleasant, would life be... a. If everyone lived honest lives b. Not lying, stealing, and cheating c. Following the principles taught by Jesus and His apostles 2. Indeed, the same could be said concerning all the moral issues we have examined... a. The truth for moral issues is in Jesus - Ep 4:21 b. For Jesus is the light of the world - Jn 8:12 b. Those who walk as children of light bear the fruit of goodness, righteousness, truth - Ep 5:8-9 Follow Jesus, and we will have the light of life and truth, guiding us through the maze of moral issues that confront us daily...!
Christianity, Islam, and Science
|by||Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.|
The Roman Empire was terminally ill by the end of the second century A.D. It had used its skills in administration, engineering, and military strategy to dominate a region spanning three continents. But its heart was weakened by the rise of an absolutist monarchy led, all too frequently, by weak, ineffectual emperors. Slowly, the Roman armies abandoned the most distant outposts and could not prevent the Vandals, Goths, and Huns from penetrating the innermost parts of the Empire. The Goths sacked major Greek cities in 268, gave the same treatment to Rome in 410, and in 476 deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Deprived of Roman law and economy, much of the region plunged into disorder and poverty.
Lost from the scene was a significant portion of classical Greek science, including Ptolemy’s astronomy, Euclid’s mathematics, Galen’s anatomy, and Aristotle’s naturalistic writings. But it hardly could be said that nothing was going on in these “Dark Ages,” as some are inclined to characterize the next few hundred years. In particular, the establishment of monasteries in the sixth century provided a means for religious training. Literacy improved because instruction depended on readings from the Bible, commentaries, and works of the church Fathers.
Monasteries also provided access to the relatively scant classical works available in Latin. Through the writings of Augustine (354-430), scholars were especially familiar with Plato’s Timaeus. This work lent itself to Christian interpretation because it argued that the Universe had a first cause—an eternal self-mover—that created motion and order. Further, because Plato’s god was good, he created a world that was good for us, the creature. Unlike the Christian God, this self-mover was not a personal god; he did not love man, he was not omnipotent, and he was not the object of worship. However, Plato’s arguments for a Creator-God, combined with biblically based expectations of seeing God’s handiwork in creation (e.g., Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), encouraged medieval theologians to affirm the fundamental intelligibility of God’s creation. Although Augustine frowned upon the systematic study of nature, the concept of nature’s basic orderliness provided an important key to the development of modern science (Jones, 1969, p. 133).
During this same period, Arabic-Islamic science had reached tremendous heights. It led the world in mathematics, physics, optics, astronomy, and medicine. The stability and wealth brought by the spread of Islamic power in the seventh and eighth centuries fostered patronage of higher learning. In 762, al-Mansur established Baghdad as his new capital, and “cultivated a religious climate that was relatively intellectual, secularized, and tolerant” (Lindberg, 1992, p. 168). Over the next few generations, Arab scholars enhanced their own knowledge with medicine from Persia, mathematics from India and China, and the classical Greek heritage preserved in Byzantium. Much emphasis was given to knowledge that had special utility for Islamic culture. For example, the Chinese abacus, and the Hindu system of numbers and place-valued decimal notation, were used to advance trigonometry and Ptolemy’s astronomy. These, in turn, could be used to determine the direction to Mecca and the times of prayer for any town in the Muslim world.
Crucial to the development of Arabic science was a massive translation program begun by Hunayn ibn Ishaq (808-73), a member of the Nestorian Christian sect. Arabs filled their numerous libraries with tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of books, whereas the Sorbonne in Paris could boast of a paltry two thousand as late as the fourteenth century (Huff, 1993, p. 74). Despite this clear superiority, why did modern science arise in Western Europe, and not in the Islamic world?
Some Muslim leaders, like some of their counterparts in early medieval Europe, had a low regard for the study of nature. Academic pursuits were tolerated, but learning was divided into traditional studies based on the Qur’an, and “foreign” studies based on knowledge obtained from the Greeks. Although there were Arabic rationalists, there were also those who saw in this rationalism a threat to the authority of the holy writings. A conservative reaction in the late tenth century, together with a decline in peace and prosperity, impeded further scientific advance in the Muslim world (Lindberg, 1992, pp. 180-181). According to the emerging Islamic orthodoxy, man was not a fully rational creature, and no room was allowed for a purely rational investigation of God’s creation (Huff, 1993, pp. 100,115).
It was in this very early period of decline that the baton of science began to pass gradually into the hands of the Europeans, especially those who came into contact with the wealth of Islamic knowledge in Spain. Perhaps the next most significant event was the fall of Muslim-held Toledo in 1085. Many important Arabic and classical works from its vast library were translated into Latin. Within a century, these had begun to filter into centers of learning all over Europe. They arrived at a time when scholars such as Anselm (1033-1109) already were reviving the role of reason in faith. Their arrival coincided also with the development of the university as a legal entity with political and intellectual autonomy (Huff, 1993, p. 335). No similar institution appeared in the Arabic world until the twentieth century due, in part, to the orthodox Muslim concept of nature and reason. Religious constraints also played a role in late medieval Europe, but an academic world committed to the biblical views of man’s rationality and freedom of choice provided a fertile ground for the rise of modern science.
Huff, Toby E. (1993), The Rise of Early Modern Science (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press).
Jones, W.T. (1969), The Medieval Mind (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, second edition).
Lindberg, David C. (1992), The Beginnings of Western Science (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Black Muslims and the Nation of Islam
|by||Brad Bromling, D.Min.|
Ever since entering the spotlight of public attention (about 1984), Louis Farrakhan has been a controversial figure. He thrills the hearts of some, scares the daylights out of others, and offends many more. When he called the African-American community to participate in a "Million Man March" on Washington, D.C., 400,000 responded—twice the number who walked with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. Unlike Dr. King, everything Farrakhan said was dedicated to Allah.
Few people have reminded Americans of Islam’s presence on this continent more pointedly than Farrakhan. But what many people do not know is that Farrakhan does not represent Islam. He is the leader of the Nation of Islam, a distinctly American invention that has its roots in the opening years of the twentieth century (see Bijlefeld, 1993; Gudel and Duckworth, 1993; Ahlstrom, 1972; Morey, 1992).
In 1930, a Detroit clothing merchant named Wallace D. Fard (a.k.a. Wali Farad Muhammad) began preaching an Islamic-flavored message among blacks. Fard had been a follower of the “Noble Prophet Ali Drew,” founder of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Drew’s message was a mixture of Christian principles, Islamic ideals, and black nationalism that offered hope to an oppressed community of people. After Drew’s assassination in 1929, Fard, claiming connections with Mecca, began calling black Americans to renounce Christianity (a “white man’s religion”), and to embrace Islamic ideals. He founded the Temple of Islam in Detroit, and by 1934 had a following of 8,000. After Fard mysteriously disappeared in 1934, his most famous disciple, Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole), carried the movement forward.
Elijah Muhammad claimed that Allah had appeared in the person of Fard, and that he himself was a prophet of Allah. He saw white people as devils and preached against integration. In his view, the black man would win ultimate victory over the white man in the battle of Armageddon. He offered the impoverished and persecuted black community a sense of dignity. Blacks were not simply the white man’s equal, but someday would rule the Earth.
In 1947, Elijah Muhammad’s message was heard and believed by the imprisoned Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) who, upon his release in 1952, joined the Black Muslims. He was an outspoken minister of the group until 1963, when he became disillusioned with Muhammad. After a trip to Mecca a year later, Malcolm X converted to orthodox Islam and no longer endorsed racial antagonism. Eleven months later he was assassinated.
When Muhammad died in 1975, he was succeeded by his son, Wallace Deen, who sought unification between the Black Muslims and orthodox Islam. This trend was unacceptable to Louis Farrakhan, who preferred the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. So, in 1977 Farrakhan broke from the Black Muslims, returned to his mentor’s teaching, and started the faction that bears the name “Nation of Islam” (a name also used by Elijah Muhammad).
Without Farrakhan, Wallace Deen Muhammad led Black Muslims to full unification with orthodox Islam. This group is not to be confused with the Nation of Islam, which still is considered heretical by Islam worldwide.
Some of the more troubling views of Elijah Muhammad that are evident in current Nation of Islam rhetoric are well summarized by Sidney Ahlstrohm:
[Their] eschatology teaches that God has come; there is no life after this life; heaven and hell are only two contrasting earthly conditions; the hereafter (which will begin to appear aboutA.D. 2000) is but the end of the present "spook" civilization of the Caucasian usurpers, including the Christian religion. It will be followed by the redemption of the Black Nation and their glorious rule over all the earth (1972, p. 1068).
Ostensibly, the message of the Nation of Islam (as presented by Farrakhan at the Million Man March) is one of social atonement and reconciliation; it is a call for the black community to strive for moral and ethical superiority. Farrakhan called the audience to give up drugs, prostitution, and violence, and to commit to improving themselves “spiritually, morally, mentally, socially, politically, and economically” (1995). These are laudable concerns that should transcend race. If lower crime rates, higher economic productivity, and an over-all improvement in the quality of life for African-Americans result from the efforts of Farrakhan, then all people will have reason to rejoice.
The problem with the Nation of Islam, however, is at least two-fold: (1) it is not the religion of Jesus Christ; and (2) it is preoccupied with “white supremacy.” In his Million Man March speech, Farrakhan argued that the United States is rotten at its very foundation because it has been characterized from the beginning by white supremacy. For example, He said:
The Seal and the Constitution [of the United States—BB] reflect the thinking of the founding fathers, that this was to be a nation by White people and for White people. Native Americans, Blacks, and all other non-White people were to be the burden bearers for the real citizens of this nation (1995).
Clearly, anyone with a cursory understanding of American history can respect (even if only to a limited degree) the sense of anger and frustration that minorities feel about their position in this society. Prejudice is a dangerous and painful thing. Its effects have not disappeared, and the wounds it has inflicted still are very fresh in many places (and in many lives). But the answer is not found in the Qur’an or the doctrines of Elijah Muhammad. Cornel West succinctly stated:
...one’s eyes should be on the prize, not on the perpetuator of one’s oppression. In short, Elijah Muhammad’s project remained captive to the supremacy game—a game mastered by the white racists he opposed and imitated with his black supremacy doctrine (1993, p. 100).
The only hope for a world torn by racial hatred is Jesus Christ—not a black Jesus or a white Jesus, but the Jesus of Scripture—Who like all of us is the Son of Adam, but unlike us, is also the Son of God. By His self-sacrifice for all humanity, He offers to break down the walls of enmity that sin erects between us (Acts 10:34; Ephesians 2:14; Galatians 3:28).
Ahlstrom, Sidney E. (1972), A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).
Bijlefeld, Willem A. (1993), “Black Muslims” The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia [CD-ROM].
Farrakhan, Louis, (1995), Transcript from Minister Louis Farrakhan’s remarks at the Million Man March [Online], URL http://www3.cnn.com/US/9510/megamarch/10-16/transcript/index.html.
Gudel, Joseph P. and Larry Duckworth (1993), “Hate Begotten of Hate,” The Christian Research Institute [Online], URL http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/crj0010c.txt.
Morey, Robert A. (1992) The Islamic Invasion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House).
West, Cornel (1993), Race Matters (Boston, MA: Beacon).
Alleged Chronological Contradictions
|by||Eric Lyons, M.Min.|
Since the Bible begins at the Creation with Genesis—the book of beginnings—and ends with the book of Revelation (which many scholars believe was the last recorded book of the Bible), students of the Scriptures often assume that the Bible was compiled chronologically. Many students approach their reading of the Bible with the mind-set that everything in Scripture is arranged “from A to Z.” Since Genesis records what took place at the beginning of time, and it is the first book of the Bible, then the rest of the Bible follows suit, right? Actually, what the diligent student eventually finds is that the Bible is not a book of strict chronology. All sixty-six books of the Bible are not arranged in the order in which they were written. Furthermore, all of the events contained within each book also are not necessarily recorded chronologically.
Consider the following arrangement of some of the books in the Bible:
- Although the books of Haggai and Zechariah have been placed near the end of the Old Testament, these men prophesied while the events in the book of Ezra were taking place (cf. Ezra 5:1; 6:14). Twenty books separate Haggai and Zechariah from the book of Ezra, yet the events recorded in each book were occurring at the same time. Obviously, these books are not arranged in chronological order.
- Even though 2 Chronicles appears before the book of Job, the events recorded in Job took place long before those that are recorded in 2 Chronicles. In fact, if the Bible were a book of strict chronology, the events recorded in Job would be placed somewhere within the book of Genesis, likely somewhere after chapter nine (cf. Job 22:15-16; 42:16-17).
- In the New Testament, one might assume that since 1 Thessalonians comes after the book of Acts, that Luke penned Acts earlier than Paul penned his first letter to the church at Thessalonica. The truth is, however, 1 Thessalonians was written years before the book of Acts was completed.
In addition to the sixty-six books of the Bible not being arranged chronologically, inspired writers did not always record information in a strictly chronological sequence within each book. Making the assumption that the entire Bible was written chronologically hinders a proper understanding of the text. As you will see throughout this article, several alleged contradictions are resolved simply by acknowledging that many times Bible writers did not record events in a strict sequential order.
ONLY ONE LANGUAGE BEFORE BABEL?
According to some skeptics, Genesis 10 verses 5, 20, and 31 contradict what is stated in Genesis 11:1. Supposedly, since Moses recorded that the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth spoke different languages in Genesis 10, and yet he indicated that “the whole earth had one language and one speech” in Genesis 11:1, then a discrepancy exists. Obviously, before the dispersion of man at Babel, the whole Earth could not have both many languages and only one language at the same time.
The explanation to this “problem” is that the events recorded in Genesis 10-11 were not written chronologically. Genesis 10 is more of an overview, while Genesis 11 speaks of one event within Genesis 10. Some of the things recorded in chapter 10 occurred before the tower of Babel, while others occurred sometime later. Consider that Genesis 2:5-25 does not pick up where chapter 1 left off; rather, it provides more detailed information about some of the events mentioned in chapter 1. (Whereas Genesis 1 is arranged chronologically, Genesis 2 is organized topically.) Several of the events in Genesis 38 involving Judah and Tamar occurred while the things recorded in chapter 39 (and those that follow) took place. Similar to a teacher who is telling her class a story, and inserts information about something the main character did in the past or will do in the future, Moses “jumped” ahead of himself at times by inserting parenthetical material like that found in Genesis 10.
Aside from the languages mentioned in Genesis 10, there is another “clue” in the text that reveals the events recorded in chapter 11 occurred before the descendants of Noah began speaking different languages and spreading throughout the Earth. Genesis 10:25 mentions a man named Peleg (meaning “division”) who received such a name because “in his days the earth was divided.” More than likely, this is a reference to the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel described in chapter 11. The “Earth” (i.e., people; cf. 11:1) divided when God confused the languages (11:7-8). Thus, the division in Peleg’s day is linked contextually to the linguistic segregation at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).
When Genesis 10 and 11 are read with the understanding that not all events are recorded chronologically, one sees clearly how the events revealed in these chapters are entwined tightly with one another—so tightly in fact that those who seek contradictions are doomed to fail. Linguistically speaking, there was no pre-Babel confusion; only one language was in existence (Genesis 11:1).
DID SAUL KNOW DAVID PRIOR TO GOLIATH’S DEATH?
Following the account of Samuel’s visit to Bethlehem to anoint David as the future king of Israel, the book of 1 Samuel indicates that David became the harp player and armor bearer for King Saul (16:14-23). Subsequent to this information, the reader is told of David’s magnificent triumph over Goliath (1 Samuel 17), which then is followed by an “interrogation” by King Saul, who asked David, “Whose son are you, young man?” (17:58). A general reading through the text of 1 Samuel 16-17 has led some Bible believers to question why Saul (it seems) knew David, then did not know David, and then got to know him again. Skeptics, likewise, have inquired about the consistency of this story (see Morgan, 2003; Wells, 2001; “Inerrancy,” n.d.). Paul Tobin, in an article titled “Internal Contradictions in the Bible,” summed up the skeptic’s argument by stating that 1 Samuel 16 “clearly shows that David...was known to Saul. Yet a little later, after David’s fight with Goliath, Saul is made to inquire from his chief captain as to the identity of the giant slayer (I Samuel 17:56). And he is again made to inquire from David who he is, when he should have known this all along” (2000). Allegedly, the Bible’s portrayal of Saul’s ignorance of David after Goliath’s death is proof of the Bible writers’ imperfection when penning the Scriptures.
First, it is imperative for one to recognize that, as with other Bible passages, nowhere in 1 Samuel 16-17 are we told that all of these events occurred in chronological order. Although throughout 1 Samuel, there is a general, sequential progression, such does not demand that every event recorded in the book must be laid out chronologically. In fact, within chapter 17 there is evidence that this is not the case. For example, the events recorded in 17:54 (i.e., David putting his armor in his tent, and taking the head of Goliath to Jerusalem) postdate the conversations mentioned in verses 55-58 (as verse 57 makes clear). More precisely, verses 55-56 synchronize with verse 40, while events recorded in verses 57-58 correlate well with the end of verse 51 (Youngblood, 1992, 3:703). And, regarding chapter 16, who can say for certain that David was not already playing the harp for Saul before Samuel anointed him? First Samuel 17:15 indicates that “David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” Perhaps it was during one of these furloughs that he was anointed as the future king of Israel (16:1-13). Unless the text clearly distinguishes one event as occurring before or after another, a person cannot conclude for certain the exact chronology of those events. Just because one historical event recorded in the Bible precedes another, does not mean that it could not have occurred at a later time (or vice versa). Truly, the ancients were not as concerned about chronology as is the average person in twenty-first-century America.
Aside from the fact that one cannot be certain about the exact sequence of events recorded in 1 Samuel 16-17, several possible explanations exist as to why Saul appeared not to recognize David after his triumphal victory over Goliath. First, enough time could have lapsed so that David’s appearance changed significantly since the last time he appeared before King Saul. William M. Thomson, a missionary in Syria and Palestine for nearly half of the nineteenth century, once described the sudden changes in the physical development of Eastern youths in his book titled The Land and the Book.
They not only spring into full-grown manhood as if by magic, but all their former beauty disappears; their complexion becomes dark; their features hard and angular.... I have often been accosted by such persons, formerly intimate acquaintances, but who had suddenly grown entirely out of my knowledge, nor could I without difficulty recognize them (1859, 2:366).
Few would deny that young men can change quickly over a relatively short period of time. Facial hair, increased height and weight, larger, more defined muscles, darker skin, a deeper voice, as well as the wearing of different apparel, may all factor into why a person may say to someone that he or she knows, but has not seen for some time, “I hardly recognized you. You’ve changed.” Surely, it is more than possible that between the time David served Saul as a harpist, and the time he slew Goliath, he could have experienced many physical changes that prevented a “distressed” king from recognizing his former harpist.
A second reason Saul might have failed to recognize David is because he may have lapsed into another unreliable mental state. Saul’s intermittent deviation from normalcy is seen throughout the book of 1 Samuel (cf. 16:14-23; 18:9-12; 19:22-24; 22:6-19), and it is possible 17:54-58 is another allusion to his defective perception. In his discussion of 1 Samuel 17, biblical commentator Robert Jamieson mentioned this possibility, saying, “The king’s moody temper, not to say frequent fits of insanity, would alone be sufficient to explain the circumstance of his not recognizing a youth who, during the time of his mental aberration, had been much near him, trying to soothe his distempered soul” (1997).
Third, it could be that Saul did, in fact, remember David, but because of jealousy over David’s momentous victory (cf. 1 Samuel 18:8-11), and perhaps on hearing that Samuel had been to Bethlehem to anoint him as the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13), Saul simply wanted to act like he did not know David. Such a scenario is not difficult to envision. Today, a teacher or coach might inquire about a student whom he or she already knows, yet in hopes of instilling more submission into the arrogant teen, the faculty member acts somewhat aloof. One textual indication that such may be the explanation of 1 Samuel 17:54-58 is that Saul still referred to David, the bear-killing, lion-slaying, Goliath-demolisher, as a “stripling” (Hebrew ‘elem—17:56, ASV) and “young man” (Hebrew na’ar—17:55,58). Although these two words do not necessarily carry a belittling connotation, neither designation seems very appropriate for a man who had just tried on the armor of King Saul—a man once described as “shoulders upward... taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2)—and had just killed one of the fiercest enemies of Israel. Truly, Saul’s supposed ignorance of David and his family may well have been a “performance” instigated by what physician Herman van Praag once called, “haughtiness fed by envy” (1986, 35:421).
Finally, one must realize that the text does not even actually say that Saul did not know David. It only records that Saul asked, “Whose son is this youth?” (1 Samuel 17:55; cf. vss. 56,58). It is an assumption to conclude that Saul did not recognize David. The king simply could have been inquiring about David’s family. Since Saul had promised to reward the man who killed Goliath by giving “his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel” (17:25), Saul might have been questioning David in order to ensure the identity of David’s family. Furthermore, 18:1 seems to presuppose an extended conversation between the two, which would imply that Saul wanted even more information than just the name of David’s father.
Truly, any of these possibilities could account for Saul’s examination of David. The burden of proof is on the skeptic to show otherwise. As respected law professor Simon Greenleaf concluded regarding the rule of municipal law in relation to ancient writings:
Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise (1995, p. 16, emp. added).
Until skeptics logically negate the above possible solutions to the questions surrounding 1 Samuel 16-17, and are able to prove beyond doubt that the Bible writer made a genuine mistake, no reason to doubt the integrity of the biblical text exists.
KINGLY CHRONOLOGY IN THE BOOK OF EZRA
As if the spelling and pronunciation of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes were not problematic enough for the average Bible student, one must also consider these Persian kings in light of the order in which they are mentioned in the book of Ezra. According to history, the Persian kings reigned in the following order: Cyrus (560-530 B.C.), Cambyses (530-522), Smerdis (522), Darius I (522-486), Ahasuerus (486-465), Artaxerxes I (465-424), Darius II (423-405), and Artaxerxes II (405-358) [see Cook, 1983, p. 350]. The difficulty that presents itself in the book of Ezra is that events surrounding letters which King Artaxerxes received from, and wrote to, the enemies of the Jews (see Ezra 4:7-23) are mentioned before the reign of Darius I (Ezra 4:24-6:15). If it is a proven fact that Darius served as king before Artaxerxes, why is the kingship of Darius recorded in the book of Ezra subsequent to the reign of Artaxerxes?
First, it needs to be pointed out that the Darius of the book of Ezra was in fact Darius I and not Darius II. The second Darius lived too late in history to have been contemporary with the rebuilding of the temple. Thus, one cannot solve the question at hand simply by suggesting that the Darius cited in Ezra was really Darius II, who lived after Artaxerxes I.
Second, some may attempt to solve this difficulty by alleging that Artaxerxes II was the king who reigned during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem, while Artaxerxes I was the king mentioned prior to Darius’ reign (Ezra 4:7-23). This solution is unacceptable, however, since Artaxerxes II lived several years after the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.
So what is the answer? Why is the kingship of Darius recorded in the book of Ezra following events connected with the kingship of Artaxerxes—a king who is thought to have reigned after Darius? One possible solution to this difficulty is that Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:6,7-23 were respectively Cambyses (530-522) and Smerdis (522)—kings of Persia (listed above) who reigned before Darius I. Since Persian kings frequently had two or more names, it is not unfathomable to think that Cambyses and Smerdis also may have gone by the names Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (see Wilson, 1996; see also Fausset, 1998).
Another explanation to this perceived dilemma is that the information concerning the kings of Persia in Ezra 4 is grouped according to theme rather than by chronology. Instead of having a record where everything in chapter four is in sequential order, it is reasonable to conclude that verses 6-23 serve as a parenthetical comment and that Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (4:6-7) are indeed Ahasuerus (486-465) and Artaxerxes I (465-424) of history (rather than the aforementioned Cambyses and Smerdis).
Bible students must keep in mind that just as there is more than one way to write a book in the twenty-first century, ancient writers frequently recorded events chronologically while occasionally inserting necessary non-sequential material. It would have been natural for the writer of the book of Ezra to follow a discussion of the problems related to rebuilding the Jerusalem temple (4:1-5) with information on a similar resistance the Jews encountered while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (4:6-23). Although the details in verses 6-23 initially may puzzle our chronologically preconditioned mind-set, they actually fit very well in their arrangement with the overall theme of the chapter. In verse 24, the story picks up where it left off in verse 5. The writer then returns to his focus on the problems with the rebuilding of the temple, which lingered until “the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:24).
WHEN DID JESUS CLEANSE THE TEMPLE?
One of the most popular alleged Bible discrepancies pertaining to chronology—and one that skeptics are fond of citing in almost any discussion on the inerrancy of Scripture—is whether or not Jesus cleansed the temple early in His ministry, or near the end. According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus cleansed the temple during the final week leading up to His death on the cross (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). John, however, places his record of the temple cleansing in chapter 2 of his gospel account, between Jesus’ first miracle (2:1-12) and His conversation with Nicodemus (3:1-21). How should John’s gospel account be understood in light of the other three writers placing the event near the end of Jesus’ ministry? Skeptics question, “Did Jesus enter the temple and drive out the money changers early in His ministry, or near the end?”
Most often, it seems, the explanation heard regarding this difficulty is that there was only one temple cleansing—near the end of Jesus’ life—and John’s placement of this event at an earlier time is the result of his “theological,” rather than “chronological,” approach to writing his account of the life and teachings of Jesus. The problem with this explanation is that, although overall John may have been a little less concerned with chronology than were the other writers, a straightforward reading of the text favors the position that this particular clearing of the temple was not something that occurred near the end of Jesus’ life. The record of Jesus’ first miracle, beginning in John 2:1, begins with the phrase, “On the third day....” This section ends with John writing the words, “After this...” (2:12, Greek meta touto). Following verse 12, John then begins his account of the temple cleansing saying, “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand...” (2:13). It certainly would appear to be “out of the ordinary” for John to jump ahead nearly three years in the life of Jesus to an event that occurred in Jerusalem during the last week of His life, only then to backtrack to a time prior to “the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee” (John 4:54). Admittedly, John would not have erred in writing about the temple cleansing early in his gospel account if the Holy Spirit saw fit to mention the event at that time. (Perhaps this would have been to show from the outset of Jesus’ ministry that He “repudiated what was central to the Temple cults, and further that his death and resurrection were critically important”—Morris, 1995, p. 167.) A better explanation of this alleged contradiction exists, however: There were two temple cleansings.
Why not? Who is to say that Jesus could not have cleansed the temple of money-hungry, hypocritical Jews on two separate occasions—once earlier in His ministry, and again near the end of His life as He entered Jerusalem for the last time? Are we so naïve as to think that the temple could not have been corrupted at two different times during the three years of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus probably visited the temple several times during the last few years of His life on Earth (especially when celebrating the Passover—cf. John 2:13,23; 6:4; 11:55), likely finding inappropriate things going on there more than once. Do churches in the twenty-first century sometimes have problems that recur within a three-year span? Have church leaders ever dealt with these problems in a public manner multiple times and in similar ways? Of course. (“How soon men forget the most solemn reproofs, and return to evil practices”—Barnes, 1956, p. 196.)
What evidence does a person possess, which would force him to conclude that Jesus cleansed the temple only once? There is none. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded a temple cleansing late in Jesus’ ministry, much evidence exists to indicate that John recorded an earlier clearing of the temple. It is logical to conclude that the extra details recorded in John 2 are not simply supplemental facts (even though the writers of the gospels did supplement each others’ writings fairly frequently). Rather, the different details recorded by John likely are due to the fact that we are dealing with two different temple cleansings. Only John mentioned (1) the oxen and sheep, (2) the whip of cords, (3) the scattering of the money, (4) Jesus’ command, “Take these things away,” and (5) the disciples’ remembrance of Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (2:17). Furthermore, John did not include Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 56:7, which is found in all three of the other accounts, and stands as a prominent part of their accounts of the temple cleansing.
In view of the major differences in wording, in setting, and in time, as well as the fact that, apart from the work of John the Baptizer, nothing in the first five chapters of John’s gospel account is found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, “we will require more evidence than a facile assumption that the two similar narratives must refer to the same event” (Morris, 1995, p. 167). There is no chronological contradiction here.
WHEN DID THE TEMPLE VEIL TEAR?
A few years ago, a journal dedicated to revealing (alleged) Bible errors petitioned its readers to submit their “best” biblical questions and arguments that “they have found through actual experience to be exceptionally effective vis-à-vis biblicists...and they will probably be published for all to see and use” (McKinsey, 1988a, p. 6). The first response printed in the journal (two months later) was from a man who listed among his top five “Bible contradictions” a question of whether or not the veil of the temple was torn in two “before” (Luke 23:44-46) or “after” (Matthew 27:50-51) Jesus died on the cross. The skeptic stated that this question was one of his favorites to ask because it elicited “such ludicrous rebuttals from Christian apologists” (McKinsey, 1988b, p. 6).
Before taking the skeptic’s word at face value as to what these scriptures actually say (or do not say), compare the passages for yourself.
And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom (Matthew 27:50-51, ASV; cf. Mark 15:37-38).And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing: and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”: and having said this, he gave up the ghost (Luke 23:44-46).
Do you read anything in either Matthew or Luke’s account that says the veil was torn “before” or “after” Jesus died (to use the skeptic’s own words)? Granted, Luke did mention the rending of the veil before he recorded that Jesus died, and Matthew mentioned it after recording His death, but neither made any direct statements that would indicate exactly when the rending took place. Simply because one Bible writer recorded something before, or after, another writer does not mean that either writer is attempting to establish a chronological time line. Unless the skeptic can point to a verse by both writers that says these events occurred in the precise order in which they are recorded, then no case can be made for these two passages being incompatible.
Consider for a moment the “to do list” that many of us make either daily or weekly. If someone peeked at your list and saw where you crossed off the first four things, but the things that you had marked off were not in the same order in which you accomplished them, would you be guilty of lying (to yourself or to a colleague)? No. Imagine also that you returned home after work one day, and told your children some of the things you had accomplished at the office. Then, you told your spouse the same things you told your children, only in a somewhat different order. Would your children have any right to call you a liar if they overheard this second conversation between you and your spouse? Of course not. The only reason your children might be justified in calling you a liar is if you had told both them and your spouse that every event you rehearsed happened in the precise order in which you mentioned them.
The only way a skeptic could prove that Matthew 27:50-51 and Luke 23:44-46 are contradictory is if he or she could establish that both writers claimed to be writing all of these events in precisely the same order in which they occurred. Since, however, the critic cannot prove such intended chronology, he is left with another alleged and unproven “contradiction.” Interesting, is it not, that this fairly simple “problem” was listed as a “top-five” question with which to “stump” a Christian?
TO GALILEE OR JERUSALEM?
Three times in the gospel of Matthew, the writer recorded where certain disciples of Jesus were instructed to meet the Lord in Galilee after His resurrection. During the Passover meal that Jesus ate the night of His betrayal, He informed His disciples, saying, “After I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). Three days later, on the day of Jesus’ resurrection when Mary Magdalene and the other women came to the empty tomb of Jesus, Matthew recorded how an angel told them to notify the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection, and to tell them exactly the same thing they were told three days earlier: “He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him” (28:7). Then, only three verses later, as the women were on their way to inform the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection and the message given to them by the angel, Matthew recorded how Jesus appeared to them and said: “Rejoice!... Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (28:9-10). Sometime thereafter, “the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them,” and “worshiped Him” (28:16-17).
According to Matthew, Jesus unquestionably wanted to meet with His disciples in Galilee following His resurrection. However, some skeptics and sincere Bible students have asked why, according to Luke, Jesus met with His disciples in Jerusalem (24:33-43), and then commanded them to stay there until they were “endued with power from on high” (24:49)? Does Luke’s account contradict Matthew’s? According to one Bible antagonist,
Matthew, Mark, and John have Jesus saying the disciples are to rendezvous with him in Galilee, northern Israel, about three days journey away. In contradiction to this, Luke’s two books—The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts, have Jesus planning to rendezvous in Jerusalem....In the real world, people cannot be in two places at the same time, and to claim otherwise is to be caught up in a contradiction.... The Bible, like the cheating husband, has been caught in a contradiction, exposed as a liar, and therefore can’t be trusted to tell the truth (Smith, 1995).
Is the skeptic right? Is the Bible at fault in this instance? Does it place the same people in two different places “at the same time”? Where exactly did Jesus intend to meet with His disciples—in Galilee or Jerusalem?
The truth is, Jesus met with His disciples in both places, but He did so at different times. One of the reasons so many people allege that two or more Bible passages are contradictory is because they fail to recognize that mere differences do not necessitate a contradiction. For there to be a bona fide contradiction, not only must one be referring to the same person, place, or thing in the same sense, but the same time period must be under consideration. If a person looks at a single door in the back of a building and says, “That door is shut,” but also says, “That door is open,” has he contradicted himself? Not necessarily. The door may have been shut at one moment, but then opened the next by a strong gust of wind. Time and chronology are important factors to consider when dealing with alleged errors in the Bible.
Consider another illustration that more closely resembles the alleged problem posed by the skeptic. At the end of every year, the professional and managerial staff members at Apologetics Press travel to Birmingham, Alabama, for a two-day, end-of-the-year meeting. Suppose the Executive Director reminds us of this event three days beforehand, saying, “Don’t forget about our meeting in Birmingham beginning Thursday,” and then calls our homes on the morning of the meeting as another reminder, saying, “Don’t forget about our meeting today in Birmingham.” Would someone be justified in concluding that our Executive Director had lied about the meeting if, on that Thursday morning, all of the staff members at Apologetics Press (including the Executive Director) showed up at work in Montgomery, and carried out some of the same tasks performed on any other workday? Not at all. Actually, on the day the staff at Apologetics Press leaves for the end-of-the-year meeting, it is common for everyone to work until about 10:30 a.m., and then depart for the meeting in Birmingham. If someone asked whether we went into work in Montgomery on Thursday, one honestly could say, “Yes.” If someone else asked if we traveled to Birmingham on Thursday for a two-day meeting, again, one could truthfully say, “Yes.” Both statements would be true. We met at both places on the same day, only at different times.
Similarly, Jesus met with His disciples both in Jerusalem and in Galilee, but at different times. On the day of His resurrection, He met with all of the apostles (except Thomas) in Jerusalem, just as both Luke and John recorded (Luke 24:33-43; John 20:19-25). Since Jesus was on the Earth for forty days following His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3), sometime between this meeting with His apostles in Jerusalem and His ascension more than five weeks later, Jesus met with seven of His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee (John 21:1-14), and later with all eleven of the apostles on a mountain in Galilee that Jesus earlier had appointed for them (Matthew 28:16). Sometime following these meetings in Galilee, Jesus and His disciples traveled back to Judea, where He ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12).
None of the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances contradicts another. Rather, each writer supplemented what another left out. Jesus may have appeared to the disciples a number of times during the forty days on Earth after His resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-7), while the New Testament writers mentioned only the more prominent instances in order to substantiate the fact of His resurrection.
But, one may ask, “Why did Jesus command His apostles to ‘tarry in the city of Jerusalem’ on the day of His resurrection until they were ‘endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49), if He really wanted them to meet Him in Galilee?” Actually, it is an assumption to assert that Jesus made the above statement on the same day that He arose from the grave. As has been shown throughout this article, Bible writers frequently moved from one subject to the next without giving the actual time or the exact order in which something was done or taught (cf. Luke 4:1-3; Matthew 4:1-11). In Luke 24, the writer omitted the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Galilee (mentioned by both Matthew and John). However, notice that he never stated that Jesus remained only in Jerusalem from the day He rose from the grave until the day He ascended into heaven.
According to Luke 24 verses 1,13,21,29, and 33, the events recorded in the first forty-three verses of that chapter all took place on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection. The last four verses of Luke 24 (vss. 50-53), however, took place (according to Luke) more than five weeks later (cf. Acts 1:1-12). But what about verses 44-49? When were these statements made? The truth is, no one can know for sure. Luke gives no indication (as he did in the preceding verses) that this particular section took place “on the first day of the week” (24:1), or on “the third day” since Jesus’ crucifixion (24:21). All we know is that verses 44-49 took place sometime before He ascended into heaven (vss. 50-51). Simply because Luke used the Greek conjunctive particle de [translated “and” (ASV), “then” (NKJV), and “now” (NASV)] to begin verse 44, does not necessarily denote a close connection between the two verses, but only a general continuation of the account and a brief statement of what Jesus said. Even though many twenty-first-century readers assume that the events recorded in Luke 24:44-49 occurred on the very day Jesus rose from the grave, the text actually is silent on the matter.
WHEN DID PAUL GO TO JERUSALEM?
Three times in the book of Acts, the Bible student is informed that after Saul’s conversion to Christ in Damascus, he departed for Jerusalem. According to Acts chapter 9, Saul (also called Paul) “increased all the more in strength” following his baptism into Christ, and “confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus” (vs. 22). Then, when “many days were past... the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket” for fear of the Jews (vss. 23,25). Immediately following these verses, the text reads: “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (vs. 26, emp. added). Add to these verses Paul’s respective statements to the Jerusalem mob (Acts 22:17) and to King Agrippa (Acts 26:20) regarding his journey from Damascus to Jerusalem, and Bible students get the impression that shortly after Paul’s conversion in Damascus, he journeyed to Jerusalem. The problem with this reasoning is that Paul later wrote to the churches of Galatia, and indicated that he “did not immediately...go up to Jerusalem” following his conversion to Christ (Galatians 1:16). Rather, he went to Arabia, back to Damascus, and then after three years he went up to Jerusalem (1:17-18). [NOTE: “Arabia” generally is taken as a reference to the vast peninsula which bears that name. Its northwestern boundaries reached almost to Damascus—Pfeiffer, 1979, p. 203.] Concerned Bible students want to know how these passages are harmonized? Did Paul go straight to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion, or three years later?
Although Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26 all indicate that Paul went from Damascus to Jerusalem after he became a Christian, one must realize that none of these passages specifically says that Paul wentstraight from Damascus to Jerusalem. It only says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem....” The writer of Acts gives no time limitations here. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament will a person find a statement denying that three years expired between Paul’s conversion and his first trip to Jerusalem as a Christian. Although rarely emphasized, what the Bible does not say regarding Paul’s journeys is very important—it proves that the alleged contradiction is based only on speculation, and not on a fair representation of the Scriptures.
Some question why Paul did not mention his trip to Arabia to preach among the Gentiles when he spoke to the Jewish mob in Jerusalem, and later to King Agrippa. Was it not a vital piece of information? Did he just “forget” about this part of his life? Actually, Paul had a good reason for not mentioning his trip to Arabia—he was speaking to Jews who were “seeking to kill him” because of his dealings with Gentiles (Acts 21:28-31). As a way of comparison, we can understand why a college football player who transferred from a rival school may not talk to his current teammates about his former college experiences, or why a new sales representative who transferred from a competing company may refrain from talking to current customers and/or coworkers about the three years he spent with the rival company. In a similar way, it did not aid Paul’s cause to mention at the very outset of his speech that some of his first work for the Lord was done among the Gentiles. (The Jews hated Paul for his dealings with the Gentiles. The events recorded in Acts 21 alone are proof of such hatred.) Certain situations simply warrant silence on a subject, rather than an exhaustive detailing of historical facts. Paul did not lie (to the Jerusalem mob or to King Agrippa) about his past experience working with the Gentiles for a time; he merely omitted this piece of information in his efforts to show his fellow Jews that the very people among whom he had been a loyal persecutor were those to whom he now preached.
The twenty-first-century reader must remember that a Bible writer (or a speaker whom a Bible writer quotes) may be writing/speaking from one point of view, and raise a point that may not be made in another situation. Neither Paul in his speeches, nor Luke in penning the book of Acts to Theophilus, saw a need to mention Paul’s journey to Arabia. In his letter to the churches of Galatia, however, Paul was dealing with Judaizers who taught that one had to keep the Law of Moses to be saved, and who wished to discredit Paul as an apostle. Paul thus wrote to tell them that after his conversion, he preached among the Gentiles for an extended amount of time before ever meeting with another apostle. Paul did not hurry off to Jerusalem to get instruction and approval from the Twelve. In defense of his apostolic credentials to the churches of Galatia, Paul mentioned his delayed journey to Jerusalem in order to emphasize (among other things) his genuine apostleship, whose message and authority came from Almighty God, and not from the twelve apostles, or any other person.
The burden of proof is on the Bible critic to verify his allegations. Although one of the skeptics quoted earlier compared the Bible to a “cheating husband” who “has been caught in a contradiction,” one must remember how equally deplorable it is to draw up charges of marital unfaithfulness when there is no proof of such. In reality, the Bible should be likened to a faithful husband who has been wrongfully accused of infidelity by prejudiced, overbearing skeptics whose case is based upon unproven assumptions.
The apologist does not have to know the exact solution to an alleged contradiction; he need only show one or more possibilities of harmonization. We act by this principle in the courtroom, in our treatment of various historical books, as well as in everyday-life situations. It is only fair, then, that we show the Bible the same courtesy by exhausting the search for possible harmony between passages before pronouncing one or both accounts false.
Barnes, Albert (1956), Notes on the New Testament: Luke-John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Cook, J.M. (1983), The Persians (London: Orion Publishing Group).
Fausset, A.R. (1998), Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Greenleaf, Simon (1995), The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics).
“Inerrancy: Where Conservative Christianity Stands or Falls” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://users.vei.net/smijer/christianity/bunk.html.
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
McKinsey, C. Dennis (1988a), “Editor’s Note,”Biblical Errancy, p. 6, March.
McKinsey, C. Dennis (1988b), “Letter 263,” Biblical Errancy, p. 6, May.
Morgan, Donald (2003), “Biblical Inconsistencies,” [On-line], URL: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/inconsistencies.shtml.
Morris, Leon (1995), The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. (1979), Baker’s Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Smith, Mark A. (1995), “Gospel Wars: Galilee-vs-Jerusalem,” [On-line], URL: http://www.Jcnot4me.com/Items/contradictions/GALILEE-vs-JERUSALEM.htm.
Thomson, William M. (1859), The Land and the Book (New York: Harper and Brothers).
Tobin, Paul N. (2000), “Internal Contradictions in the Bible,” The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager, [On-line], URL: http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/internal.html.
van Praag, Herman M. (1986), “The Downfall of King Saul: The Neurobiological Consequences of Losing Hope,” Judaism, 35:421.
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com.
Wilson, R. Dick (1996), “Artaxerxes,” International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Youngblood, Ronald F. (1992), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Samuel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).