XFiles: Writing God’s Word for HimDecember 20, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
We’re in chapter 14, out of 15 chapters, in a book entitled I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be and ATHEIST, by Drs. Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. For the last few chapters, Geisler and Turek have been citing “the Scriptures” as reliable, historical, and primary sources of information about what God has allegedly been doing in the real world, and now, in the next to last chapter of the book, they’re finally getting around to defining what “the Scriptures” are. Hey, if you bought the first 13 chapters…
Up to now, G&T have been trying to establish the authority of the Bible by blithely appealing to what the Bible says Jesus says about the Bible. But even a theologian gets tired of going around in circles eventually, so for a change of pace they head us off in the general direction of the canonicity of Scripture, or in other words, “How do we know which books are divinely inspired and which are not?”
It’s a bit of a trouble spot for believers, because for all that they may strut and brag about the “ultimate supremacy” of Scripture, they have no passage anywhere in the Bible that declares which books are officially Scripture. Nor do they have any official list of books handed down to them from God, or from Jesus, or from any apostle, or from any prophet, saying “These are the books chosen by God to become His Word.” So what’s a Christian to do?
There’s only one possible answer of course: when God fails to do something you need Him to do, you just do it yourself and then give Him the credit. This then become God having done it. You were just the tool God used, you see. He even “inspired” you (without putting you under the constraints of Deut. 18) to have the idea to do His work so that He wouldn’t have to. Ahem.
Yes, well, that doesn’t sound very good, so Geisler and Turek take us on a tour of some of the thought processes that uninspired men used in deciding which books were inspired, in hopes that this overview will inspire some sort of confidence that they picked the right books. This presumes that there are a certain number of books that are genuinely divinely inspired, so there’s always a risk that we’ll inevitably end up with a list of canonical Scriptures regardless. Maybe none of them are really inspired, and all we’re doing is compiling a list of most convincing non-inspired books we can find?
Regardless, let’s have a look. True to form, Geisler and Turek’s first appeal is to Old Testament books that are mentioned in the New Testament (whatever the “New Testament” is, since we haven’t defined that yet).
In his rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus covered every book in the Jewish Old Testament, first to last when he declared, “Upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (v. 35). Abel was killed in the first book of the Jewish Old Testament (Genesis), and Zechariah was killed in the last (Chronicles).
Bit of a peculiar thought pattern there. Granted, Geisler and Turek are talking about Chronicles as being the last book of the Old Testament in the sense that it contains the record of the events which occurred latest in chronological order. But seriously? We’re supposed to take Jesus’ rebuke as being a validation of every book of the Old Testament, just because he mentions both an early murder and a late one?
If this is supposed to inspire my confidence, they’re off to a bad start. Are we supposed to assume that because Jesus mentioned two righteous people being murdered, one at the dawn of (alleged) history and one in the early post-Exilic period, that therefore any book that refers to righteous people being murdered in the intervening history is necessarily valid Scripture? Doesn’t the Book of Mormon have some righteous people dying during that time frame?
But let’s not give them too much grief. I’m sure they’re doing the best they can. And to give them the benefit of the doubt, I would suspect that in its original form, this was not so much an argument in favor of the canonicity of the Old Testament, but an argument against the canonicity of the Apocrypha, which describe events occurring after Zechariah. Geisler and Turek are Protestants, after all, and it wouldn’t do to go including certain “undesirable” sacred writings in the so-called canon of Scripture.
Their next confidence-inspiring citation is to talk about how many times the New Testament cites books from the Old.
Jesus and the New Testament writers cited every section of the Old Testament as authoritative as they referenced events in 18 of the 22 books of the Jewish Old Testament. The historicity of many of the events listed in table 14.1 have been disputed by critics. But Jesus and the apostles reference them as if they are historically true.
Notice the subtle weasel words there. The New Testament cites “every section” of the Old. Not every book, every “section.” Geisler and Turek don’t say what they mean by “section” but they probably mean the Law, the historical books, the poetic books, the major prophets, and the minor prophets. In other words, five sections (or six, if you break the poetic books into poetic books and wisdom literature). How do we know that the people who picked the books for each section picked the right books? They don’t say.
Maybe there’s some hope in table 14.1? I’m not going to reproduce it here (sorry), but it’s a list of 32 places where the New Testament cites some OT passage as though it were authoritative. Of these 32 references, 22 are references to Genesis, 3 refer to Exodus, 2 to Daniel, and one each for Joshua, Numbers, Kings, Chronicles and Jonah, for a total of eight Old Testament books mentioned in 32 New Testament citations.
Conspicuously missing from this list, of course, is Jude 1:9. “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”. This is an example of a New Testament author directly and authoritatively citing a book called “The Assumption of Moses”—a book you won’t find in any of our modern Bibles.
So ok, New Testament writers cited at least 8 of the 39 books of the Old Testament, plus at least one book that Geisler and Turek do not regard as being genuine Scripture. So what conclusion should we draw when a New Testament writer cites another book authoritatively? Does that mean the other book should be regarded as Scripture? Hmmm, it seems that New Testament writers cited other “sacred” writings even when we can be pretty sure that these other writings were not genuinely inspired.
It doesn’t help, of course, that we’re using New Testament authors as reliable witnesses even though Geisler and Turek themselves admit that these writers took a lot of their “authoritative” citations from stories whose historicity is doubtful. Remember back when Geisler and Turek were telling us how reliable Luke was and how we should never doubt his accounts because he mentioned real cities like Damascus and real people like Caesar? Shouldn’t they also have mentioned how Luke and other NT authors also uncritically accepted stories that these same experts now know to be of doubtful historicity?
These are considerations that raise valid concerns about whether we should be putting our faith in Christianity based on the testimony of the New Testament writers. We ought to have settled that question before we even approached the question of what conclusions we ought to draw if we have faith in the testimony of the NT witnesses.
And that’s really what it all boils down to. Geisler and Turek are trying to get us to have faith in what the New Testament writers tell us, regardless of how consistent these things are with observable and verifiable reality, and despite the explicit denial, in the title of their book, that they are basing their conclusions purely on their faith in the words and superstitions and subjective experiences of men. It’s the kind of inverted and perverted thinking that inevitably happens when you try to make God real in a world in which He does not exist.