At the end of every semester, after spending about three months working through the Old Testament with a group of community college students, mostly believers, I spend our final two classes talking about how Paul, a trained theologian and Christ follower, could call such a diverse and difficult set of books “inspired.”
Sure, Paul didn’t know what we know. By claiming inspiration, he would seem to be affirming a literal six-day Creation and an earth history of about six thousand years, though he wouldn’t have known about the hundreds of thousands of years revealed in the polar ice core samples, and he didn’t have to grapple with the findings of carbon dating, or the witness of the Grand Canyon, or the theory of evolution.
By claiming inspiration, he seems to be claiming that God has revealed a universe where he rules from the heavens, sending rain, thunder and lightning through windows in the sky; a universe where the living dwell on a flat earth that is fixed on pillars, with the sun rising and setting around it; a universe where the dead populate a dark and silent underworld known as Sheol; a universe which Galileo’s telescope completely disproved.
Paul never spoke directly against some of the problematic social practices that the Old Testament seems to condone—slavery, holy war, stoning, animal sacrifice, misogyny, and so on. He obviously preferred a single life to monogamy, and monogamy to polygamy, which many of his Biblical heroes would have seen the other way around.
Of course, if pressed by an agnostic time traveler from the twenty-first century, I’m sure Paul would know exactly how to defend everything—THE FLOOD.
I don’t mean to take this subject lightly. These are real concerns. As a professor of the Bible, and an unapologetic believer, I’m in no position to ignore these issues.
If the Bible is obviously wrong when it comes to hard science, and seems a little too casual on social issues, can it be trusted with other things, like the redemptive work of Christ or the Second Coming?
As many of you know, I believe that Christ is our clearest lens into the character and activity of God (See God). Did Jesus say anything about the inspiration of the Old Testament? Shouldn’t he be the final authority on this issue?
We know that Jesus often used the Scriptures to affirm his claim as Messiah. At the very least, he believed the prophecies to be inspired.
He also claimed that he had come to fulfill the Mosaic Law, which should prove that he believed that Moses faithfully dictated that Law from Yahweh. The concept of “fulfillment” also suggests that he believed that there was a deeper layer of meaning in the Law Code, not just a collection of bizarre rituals that he had come to eliminate.
Well, everything but the Ten Commandments of course . . .
Apart from the Law and the prophecies, Jesus gives a spiritual meaning to the story of Jonah, calling it a sign, not just a story [Matt. 12:38-41]. Obviously, he believed that this improbable tale of a man being swallowed by a fish was pointing toward his own death, his three days in a tomb, his resurrection and the proclamation of salvation to the Gentiles.
Jesus also claims to be the true manna in the wilderness, the very Bread of Life [John 6]. He claims to be the stairway that Jacob saw in his dream, the connection between heaven and earth [John 1]. He compares himself to the bronze serpent that Moses raised for the healing of the suffering snakebit [John 3].
What else did Jesus see in the Old Testament? What did he show those men on the road to Emmaus when he opened the Scriptures to them and revealed his story as their hearts burned within them?
Paul points to similar shadows and types in the Old Testament. He calls Jesus a second Adam. He compares the crucified Christ to the rock that was struck in the wilderness so the thirsty could drink and live [I Cor. 10:4]. He calls the revelation of Christ a mystery that was hidden in previous generations, but revealed to those who could perceive it by the Holy Spirit [Rom. 16, I Cor. 2, etc.].
The Jews would never inject their own book with images of a crucified and resurrected Messiah. These are the very people that rejected Jesus when he came, and continue to reject him to this day.
Logically, if the Jews preserved these stories while, at the same time, rejecting their Messianic interpretation, we can assume that there is some divine activity going on. Could this be the inspiration that Paul is talking about?
When it comes to things like science or social structuring, Jesus is practically silent.
He never says a word about slavery. At least nothing that has been preserved or handed down. He doesn’t press his disciples to get involved in politics, focusing mostly on the belief of his followers or the unbelief of those who reject him.
I can’t speak for God, but it seems that his primary concern is always with spiritual things. Perhaps when our spiritual situation is worked out, our social situation will naturally follow. But if we try to solve our social situation without spiritual regeneration, we’re putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, and society will ultimately do what it always does, decline into a power struggle between self-oriented people.
Rather than addressing their scientific ignorance, Jesus seems to reinforce it. He tells them a parable of an unrighteous master and righteous servant going down to Sheol, finding their stations reversed. When he returns to his Father, Jesus literally rises into the clouds, exactly what one would expect in a three-tiered universe.
However, when Jesus speaks of the true dwelling place of his Father, or the hellish destination of the unrighteous, he uses figurative language, as if these places are not to be understood in literal terms.
As for science, maybe this is an area that man is meant to explore together. Our ignorance forces us to link arms in order to understand our own history, explore the unknown universe, overcome political problems and work to cure diseases. Maybe this is God’s challenge to humanity.
When it comes to the concept of inspiration, however, I suggest that we consider the interests of God, and not our own. A close study of Scripture shows that, while only inspiring confusion in the scientific and social arenas, the administration of God becomes startlingly clear when it comes to Christ.
He even uses code.
When I was at a Bible School in England in 1998, one of the teachers told us a story of when he was a young agnostic on a spiritual quest in Israel. His mother slipped a Hebrew Bible into his luggage, and one day, as he was reading through it, he found the genealogy of Genesis 5. As he translated the names between Adam and Noah from the original Hebrew, he saw a message that convinced him of the reality of Christ.
When you read this message, ask yourself this: Would the ancient Jews really conspire to inject a Christian gospel into their holy Scriptures?
|Mahalalel||The Blessed God|
|Jared||Shall come down|
|Methuselah||His death shall bring|
|Lamech||The Despairing Ones|
|Noah||Rest, or comfort.|
Man (was) appointed (for) mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God will come down preaching (that) his death will bring the despairing ones rest.