Sunday, June 18, 2006

More Liberal Theology

It seems that liberal theology is an unrelenting pandemic that attempts to persuade people to see the Bible in terms altogether different than those its Author intended. Perhaps someone should be working on an anti-liberal vaccine.

The church I attend offers a series of Bible-study programs designed to further one's understanding each of which runs for 34 weeks. We get a work book that contains reading assignments and then we meet once a week to discuss the assignment. We also watch a video presentation during class by a speaker who talks about the topic.

Unfortunately, the materials sometimes reflect the thinking of liberal theologians that take a different point of view. This causes me to place less emphasis on the materials and more on the opportunity to meet and grow with fellow participants of the Church.

In the course I attended last year, Ms Janet Howe Gaines was a speaker in the video that was shown during one of the classes and she made the comment that the Biblical book of Jonah was most likely a myth. This prompted me to do a little bit of research on Ms Gaines and subsequently post a response on Viewpoint which can be found here.

I have recently registered to participate in another course entitled Jesus in the Gospels which starts in the fall. I purchased the study materials well in advance so I might be better able to add as much value as possible to the group discussions. The material for the course was written by Leander E. Keck who served as New Testament consultant on the four-phase Disciple Bible study and covener of he consultation on the development of Christian Believer. Dr. Keck, Winkley Professor of Biblical Theology Emeritus and for Dean of Yale University Divinity School,, was the covener of the Editorial Board of the New Interpreter's Bible. Impressive, huh?

After delving into the study material, it wasn't long before I read the following:

Furthermore, the Gospels themselves sometimes disagree when reporting the same event. A famous instance concerns the day Jesus died. According to John, Jesus died the day the lambs were being slaughtered to be eaten at the Passover meal that night; but according to the other three Gospels, he died the day after the Passover meal. Each date suggests something important about Jesus, but both cannot be right historically.

While Dr. Keck may have difficulty understanding exactly when Jesus died, all four Gospels are consistent in their telling of when he was risen (Matthew xxviii. 1-10, Mark xvi. 1-18, Luke xxiv. 1-49 and John xx. 1-23). Therefore, it seems to me that all four Gospels must be consistent regarding the time of death of Jesus.

Then again, Dr. Keck states:

In Luke the angels announce "good news" for all the people: "To you is born this day [Christ], the Lord, " as well as "peace on earth" - adding up to a different good news about a different peace from the savior.

Right as Luke is in what he portrayed theologically, he apparently did not get the date exactly right historically. Nowhere else do we read of an empire-wide census that required all people to be registered in their ancestral home. Beside, Quirinius was governor of Syria in A.D. 6-7. Here Matthew's dating is to be preferred: Jesus was born in the last years of Herod's reign, which ended in 4 B.C. In any case, Luke's mistaken date should not keep us from seeing the point: Jesus the Savior was born in the heyday of Augustus the savior. The contrast is deliberate, and it calls for faith's perception of its significance.

Dr. Keck is referring to the second chapter of the book of Luke where it states:

1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2. And this taxing (enrollment or registration) was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

And he seems to feel a need to point out that Cyrenius wasn't the governor at that time but, rather "Quirinius". I find it odd that someone would offer a work intended to inspire people to discipleship of the Lord and yet take every apparent opportunity to inject their perception of discrepancies.

Turning to the notes in my Companion Bible I find that

A Papyrus (in British Museum), being a rescript of the Prefect Gaius Vibius Maximus (A..D. 103-104) shows that Herod must have been acting under Roman orders. Vib. Max. was Prefect of Egypt, and wrote: "the enrollment by households being at hand, it is necessary to notify all who for any cause soever are outside their homes to return to their domestic hearths, that they may accomplish the customary dispensation of enrolment, and continue steadfastly in the husbandry that belongeth to them." There is a large number of Papyri relating to these enrolments. A second registration is recorded in Acts v. 37.

The notes also indicate that Cyrenius is Greek for the Latin Quirinus. His full name being Publius Sulpicius Quirinus.

Having discovered this reasonable explanation and numerous references to evidence that confirms the taxing as well as a solution to the confusion regarding Cyrenius / Quirinus I didn't bother to address the problem Dr. Keck has with the "date" he referred to earlier. I'm content to believe the problem is simply one he has created for himself by failing to "rightly divide the word of truth" 2 Timothy ii. 15.

I am convinced that difficulties arise for people like Dr. Keck simply because they're thinking only of the human agent as the writers of the Bible, instead of having regard to the fact that the Word of God is the record of the words which He Himself employed when He spoke "at sundry times and in diverse manners" Hebrews i. 1. and from not remembering (or believing) that "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost". 2 Peter i. 21, Mark xii. 36, Acts i. 16; iii.18; xxviii. 25; Hebrews iii. 7; ix. 8; x. 15; and 2 Timothy iii. 16 where we read "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

There are many "apparent contradictions" in the Bible. When the reader assumes it to be authored by man, they readily conclude the contradictions to be matters of fact and the quest for the treasure of blessings comes to an end. If the reader assumes it to be authored by God, apparent contradictions are an indicator that the reader has failed to "rightly divide the word of truth" and the quest has only just begun.

How such learned people can miss such an obvious and crucial truth is beyond my understanding.