Defending the Faith with a Broken Sword — Part 1
The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Christians are to proclaim the gospel of God in a loving and positive way. We are to expose every rational creature to the good news regarding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We should assume that each person that we encounter is an honest soul until he or she demonstrates that such is not the case. Like the Lord, our mission is to seek those who are lost (Luke 19:10).
There is another side of the picture, though. We also have the awesome responsibility of opposing every false way. The Bible instructs Christians to defend the gospel (Philippians 1:16), to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), to reprove, rebuke and exhort (2 Timothy 4:2), and to give answer to those who inquire about our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Elders of Christ’s church must convict the gainsayers and stop the mouths of deceivers (Titus 1:9-11).
It is a fundamental fact that one can preach the truth, and nothing but the truth, the entirety of his life, and not be right with God — if he does not also stand against error. It is not enough just to be positive.
In our defense of the faith, however, we must maintain the highest level of integrity. Our argumentation must be honest and it must be sound. Any person who knowingly employs a fallacious argument in defense of some biblical truth is unworthy of the name of Christ. Truth does not need the support of misapplied scripture and invalid reasoning. It can stand on its own.
There are occasions, though, when sincere people, who are honestly attempting to defend a valid biblical truth, unknowingly employ unsound argumentation in the process. Perhaps many of us have discovered, in retrospect, that we have made these sort of mistakes. When such is the case, we will resolve to never repeat them — no matter how flashy or impressive the argument appears to be. Virtue demands that we attempt to prove our position correctly.
In a series of several articles, we propose to discuss some of the exegetical mistakes which we believe some sincere students of scripture have made in their zealous efforts to defend certain biblical truths. We trust our readers will find these studies of interest and profit.
One of the crucial ingredients of the theory of evolution is “time.” Dr. Robert Jastrow, an evolutionist, has asserted that “the key to Darwin’s explanation is time, and the passage of many centuries.” Professor George Wald of Harvard stated that time is the “hero” of the evolutionary plot! Accordingly, we are told that the Universe is approximately 20 to 30 billion years old and that man has been upon the planet for some 3 to 4 million years.
Unfortunately, many religionists have fallen victim to this evolutionary propaganda. Realizing that a literal view of Bible chronology cannot be harmonized with the evolutionary time-frame, some have resorted to ill-conceived interpretative methods in their attempt to relieve the scriptures of what they perceive as an insurmountable difficulty. For example:
- It is argued that there is a vast gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, which allows for billions of years of earth history. # It is alleged that the “days” of the creation week are not actual days, but symbolic “days” consuming eons of time.
- Some suggest that the “days” of the creation week are not time indicators at all; rather, they are simply six outline points in the author’s great mythological drama.
None of the foregoing views is accurate. And as well-meaning as some of the advocates of these theories may be, the Bible does not need such specious defenses. The fact of the matter is:
- There is absolutely no scientific method that infallibly dates the history of the earth at billions of years. All of the radio-metric dating techniques are buttressed with uniformitarianism, assumptions that are designed to support the evolutionary time scale. Did you know that the estimated age of the earth has doubled approximately every twenty years over the past century?
- here are many scientific evidences which suggest that the earth is relatively young.
- A consistent and sensible approach to the scriptures will not permit the type of fanciful textual manipulation required by the theories mentioned above.
No “Reverend” Clergymen
Unlike denominational clergymen, gospel ministers do not wear the title “Reverend.” Why not?
The answer sometimes given is this: “The word ‘reverend’ is found but once in the entire Bible, Psalm 111:9. — ‘Holy and reverend is his [God’s] name.’ That sacred title must not be taken from the Lord and applied to man.”
Though a desire to preserve the uniqueness of Jehovah is certainly admirable, this method of defending the Creator’s honor is fallacious for the following reasons.
If one contends that “reverend” cannot be applied to man because it is used of God, he should argue similarly for the term “holy” in the same passage. Yet, clearly, the word “holy” is frequently used of men in the scriptures (see Hebrews 3:1; 2 Peter 1:21).
Whereas the English word “reverend” is found but once in our common versions, various forms of the original Hebrew term are frequently applied to men in the Old Testament. The term simply means to fear, i.e., to reverence or respect.
It is used of revering one’s parents (Leviticus 19:3). The word is applied to Moses and Joshua (Joshua 4:14), and to Samuel (1 Samuel 18:29). In the New Testament, Paul instructs that a Christian wife should “reverence” her husband (Ephesians 5:33). One who lives in such a way as to be worthy of the respect of his fellows is reverend.
Our opposition to the wearing of “Reverend” as a religious title is this: it creates an artificial class distinction which is unknown to the New Testament.
This principle was dealt with by Christ in Matthew 23:8-9, when He said:
“But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even the Christ.”
Albert Barnes noted that such a title as “Doctor of Divinity,” as applied to ministers of the gospel, violates these prohibitions. We do not believe that the use of “Doctor” or “Professor” is wrong in a medical, scientific, or academic context; such titles, though, are not appropriate within the setting of a religious atmosphere.
Those who refer to the apostles as “St. Paul,” “St. Peter,” etc., likewise err in this respect. Let us thus be sure that when we argue against the use of special spiritual appellations that we do so scripturally and logically.
Infants Not “Sinners”
One of the infidel criticisms of the Old Testament has to do with Israel’s destruction of the Canaanites. For example, in the taking of pagan Jericho, the Lord’s people were commanded to utterly destroy all within the city, “both man and woman, both young and old” (Joshua 6:21). Whereas one might concede the justice in destroying wicked adults, the killing of children presents a more difficult problem.
Some have attempted to explain this situation upon the basis that infants are sinners and thus deserve punishment just as adults do. This is the approach adopted by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks in their book, When Skeptics Ask (Victor, 1989, p. 170). Psalms 51:5 is cited as proof — “… in sin did my mother conceive me.” This is an example of attempting to defend the moral integrity of God with a broken sword! Two points need to be made here.
First, the Old Testament narrative does not present an insurmountable problem. God is the author of life (Acts 17:25), and, consistent with His plan — which is always for the ultimate good of mankind — the Lord has the option of destroying evil civilizations.
Moreover, due to the nature of the world in which we live, the innocent sometimes suffer the effects of immoral actions on the part of others. This is a necessary price for the privilege of human freedom.
Too, even though those ancient children suffered physical consequences as a result of their parents’ rebellion, they were not spiritually culpable, hence, they had the prospect of an existence much better than this corrupted realm of sin.
Second, Psalms 51:5 does not teach that infants are actual sinners. Rather, the passage asserts that its author was born into a world that is tainted with evil, thus, relatively speaking, sin had characterized his entire life. Hyperbole (exaggeration) is employed for emphasis.
The language of the passage is similar to Job’s statement (31:18) wherein he affirmed that he had cared for the fatherless and the widow from his mother’s womb. (Note how Job uses “womb” and “youth” as equivalent expressions in this verse.)
Moreover, elsewhere the Bible clearly teaches that children are spiritually innocent, with attitudes worthy of emulation (cf. Matthew 18:3; 19:14; 1 Corinthians 14:20).
Let us remind ourselves again that truth can never be defended with erroneous argumentation. In fact, when such is attempted, we do the cause of biblical religion a great disservice. Our opponents are frequently able to see through falsely constructed arguments. They thus assume that the Christian system is itself specious. We have a moral obligation to argue our religious positions with accuracy and honesty.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.