Christian Apologetics Free Course 12, Lesson 02
Analyzing Bible Difficulties 02
5–Difficulties Arising Out Of The Type Of Language In Which The Bible Was Written: The Bible is a Book for all times, ages, and for all kinds of people, therefore it is written in a language which is not ‘dated’. It uses common people’s language instead of technical jargon. Technical books are written for a limited readership, and they become outdated very soon, but the Bible was written for every person ever to be born, to serve generation after generation without ever becoming outdated. This is the reason why the Bible uses expressions like ‘the sun rises’, but this does not imply that sun revolves around the earth. Even in this twenty-first century we speak of the ‘rising’ and ‘setting’ of the sun though we know that sun is not, in reality, rising. Since the Bible is a Book for all people of all ages, it also uses similar language of accommodation.
Also, prose, poetry, and prophecy have different ways of expressing truth, and they should never be mingled or confused with each other. A good example of such language is found in Leviticus 26:19 which says “And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass”. The prophecy only implies a condition of rainlessness, not that the skies will become iron and that the earth will actually become brass.
6–Difficulties Arising Out Of Our Incomplete Knowledge Of The Customs, History, Geography And The Society Of Bible Times: Though archaeologists have amassed a vast wealth of knowledge about Biblical times, our understanding of the past is not yet complete in any way. Because of this, many expressions and events mentioned in the Bible pose some difficulty to readers. The tremendous amount of archaeological information that has been discovered in recent times, however, have been solving many of these difficulties. One such difficulty is the drinking of wine mentioned in the Bible.
Most people who are offended by reading about this are ignorant of the three different ways in which most cultures treat alcoholic drinks. Alcohol is used as medicine, as part of food, and for getting intoxicated. When wine is mentioned in the Bible, most of the time it is part of the food, where there is no hint of intoxication. It is used in this way in numerous agricultural societies. This includes many societies in India too. Also, there are many suggestions from historical records that many times the wine used as part of food was not intoxicating at all. The reason why tax-collectors were hated, how salt can lose it flavour, and what “putting fire on the enemy’s head” meant can be understood only if we understand the cultures in the context of which these things were spoken.
7–Difficulties Arising Out Of Our Ignorance Of The Conditions Under Which A Certain Book Was Written Or A Certain Commandment Was Given: The meaning and significance of certain books like Esther, Song Of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes can be understood only if one knows the conditions under which these books were written. Also, certain commandments like the one given to exterminate all of the Canaanites can be understood only if we understand the degeneration of those people, and the impossibility of reforming them. Let us consider the example of the book called Song Of Solomon. Many people are shocked when they read this book because it contains many statements related to the love between a man and his right woman. In fact such kinds of reaction to this book has given rise to a host of ways in which the meaning and message of this book are interpreted. However, the first thing that we must understand is that “reaction” is never the proper criterion by which to evaluate, judge or interpret something in the Word of God.
The second thing to understand in this connection is that marriage is a divine institution, declared holy by God. The contemporary attitude to marriage and related subjects is not the result of Christian thinking. Rather, pagan philosophies and movements have so much vulgarised and profaned the subject that many people shun all discussion of these subjects. But it is not reasonable to expect the Word of God to shun the discussion of a subject merely because people have profaned the subject. This is a modern phenomenon originating in the perversions of Western society. The Eastern societies, however, have always considered marriage sacred and discussion of such subjects an essential part of training society — especially the young and people of marriageable age. It was a kind of premarital counseling in these societies, and seen in that light the book takes on a new meaning. In fact there are many such things in the Bible about which people feel uncomfortable. But it must be pointed out that in almost all such cases, people judge the Word of God in the light of pagan ideas and philosophies which they have so firmly accepted that they don’t know that they are doing !!
8–Difficulties Arising Out Of The Many-Sidedness Of The Bible: We all have certain preconceptions, prejudices, and a philosophy of looking at things, and this makes our thoughts one-sided. For example, among theologians there are both Calvinists as well as Arminianists, even though neither of them might have perceived the full truth. God’s truth is many-sided, and none of us can comprehend it all in our lifetimes. As a consequence, one aspect of truth might appear to contradict another, even though there is no REAL contradiction. For example, under the influence of humanistic philosophies many people are able to see only the ‘love’ aspect of life, but not the discipline or balance aspect. Such people speak against all forms of discipline and punishment without realising what they are actually doing — sheltering the criminal and abandoning the innocent to danger. Such people are horrified at the thought of capital punishment mentioned in the Bible because it hurts their emotions, but at the same time they exhibit an attitude of apathy towards the persons who were assaulted, murdered, or raped by the criminal who is now facing the capital punishment.
9–The Infiniteness Of God And The Finiteness Of Our Understanding: God and His wisdom are infinite. It is not possible to describe His thoughts and dealings accurately, using our limited human language. As a consequence, when God’s acts and attitudes are expressed in human language, difficulties are bound to arise. If we are sufficiently conscious of the fact that the finite mind cannot in any way fully comprehend the Infinite, much frustration will be avoided. Questions related to the sovereignty of God and our free will, the problem of pain and evil under a just God, etc. come into this category. Since there has to be some way of speaking about the infinite God in spite of linguistic limitations, two practices are common in the Bible: describing the acts and thoughts of God in terms of human activity, and using human terms to describe what God thinks or does. Both of these practices have their communication value, but if pressed to the extreme, they can give rise to non-existent problems. For example, when the Bible speaks of God “repenting” over something, it must not be confused with the repentance which humans undergo. These two activities are entirely different, but the writers use the same words to describe them because we do not have other suitable words. It is foolish to debate over such words when they are only what are called “anthropomorphisms” and “anthropopathisms”.