Review of In Defense of the Bible

Steven B. Cowan & Terry L. Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2013)


sdvdfsvNo book is more maligned in today’s relativistic, anti-religion culture than the Bible. From constant public attacks of the new atheists to the revelation of “mythical” and thus false elements discovered within its pages heralded by liberal scholars, the bible has lost its place of prominence and influence in the mind of the American psyche. Steven B. Cowan, the Jim Young associate professor of Philosophy and Religion at Louisiana College, and Terry L. Wilder, the professor and Wesley Harrison chair of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seek to rebut and defend the fallen seat of authority with the help of various theologians, apologists, and philosophers in their work. Not only do the writers believe Scripture to be inspired by God himself and inerrant, they believe good arguments can be marshaled in defense of such a position. Their work is constructed in a comprehensive fashion with broad application to various areas as follows: philosophical and methodological challenges, textual and historical challenges, and ethical, scientific, and theological challenges. Each writer contributes an article to the aforementioned work.

Philosophical and Methodological Challenges

R. Douglas Geivett opens the first section of the book answering in dialogue form two questions fundamental to the foundation of any claim to inspiration: can God speak to us and would God speak to us? Geivett answers in the affirmative arguing that speech does not necessarily require a body. God is a self-conscious being who can “produce effects in the physical world in a way analogous to our function as agents in the physical world (Geivett, 27).” In light of attributes such as omnipresence and omnipotence, there’s nothing within the nature of God himself that prevents him from communicating to us. He goes on to discuss possible reasons why God would want to speak with us after taking stock of humanity’s innate desire for religion. It is reasonable to believe a God magnificent enough to create the entire universe might also want to reveal specifics about his nature and the world around his creatures. This is supremely evident in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

vsdfdfsdrDouglas K. Blount answers three germane questions within his article: what is truth?, what does it mean for the Bible to be true?, and what is the rationale for inerrancy? Following a long line of philosophers, Dr. Blount adheres to a correspondence view of truth. After critiquing both the pragmatic and coherence theories of truth, the writer responds to various attacks against his view. Truth ultimately rests upon the divine mind and does not require someone to transcend their creaturely finitude to believe it is objective. We can know truly despite not knowing fully. Blount writes that for Scripture to be true includes not only the idea that all its assertions are factually correct, but it also goes beyond such a feature. For Scripture to be true also speaks of something measuring up—that is, measuring up in being or excellence (Blount 54).” Truth has a quality that guides our life. His central argument for inerrancy is written as follows: 1) the Bible as it was originally written is God’s Word, 2) God’s Word is wholly truthful, and 3) Therefore, the Bible as it was originally written is wholly truthful. The argument succeeds based upon how well our form of the text reflects the autographa and also the coherence of the nature of God. The author closes his section with two brief remarks. Unlike truth, rationality is not objective (Blount, 61) and worldviews obviously have a role in determining what is warranted or not. If the argument succeeds, one has warrant for believing the Bible to be wholly truthful.

Charles L Quarles and Richard R. Melick’s articles contain historical and methodological questions about Scripture rather than philosophical concerns. After explaining various features of higher criticism and offering a historical summation of the endeavor, Quarles ultimately finds fault not with the method but the presuppositions of certain scholars within the field. Higher Criticism is not the problem per se; it is the worldview assumptions such as antisupernaturalism and methodological doubt found among higher critics. The historical critical method has actually helped the church better understand and appreciate the text of the Bible. Melick argues that one can understand the Bible because it contains within it a self-correcting mechanism that involves the unity of Scripture, the consistency of its message, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to prevent erroneous conclusions about itself and its message (Melick, 90). Most axioms of historical skepticism are a farce and can be rebutted through the science of hermeneutics. The author spends the second portion of his chapter discussing the role of authorial intent, the reader and his response, and the current situation in modern hermeneutics. Readers should seek to answer questions that the text asks and so on and so forth until we begin to ask the right questions. We “enter the world of the Bible” when our questions are refined by the interpretive dialogue found within the pages of the text.

Textual and Historical Challenges

sdffvsdsChapters five and six discuss the supposed corruption of the Old and New Testament. Paul D. Wegnor lays out the general rules of OT textual criticism and discusses the types of errors one finds as he or she studies the integrity of the text. From his work, he has concluded with other scholars that 90 percent of the text is without error (Wegner, 133) and the whole can be viewed as reliable. In comparison to other works such as the Qu’ran and the Book of Mormon, the OT possesses an amazing heritage that is preserved for readers today. Daniel B. Wallace takes the scholarship of Bart Ehrman to task by discussing the wealth of riches textual critics have for the text of the NT. The NT is the “…best-attested work of Greek or Latin literature from the ancient world (Wallace, 151).” After listing the diverse variants within the manuscript pools, Wallace notes that less than 1 percent of the variants have any meaningful relevance affecting the trustworthiness of the text.  Those that do are listed within the margins of most translations. Wallace concludes his article by showing how the variants relate to theological issues raised in works attempting to show the incredibility of the Bible. The NT text has yet to be shown as hopelessly corrupted even by the most fastidious skeptics.

Terry L. Wilder’s article examines the charge of forgery within the first century. From studying the early church’s view concerning forgeries, the claims of the NT writer’s themselves, and the central admonishment for honesty and faithfulness within the Bible as a whole, the author rejects that the Bible contains forgeries. Arguments against Danielic and Pauline authorship can also be answered by appeals to other relevant features within their cultural settings. In chapter eight, Mary Jo Sharp exposes the utter flaccidity of charges that the story of Jesus is a pagan forgery by examining the worldviews of the myths, the supposed areas of overlap in the mythological literature, and what the Bible actually teaches. The parallels are insufficient to establish any relevant borrowing and the overall worldviews are diametrically contradictory. The message of Jesus is wildly relevant because it is the one “true myth” which satisfies human longing.

nt_wright_bibleChapters ten and eleven establish the historical reliability of the Old and New Testaments. Various claims made against the works usually stem from a lack of understanding concerning the relvant details of each book. In the last article of section two, Douglas S. Huffman argues that the Bible contains no actual contradictions. Charges of contradiction can usually be answered by noting misplaced expectations of the readers and misconstrued referents from the writers of the text. Mystery and the reader lacking relevant details also fail to be meaningful contradictions and should cause one to be humble as an interpreter. Dr. Huffman presents the Gospel accounts of the resurrection as case study of the principles he outlined within his chapter. Many times the details coalesce and corroborate one another instead of contradicting.  

Ethical, Scientific, and Theological Challenges

Section three opens with Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan defending the Bible against accusations of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The authors make a distinction between commands God decrees (occasional vs. general) and note the immoral practices of the Canaanites (negating the idea that they’re innocent). Furthermore, the ban in the book of Joshua appears to be an example of hagiographic hyperbole. Undue literalism is to be rejected because the text itself mentions the people set to be destroyed as still living, the ANE possesses parallel accounts where the language of utter destruction is hyperbolic, and there are rhetorical and theological reasons for including such accounts within the book. After defending their view of a literary reading instead of a literal reading of the ban, the writers support the notion that “…people who accept theism can defensibly claim that God has in the past, and on rare occasions, exempted people from the moral requirement not kill the innocent to achieve some greater good without being committed to morally absurd conclusions (Copan and Flannagan, 333).”

6-bible-scienceChapter thirteen represents a coherent attempt to place slavery and gender roles within their place in salvation history. Many problems associated with the evils of sexism and slavery stem from a misunderstanding of the nature of slavery and women within the cultures of the Bible or a moral “guilt-by-association” impugning because of racial slavery in the antebellum South and chauvinistic societies in the past. William A. Dembski offers a harmonizing position concerning whether or not Scripture and Science conflict. He, like others within the volume, note the naturalistic presuppositions of many scientists today. He then goes on to praise the Christian roots of modern science. The Bible needs to be appreciated as speaking truth while recognizing that it articulates that truth through phenomenological language, scientific agnosticism, and antiquated idioms and metaphors. As a faithful interpreter, one allows the Bible to speak for itself without pressing upon it undue, modern constraints. Ultimately, when faith and science conflict, both should be studied with humility for no one’s interpretations are inerrant. Chapter fourteen examines the unity of Scripture and argues for a clear metanarrative approach to the Bible. Various themes, types, and motifs thread the Bible together into a unified whole.

Three scholars work together for the goal of answering questions relating to canonicity in chapter sixteen. How did the OT canon come about? Through inspecting Jewish writers, certain tests for criteria are noted: the lack of contradictions, prophetic or authoritative authorship, divine inspiration, and use amongst believing communities. Apocryphal books were rejected for inclusion within the Old Testament because they are never cited in the NT, none claim divine inspiration, the OT canon is already restricted in different works, and there exists many mistakes within the writings. The NT canon was determined by apostolicity, antiquity, orthodoxy, and usage. The authors conclude their chapter scrutinizing other non-canonical texts in order to invalidate the conspiracy theories of the day. Steven B. Cowan closes the book by articulating a Christological argument for the authority of Scripture. His argument is as follows: 1) the NT documents are historically reliable, 2) These documents accurately present Christ as claiming to be God incarnate and proving it by fulfilled messianic prophecy, by a sinless and miraculous life, and by predicting and accomplishing his resurrection from the dead, 3) whatever Christ (who is God) teaches is true, 4) Christi taught the OT is the written Word of God and promised that his disciples would write the NT, 5) Therefore, the Bible is the written Word of God. Cowan employs the tools of skeptical, higher critics and turns their arguments on their head in favor of a high view of the Bible.

Critical Review

bible_0_0There is much to commend in this apologetic endeavor. Certain articles stood out as concise and well-fashioned arguments that make the book well worth the price. Douglas K. Blount’s piece accomplished its goal of thoughtfully discussing the nature of truth and the rationale of inerrancy. His arguments against the coherentist and pragmatic approaches were both gracious and sharp. Blount’s addition to what it means for the Bible to be true (“fitness to guide God’s people in righteous living”) prevents the correspondence view from being merely a spectator theory. Truth is something that corresponds to the way things are but also carries the idea of action or practice (e.g. “doing the truth” in John 3:21; 1 John 1:6).[1] If Blount’s argument depends on the textual similarity between the autographs and the copies we possess today, Daniel B. Wallace’s article is of vast importance. His lucid categorization of variants also removes the rhetorical sleight of hand utilized often by Bart Ehrman in debates and written formats. The voluminous number of variants is trumpeted out which produces in the ignorant pew-filler an impression that the actual reading has been lost.[2] Wallace does a superb job of defusing the situation by noting how variants came about and how one can determine the correct reading. Far from leaving the reader with vast uncertainty about the integrity of the text, the variants and causes thereof have been obtained and documented well enough to produce the dependability most readers desire.[3]

MJ2010Promo2Mary Jo Sharp’s article possessed both practical and methodological insight that is useful for a host of contexts. The pagan-Christ theory is virtually dead within the scholarly realm but has found new resurrection life on the internet. The theory was disproved almost a century ago because it contained a worldview which included ahistorical events, depictive symbolisms, escapist mentalities, and dualistic nonsense totally foreign to Scripture.[4] Sharp’s format also provides a useful tool in common discourse with skeptics (e.g. Get the Whole Story, Take the Parallels Head to Head, etc.). Douglas S. Huffman and Steven B. Cowan’s articles provide the much needed ballast in the ship of apologetics for defending inspiration against claims on contradiction and irrelevance.

old-bibleAnother noteworthy strength of the book is its broad applicability to current objections to the authority of Scripture. I will note two. Peter Enn’s book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament sought to question the typical evangelical viewpoint concerning Scripture by noting the problems caused by the Bible’s supposed borrowing from Ancient Near Eastern texts, the theological diversity in the Old Testament, and how the apostles used the Old Testament in the New. When Scripture appears to be flawed, we must examine the problem to see if it stems from the Bible itself or our preconceptions of what the Bible is supposed to be.[5] The Bible is analogous to the incarnation of Christ, one person who contained both the necessary attributes of humanity and divinity. One reads Dr. Enns’ work to find a claim similar to “that when the Bible appears to have problems, remember that it has a distinct human quality to it.” Enns’ thesis seems to be questioned by the work of Cowan and Blount.[6] Cowan’s article wraps the inspiration of Scripture with the authority of the resurrected Christ. It is strange that God himself would endorse a revelation that is knowingly borrowed from ANE myths (which are false), contains diverse almost contradictory commands, and is up for grabs to be interpreted by the apostles regardless of the OT context. Blount’s premise that the Bible teaches God has a moral inability to lie is relevant. Enns also is robbing the Egyptians of liberal scholarship while attempting not to adopt their worldview.[7] Quarles’ admonitions concerning the underlying assumptions and presuppositions also have relevance for this malady.

Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible also advances a claim that poses a threat to the evangelical viewpoint. Pervasive interpretive pluralism highlights the fact that the “…Bible apparently is not clear, consistent, and univocal enough to enable the best-intentioned, most highly skilled, believing readers to come to agreement as to what it teaches.”[8] Scripture as a whole is “exponentially more mutlivocal, polysemic, and multivalent.”[9] Smith’s work has been criticized by others[10] but also in a roundabout way within the present volume. Craig A. Blaising argues that the Bible has a literary coherence that includes an overarching metanarrative. The general sweep of Scripture involves a story that includes Creation, the Fall, God’s work with Israel, the coming of the new age in the Messiah, and the consummation of all things. Far from possessing many voices speaking divergent messages, the Bible speaks with one resounding voice that harkens to God’s plan of redemption. Christian Smith’s work fails to fundamentally appreciate the divine author of the text who speaks consistently and truthfully. In contrast to the evangelical “handbook” model to Scripture, he offers what he deems the “Christocentric” or Trinitarian model which makes the centrality of the triune God and his work of redemption the central starting point for discussions concerning revelation and authority. One wonders why he thinks evangelicalism doesn’t already possess such a view.

vdfvfdNo book is without weaknesses and the present volume does not rise above this observation. Two weaknesses that are certain articles lacked sufficient profundity and argumentation and that there were omissions that could have strengthened the book. Richard R. Melick Jr.’s section appeared both deficient and incoherent. One problem of our day is the rampant epistemological uncertainty in relation to historical texts. How can we know what occurred in the past despite unreliable witnesses, selective and imperfect memories, fragmented data from other cultures unlike our own, and the biases and horizons of both our sources and of the historians analyzing them?[11] Determining authorial intent to obtain the meaning of the text was stated as a goal in reading but what helps readers determine such an intent? Melick’s article did very little to answer such questions.[12] In fact, his article seemed to lack a coherent, linear fashion that made it readable. His statements about hermeneutics are to be commended but they’re currently under attack and could have been better defended.[13] Dr. Hamilton’s article also suffered from a real lack of argumentation for it merely asserted the complementarian position to the neglect of egalitarian evidence. His central proposal appeared to be “the Bible is not sexist or pro-slavery because it says it is not.” Why not examine the Bible in light of other cultures of the day to show the radical difference concerning the role of women and slavery in both the ANE and Greco-Roman culture?

Obviously any work will have limitations because one cannot say everything on one topic within one book. Yet, there were two ways the book could have been drastically strengthened. First, a chapter on the Bible for and within the Christian worldview would have been invaluable. Douglas K. Blount admitted at the end of his segment that “…unbelievers will judge the doctrine [inerrancy] in accordance with the assumptions that undergird their overall views of the world (Blount, 61).” It would seem that the unbelieving worldview would a priori disregard his argument regardless of its validity or strength. Worldviews provide the stories through which people view reality, answer basic questions that determine human existence, provide symbols to express those realities, and include a praxis.[14] Why is the Christian worldview better than the naturalistic one? What role does the Bible have within this story? Whose authority does the text possess and what significance does that have in establishing why someone should follow it?[15] Second, a chapter on the relationship between the OT and the ANE myths could mute many of the charges of overt borrowing on the part of the writers of the Pentateuch. Many episodes from the Pentateuch bare an interesting similarity to other stories circulating around or even predating the OT. What are evangelicals to think of such things? Books have been written on areas like these and a chapter could’ve advance the thesis of the book significantly.

photodune-686768-bible-xsMany unbelievers merely parrot out arguments against Scripture without thoughtfully engaging and considering the evidence. This just will not suffice. The central claims of the Bible are vastly too important to ignore in favor of a more lackadaisical and simple response. Though modern man is skeptical of the Bible, a well-reasoned case can be made that it is a result of the Divine mind and ought to be obeyed as such. The authors attempted to defend the Bible from a host of philosophical, theological, and ethical assailments. Despite the two aforementioned weaknesses, the book met its goal and should be extolled as a fine introduction to defending the authority of the Scriptures. I would highly recommend it as a pointed arrow in the apologetic quiver.

[1] Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2008), 55.

[2] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. (New York, NY.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 71-99.

[3] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. (New York, NY.: Oxford Press, 1992), 186-195.  See also Wallace’s article in Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning, Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis. (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2006), 33-56.

[4] J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1921), 211-255. See also J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture. (Grand Rapids,MI.: Kregel Press, 2006), 219-258.

[5] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2005), 15.

[6] It has been severely questioned by a host of evangelical scholars: Bruce Waltke, “Revisiting Inspiration and Incarnation.” The Westminster Theological Journal no. 71 (2009): 83-95.; G.K. Beale, “Myth, History, and Inspiration: A Review Article of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society no. 49/2 (June 2006): 287-312.; G.K. Beale, “A Surrejoinder to Peter Enn’s Response to G.K. Beale’s JETS Review Article of His Book Inspiration and Incarnation.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology no. 111 (2010): 16-36.; D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture. (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2010), 255-283.; John M. Frame, “Review of Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.” (accessed September 23rd, 2013).;  K. Scott Oliphint, God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God.  (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2011), 20-38.; Paul Helm, “Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.” (accessed September 23rd, 2013).

[7] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Brazos Press, 2012), 9-34.

[8] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Brazos Press, 2011), 25.

[9] Ibid., 48.

[10] Matt McCullough, “The Bible Made Impossible.” (accessed September 23rd, 2013).; Peter J. Leithart, “A Cheer and a Half for Biblicism.” (accessed September 23rd, 2013).; Kevin DeYoung, “Christian Smith Makes the Bible Impossible.” (accessed September 23rd, 2013).

[11] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. (Downers Grove, IL.: Intervarsity Press, 2010.), 31-70.

[12] Other books however do. Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in this Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1998).  Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and William W. Klein, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 8-13.

[13] Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method. (Philadelphia,PA.: Fortress Press, 1975), 78-87.

[14] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God. (London: Fortress Press, 1992), 122-125.

[15] N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. (New York, NY.: HarperOne, 2011), 21-32.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s