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Some Bible Questions

August 15, 2011     Time: 00:19:31
Some Bible Questions


Dr. Craig answers some Bible questions concerning the authorship of the gospels, the date of Jesus' birth, the Bart Ehrman debate, and whether today's Christians are to tithe.

Transcript Some Bible Questions


Kevin Harris: Welcome to the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, we have some Bible questions today. We usually deal with more philosophical/theological questions but occasionally we get some good Bible questions, and if you're ready we'll take a look at some of these.

Dr. Craig: Okay.

Kevin Harris: This comes from the UK:

I have recently seen arguments on the validity/reliability of the Gospels by comparing the two nativities, mainly by Islamic websites and even atheists such as Christopher Hitchens. They both state, “Luke says he is born around 4 A.D. but Matthew dates him 4 B.C.” and use scholarly work to prove this and state that certain events in the nativity never happened, as there is no evidence and so on. I'm finding it hard to get evidence for this and struggling to find anything as a rebuttal against these arguments. Could you please help me out?

Dr. Craig: I'm not sure why he would say that the Gospels date the events differently, especially with this kind of specificity. Because the Gospels don't enable you to determine dates like this. They do represent Herod as having not yet died. So Jesus was born prior to the death of Herod. But I'm not aware of any sort of inconsistency in more specific dates between Matthew and Luke. And the best place to look would be simply in some good commentaries on the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of Matthew. I think very often I find laypeople aren't aware that there are these massive commentaries that are written by biblical scholars on these sorts of subjects. So they ought to go out and get, say, for example, Darrel Bock's commentary on the Gospel of Luke, and read what he has to say about these passages. Get Craig Keener, his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, see what he has to say about these. These commentaries are tremendously valuable sources of information about the Gospels. And every Christian ought to have a few of these commentaries in his library. Another really good book is The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels edited by Scott McKnight et al. published by InterVarsity Press. This ought to be on every Christian's bookshelf—The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels published by InterVarsity. And there you'll find articles on the birth of Jesus, including the historicity of the trip to Bethlehem and the census ordered by Caesar, and so forth. So those would be a couple of resources that he might want to consult.

Kevin Harris: Okay. A good commentary clears up so many things. And ninety percent of the questions, really, that we get—get a good commentary because the work is there, the work has been done, and so on. We'll be glad to try to point those out to you.

Dr. Craig: And if I might add, Kevin, I find working through a commentary can be very helpful in one's personal devotional life. For example, I would highly recommend as an exercise in your personal devotional reading, to take the Gospel of Mark, for example, and read one paragraph, just one paragraph a day, and then read the commentary on that paragraph by William Lane – similar name to mine, but no relation – William Lane, fine New Testament scholar, wrote a commentary on the Gospel of Mark. And it is very illuminating to simply read the passage, and then read Lane's commentary on the passage for the day. And that will really make that Gospel come alive to you in a way that just reading it without a commentary wouldn't enable you to see the insights.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, you know, Paul said that God has gifted the church with teachers, resources and things like that. So, absolutely.

Dear Dr. Craig, I've been an active Christian for three years. My family started going to my church and kept going for a few months. The message on tithing on Sunday after Sunday made my family quit church and their Christian walk altogether. My church is a big advocate for tithing. They feel like most pastors are in it for the money. Well, this left me really upset. I studied the Scriptures and concluded that tithing is not for today. Please give me your input on whether tithing is for today, or not. Thank you for you time.

Dr. Craig: It's a tragedy about his parents, that they would walk away from church, even Christianity itself, simply over an issue like this. I wonder what was wrong with them spiritually that they were not able to have the discernment to say, “This pastor is wrong in his emphases; he's all about money; let's go to some other church.” [1]

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and even if he is in it for the money, does that mean that everybody is?

Dr. Craig: That Christianity isn't true? That Jesus didn't rise from the dead? I mean that doesn't even make sense. You should attribute the fault to the pastor and go somewhere else. But, to answer the question, I would say no, tithing is not for today. Tithing is an Old Testament model for Israel. And the pattern for giving today, I think, is found in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul is taking the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, the church that's struggling there. And the directions Paul gives is that as the Lord prospers you, you lay aside what you can to give to the Lord's work, and that you should be as generous as you can, as God blesses you, then you let this flow over generously to others. Now, Kevin, what I believe that means for most American Christians is that we ought to be giving twenty-five, thirty percent of our income away. So I think that tithing is an excuse for getting off the hook. Rather than think that when you give ten percent you're doing something generous I think for an American Christian that's really probably pretty penurious, and that we ought to be giving lots more of our money away to the Lord's work. So on the other hand, when you're not being blessed, when you're unemployed, when times are hard, you may not be able to give ten percent during those times because then you're not prospering. So the principle is to give as God has blessed you, and to be a generous and cheerful giver. And I can testify personally that in our lives Jan and I have found this to be one of the most exhilarating and happy parts of the Christian life—to give to the support of Christian workers and missionaries whom we know personally and have a stake in their ministries, and follow them and pray for them. It's wonderful to be able to give to folks like that whose work you believe in. So don't just put the money in the offering plate. Get involved in the lives of people that you know personally whose ministries are effective and whom you want to support, and I think that can be a great joy.

Kevin Harris: Absolutely. Churches are often afraid of holding to anything other than tithing. I had a guy ask me last week; he said, “Kevin, tell me if tithing is for today; I just really need to know.” And he said, “I stepped out on faith the other day; I wrote the church a check, and the check bounced.” Now they're recommending me for financial counseling and things like that. And I said, “Well, buddy, God is not a slot machine that you put in some money and hope to get something back out by pulling his arm.” While he would appreciate your stepping out and your dependence, Jesus said, “Don't build a tower unless you know you have the funds to build it. Don't go against an army unless you know you have enough soldiers to go against the king and his army.” And so I told him basically what you just said there. I do appreciate the fact that he stepped out on faith, Bill, but it's just kind of a law of the universe that you don't write a hot check—you know what I mean?

Dr. Craig: [laughter] Yes, I do. You have to be responsible. On the other hand I really do think that as Americans we are so consumeristic and materialistic that a lot of people would rather give up their giving to the Lord's work rather than go out to eat less – you know what I mean? – and that's not the right priorities. I think that we need to prioritize giving to the Lord's work, and put that right at the top of our budgeting along with the mortgage payment and the car payment and other responsibilities, and cut back in other areas when times get hard rather than cut back on our giving. It's a matter of where your heart is that Jesus said “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” And so we need to prioritize giving generously to the Lord's work.

Kevin Harris: Okay. This question is from India, Dr. Craig. And this also goes along to getting a hold of a good commentary. He says,

I live in India and I have been greatly influenced by your works. In your debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman on the resurrection of Jesus he said Matthew, Mark and Luke were not written by Matthew, Mark and Luke, but other Greek scholars many years late. In the debate you did not address this issue, so please address this issue and tell us whether he is right or not.

Dr. Craig: The reason why I didn't address it is because it doesn’t matter. The names of the authors of Matthew, Mark and Luke doesn't matter. [2] If they were named Horace and Susanna and Joakim, what difference would it make? It doesn't make any difference what their names are. What's critical is that Mark is an extremely early Gospel that embodies traditions in it like the passion story of Jesus that go right back to the first years of the early Jerusalem church, and is therefore a valuable source of historical information. Luke was written by a traveling companion of the apostle Paul as we know from the use of first person plural pronouns in the books of Acts from the sixteenth chapter on. And as such he traveled with Paul on his missionary journey back to Cesarea in Palestine and then to Jerusalem which means that the author of Luke/Acts was – just as he says in the prologue to the Gospel – able to interview eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. So it doesn't matter what this man's name was. What counts is that we have here a traveling companion of Paul who was in contact with eye witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, and able to interview them in writing his Gospel. So the authorship of the Gospels is simply not the key to their historical credibility. What will be key will be the earliness of the traditions that they embody, the date of writing, and their personal closeness to the events discussed. And on that basis we have very good grounds for thinking that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are valuable sources for the life of Jesus.

Now, as you said, if you do want to see a defense of the traditional authorship get any New Testament introduction such as the one by Doug Moo and Leon Morris or Donald Guthrie's New Testament Introduction and all of these issues of authorship will be thoroughly discussed. You might also look at commentaries on these Gospels. A commentary will typically have a long introductory section on the authorship and date of these works. So, for example, Robert Gundry's commentary on the Gospel of Mark has a lengthy discussion of Markan authorship, and he believes that the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, who was a traveling companion of Peter, and served as a kind of interpreter for Peter, and therefore someone who was in very close proximity with the events that he narrates.

Kevin Harris: We envision Matthew sitting down with writing tools and just writing his whole thing out, and it was Matthew the tax collector. What disturbs Bart Ehrman – or what disturbed him so much that he became agnostic or atheist – is that there are nuances to the transmission of these Gospels that didn't fit with his idea of inerrancy, authorship and things like that, and it blew him out of the water. Even if Matthew – and, again, you can look at the commentaries, particularly Moo (I love that guy) – even if it came out of community with Matthew's superintendence, perhaps, or something like that, are you saying that doesn't negate the value and the inspiration of the Gospel of Matthew?

Dr. Craig: Right, it just isn't relevant. And Bart Ehrman knows this. He knows that it doesn’t matter whether Luke was written by someone named Luke or named Horace.

Kevin Harris: Bob?

Dr. Craig: It doesn't make any difference what his name was. What counts is who he was. And he was, as I say, a traveling companion of Paul who went to Jerusalem where he had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses, and we know from secular history that the book of Acts is impeccable in its historical accuracy, because the book of Acts overlaps significantly with the secular history of the ancient world. And again and again and again, the author of Acts – whatever his name was – gets it right. And it helps us to have confidence that when he begins to discuss events in the life of Jesus that were not covered by secular history and therefore can't be fact checked, that this author is exercising similar care in writing his biography of Jesus that he exercised in writing his history of the early church and the Acts.

The reason I didn't respond to this in the debate – he says, “Why didn't you respond?” – is because it doesn't matter. And Bart Ehrman knows that it doesn't matter for the historicity of the events that are narrated by these authors. I'm not in any way suggesting his name wasn't Luke.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, okay.

Dr. Craig: The author is not identified in the work itself. He doesn’t say, “I, Luke, have written this narrative.” So it is based upon early church tradition that this man's name was Luke. [3] And those sorts of traditions can be fallible. But I think in this case there's no reason to deny them or doubt them. The traditional titles: The Gospel According to Luke was appended very, very early to these Gospels. And so on the basis of external testimony I think probably his name was Luke. But it doesn't actually say so in the Gospels or in Acts—it doesn't say, “I, Luke, have composed this narrative.” And so it doesn't matter.

Kevin Harris: And that was common in the ancient world.

Dr. Craig: Right, it just doesn’t matter what his name was for the historical credibility of his narrative. In some of Paul's letters he does say, “I, Paul, greet you,” and he identifies himself as the author—that's because these are letters from one person to another church or individual, and so he does identify himself as the author of the letter. But in the Gospels where you're writing a biography the author doesn’t give his name as to who he is.

Kevin Harris: One more question, Dr. Craig. He says,

Dr. Craig, first of all, I'd like to thank you for the podcasts you've posted to your page—I've been listening to them at work, and even on road trips with my friends. My question is simple: in the Defenders podcast series, in the Doctrine of Christ, you compared the atonement as victory view to a fish hook concealed by fish bait. When Satan takes Jesus as ransom, it is as a fish taking the bait. You even go on to say that Satan would not have accepted the ransom if he knew what would happen. However, Matthew 16:21-24 seems to show Satan's awareness of the plan. How can the atonement be compared to the fish hook?

Dr. Craig: Well, Matthew 16:21-24 says:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Well, I think that the reader here is just completely wrong to think that that suggests that Satan knew God's providential designs in the death of Christ.

Kevin Harris: I can't get that out of it.

Dr. Craig: I can't imagine. Here Jesus just calls Peter ‘Satan.’ Why? Because Peter is being a stumbling block to Jesus, trying to say 'you shan't go to the cross,' and Satan is the one who opposes God, and so Peter is assuming a sort of Satanic role here. And so Jesus rebukes him as such. But there's nothing in this passage that suggests that Satan understood God's providential plan in the death of Christ. In fact my basis for appealing to this was 1 Corinthians 2:8 where Paul says, “none of the rulers of this age understood this. For if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory,” which would give some grounds for thinking that God duped the Satanic powers and principalities in such a way that they had thought they defeated Christ in getting him crucified, not realizing that this was actually the means of his victory.

Kevin Harris: Paul also says that God made a spectacle of them.

Dr. Craig: Yes, in Colossians, parading them in triumph on the cross.

Kevin Harris: Alright, thank you, Dr. Craig. And you who are listening, there are more ways to get involved with Reasonable Faith. Go to Partner up with us; become a financial partner with us and keep us expanding. And obviously we desire your prayers. Let us know what we can do for you. You can donate your gift and so much more when you go to And be sure that you're signed up for the newsletter there, as well. That's it— We'll see you next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig [4]