Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (2)

Here’s Andy Stanley’s version of a very common argument for the historicity of Adam and Eve:

“Jesus talks about Adam and Eve. And it appears to me that he believed they were actually historical figures. And if he believed they were historical, I believe they were historical because anybody that can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off — I just believe anything they say.”

Andy’s probably referencing either Matthew 19 or Mark 10, but either way he touches on an issue that extends well beyond the Garden of Eden.

Name-Checking the Ancients

More than a handful of the ancients mentioned in the New Testament have had their historical authenticity called into question: people like Noah (mentioned in Peter and Hebrews), Enoch (in Jude) and Jonah (mentioned by Jesus), just to scratch the surface.

So let’s reframe the question a little more broadly than Mr. Stanley does: If your Old Testament story is cited in the New Testament, does that automatically make you historical?

Non-Historical Characters and Truth

Some Christians don’t think it matters one way or the other. For instance, at Patheos, RJS makes the argument that “Non-historical characters can be used to teach true lessons”:
“This should go without saying, but there is no necessary reason why Adam and Eve (or Abel) must be historical to make the lessons taught by Jesus true. The stories of the Good Samaritan and of Lazarus and the rich man teach true lessons whether the characters are historical or not.”
Agreed, but that is not the issue. Of course we can learn important spiritual truths in other ways than by historical example. The problem is that if the stories Jesus cited from well-known Old Testament sources were not actually historically authentic, we are left with only two possibilities: (1) he didn’t know this, or (2) he did.

If he didn’t know, then he was deceived. If he did, then he deliberately, unnecessarily and — most important of all — uncharacteristically deceived others. Either scenario is unpalatable coming from someone who proclaimed simply and clearly, “I am the truth”. Moreover, neither is a problem when we simply accept the historicity of the Old Testament.

We may have a problem telling parables and history apart, but the Lord’s original audience seemed quite clear on the difference.

The Hebrews 11 Problem

As it happens, I believe every one of these NT verses and more address events that occurred in real time to real people. To fob them off as “spiritual truth encoded in mythology” is firstly to spout bafflegab, and secondly to knock the teeth out of the New Testament passages in which these names occur.

Do you doubt that? Try populating Hebrews 11 with mythological men and women and see what happens to the famous passage. If Abel did NOT actually offer “a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”, if Enoch was NOT taken up by faith so that he did not see death, and if Noah did NOT construct an ark in reverent fear, then the writer’s subsequent reference to a “cloud of witnesses” is nonsense. It is no more compelling an argument for godly living than telling us we should eat our vegetables because Popeye got his muscles from a diet of spinach. Moreover, if some or all of these folks never actually walked the earth at all, the claim that “apart from us they should not be made perfect” is not just silly, it’s a brazen fraud.

But they did, they are, and I look forward to meeting them someday. The alternative is utter incoherence. All the spiritual authority of Hebrews 11 disappears with a resounding WHOOSH! if the faith of which it speaks is mere “storyline” faith.

And if Cain and Abel are historical, then their parents are just as historical.

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