Did New Testament Writers Twist the Meaning of the Old Testament?

The 39 books of the Old Testament were written to and about the children of Israel, or the Jewish nation. Some critics charge that writers of the New Testament twist Old Testament passages and take them out of context to make them fit their views of Jesus and his teachings. What are these purported distortions that critics refer to?

For example:

Matthew quotes Isaiah 7 and declares that it was prophesied Jesus was to be born of a virgin and would be called Immanuel (Matthew 7:14). Critics point out that a full reading of chapter 7 of Isaiah shows it is more likely referring to the birth of Hezekiah, who became a godly king of Israel.

Hosea the prophet says when Israel was a child, God loved him and “called my son out of Egypt” (Hosea 11:1). We all know that God did in fact call his people out of Egypt. Yet Matthew says this was a prophecy about Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to Egypt and their later return. They did this to escape Herod’s decree to kill all the newborn Jewish males in Bethlehem.

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Historic Heresies Related to the Nature of Salvation

Christians have historically relied on the canonical Scripture as the source of all truth about the nature of God, man and salvation. There have been times throughout Christian history, however, when leaders emerged with competing ideas and motivations, coloring the way they read the New Testament. We’ve been examining historic misrepresentations of Biblical teaching related to the Nature of God the Father and the nature and role of Jesus. Today, we’ll look at a few classic heresies related to Salvation. Distortions of this kind are typically connected to misinterpretations about the nature of Jesus. Did He die for us? Can we save ourselves? Here are some historic heresies:

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Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

The Bible contains 66 books authored by over 40 different people writing on hundreds of subjects, including who God is and how he interacts with his creation. Could all these different authors, who wrote hundreds of years apart, be consistent and in harmony regarding its message? Critics claim that is impossible and assert there are thousands of errors and contradictions in the Bible. Is this true?

When conservative Christian theologians say the Bible is without error (inerrant) they mean that, when all the facts are known, the Scriptures as they were penned by the authors in the original writings and as properly interpreted will be shown to be true and not false in all they affirm. This is of course the case if God is actually the author of Scripture. It stands to reason that if he inspired certain men to reveal his words, he would be sure not to contradict himself, so that his Word would be error-free.

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Is Christian Education Simply a Matter of Religious Indoctrination?

My good friend Brett Kunkle and I have been working diligently to address a dilemma facing the Church: the departure of young Christians who walk away from Christianity in their college years. We’ve had great success with youth groups when we’ve been able to convince their leaders to stop teaching and start training. I’ve been writing recently about the model I employed with my own youth group using the acronym T.R.A.I.N. In response to a recent post, however, two commenters described this effort as nothing more than religious indoctrination:

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Did God Create Aliens?

Are we the only finite intelligent beings in the universe? Are there others out there somewhere that God created who are our “alien relatives”? Many have speculated that intelligent life exists somewhere in the distant universe—it’s just that we haven’t made contact with it yet.

King David wrote, “When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about human beings that you should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4). The space that God created, in its vastness and wonder, is majestic and awesome and beyond our comprehension.

Scientists say matter is spread over a space at least 93 billion light-years across. There are probably more than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, with countless billions of planets.  10 That blows the mind! And it may cause us to wonder, are we the only intelligent beings God created in this vast universe?

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Does God Love Everyone Regardless of Sexual Orientation?

Not long ago the news media released a picture of a man and a young boy protesting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The young boy was holding a sign that read, God Hates Fags. This particular church group believes that God hates gays above all other kinds of sinners and that homosexuality should be a capital crime. On their website they assert that every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality, specifically society’s increasing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle.

The resentment garnered by this church group is not just a problem for these few picketers. David Kinnaman, in his book UnChristian, indicates that, sadly, more than nine out of ten outsiders view all Christians as anti-homosexual as well.

So what does God think about homosexuals? Does he love them as much as he does heterosexuals, or does he really hate “fags”?

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Mark’s Relationship With Peter Was the Foundation for His Gospel

The authorship of the New Testament Gospels has become a point of contention for many skeptics who deny the traditional attributions of Mark, Matthew or John. Mark’s Gospel is of particular importance due to its early dating and relationship to the other Gospels. In spite of the fact Mark isn’t mentioned as an eyewitness in any of the Gospel accounts, there are many good reasons to accept his authorship and regard his Gospel as an accurate record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. The repeated and unanimous testimony of the early Church describes Mark’s Gospel as an accurate record of Peter’s teaching, captured faithfully by Mark acting as Peter’s scribe. Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Tertullian attribute the Gospel to Mark, and Mark is also described as the author in the Muratorian Fragment and the Anti-Marcionite Prologues.

Before we begin to look at some of the internal evidences for Peter’s connection to the Gospel of Mark, we ought to recognize Peter and Mark’s relationship as it is described in the New Testament. Mark is traditionally considered to be the “John Mark” mentioned as a companion of Paul in the Book of Acts. If this is true, Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and originally fell from favor with Paul when he failed to continue on an evangelistic journey with Paul and Barnabas as a young man. This caused the two older men to separate; Barnabas continued on with Mark and Paul continued with Silas (Acts 15:37-40). Mark eventually became a close associate of Peter; this is evident in two pieces of Biblical evidence. First, it appears Peter was part of a Christian group in Jerusalem that met in Mark’s home. When Peter miraculously escaped from jail (assisted by the angel of the Lord), he returned to this group to tell them the good news: 

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Is God Racist?

A racist is one who believes that a certain human race is superior to any or all others—that one race or some races have distinctive characteristics determined by hereditary factors, and this endows them with an intrinsic superiority. And this means that racial discrimination is justified. So based on this definition, is God a racist? Some say he is.

In the book of Genesis it tells us God singled out a man named Abram and said,

Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you. I will make into you a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:1-3).

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Arming Christian Students With the Truth

This week, we’ve been examining a strategy to stem the tide of young Christians leaving the Church during their college years. I suggest we stop teaching and start training. I’ve outlined a simple model (using T.R.A.I.N. as an acronym) to help describe the difference between training and teaching. Teaching is about imparting knowledge; training is about preparing for battle. If we want to adequately prepare students for the challenges they will face in their university years, we need to test them to expose their weaknesses, require more from them than we think they can handle, arm them with the truth (and teach them how to articulate it), involve them in the battlefield of ideas, and nurture their wounds as we model the nature of Jesus. The third step in this training process involves arming students with the truth.

In my experience as a youth pastor, I learned the importance of providing intellectual tools and training. I watched my first graduating class of seniors walk away from Christianity in large percentages before I embraced a Case Making approach with my students. After observing the struggle these seniors experienced, I changed the way I prepared my students. I began to draw upon my experience as a police officer for guidance. Young officers are given and number of tools to help us do the job, but even more importantly, we are provided with the necessary training in how to use these tools. When it comes to equipping Christian students, the evidences for God’s existence, the reliability of the Bible, and the truth of the Christian worldview are the tools we must provide (sources like On Guard and Cold-Case Christianity may be helpful). Beyond this, however, young Christians need to know how to think about these evidences and communicate them to others (resources like Tactics and How to Talk to a Skeptic may be helpful here).

When young officers train, we are exposed (some for the first time) to the reality of challenge we will be facing. Our training officers are tough. They often tell us, “The more you sweat in here, the less you’ll bleed out there.” They don’t hesitate to show us everything we might encounter in the field. In a similar way, we have to prepare students by exposing them directly to the challenges they will face from an aggressive opposition. It’s not enough to prepare them with the evidence from our side of the argument; we’ve got to address the claims of the opposition directly. This requires us to expose students to the most substantive claims of atheism we can find in the short time we have these students in our midst. We must inoculate students, rather than isolate them.

Inoculations are created from the virus doctors are trying to treat. Physicians expose patients to the virus to allow their immune systems to develop the antibodies necessary to fight the virus should they encounter it more robustly in the future. If we are trying to help students correctly process the claims of the culture, we’re going to need to prepare an inoculation that exposes them to the secular worldview. I want my students to encounter the claims of Ehrman, Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, Hitchens, Dennett and Boghossian while they are in my ministry rather than in college (without anyone there to provide balance). Students want the truth and are eager to hear the “other side”. The Christian worldview is evidentially viable and capable of withstanding any reasonable objection. In fact, a robust examination of the claims of atheism, humanism or secularism provides us with an excellent opportunity to examine the truth of Christianity with urgency and passion. When students understand the challenge, they are far more likely to listen to the affirmative case for the Christian worldview.

Don’t be afraid to examine the claims of the opposition and face your questions. Don’t avoid the books, videos or podcasts created by the other side. God’s not afraid of your doubts, and you’ll never be able to help young Christians (in your ministry or in your home) if you haven’t armed yourself with the truth and trained yourself to address the counter arguments. When we study God’s existence in this way, we worship Him with our mind (Matthew 22:37) and demonstrate our obedience to His Word (1 Peter 3:15).

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Requiring Young Christians to Raise the Bar

The Church is experiencing a crisis. Young Christians are leaving the Church in large numbers during their college years, and our efforts to address the problem have been inadequate. I suggest we stop teaching and start training. In yesterday’s post I outlined a simple model (using T.R.A.I.N. as an acronym) to help describe the difference between training and teaching. Teaching is about imparting knowledge; training is about preparing for battle. If we want to adequately prepare students for the challenges they will face in their university years, we need to test them to expose their weaknesses, require more from them than we think they can handle, arm them with the truth (and teach them how to articulate it), involve them in the battlefield of ideas, and nurture their wounds as we model the nature of Jesus. Today I want to focus on the second step in this training process: requiring more from our students than we think they can handle.

In my first year as a youth pastor, after taking over for a very popular minister who moved out of state, I struggled to find my identity as a leader. Worse yet, I was already over 40 and felt like I might be too old to be accepted by a room full of teenagers. I’m sorry to say my early season of youth leadership was defined more by games and pizza than effective training. Sadly, this seems to be common in other youth ministries as well. Many youth leaders appear to be more interested in entertaining than they are in training. It wasn’t until I watched my first graduating class walk away from Christianity in their freshman year of college that I woke up and changed direction. I began to train as I am describing this week, and I raised my expectations dramatically.

Students are far more capable than we typically believe. Many are already engaged in difficult courses of study as they attempt to qualify themselves for universities around the country. Some are taking “honors” courses and “advanced placement” classes. They are willing to work hard when they think there is a need or a tangible goal. Yet when it comes to youth ministry, we seldom require or challenge students to engage the material this passionately, and we rarely express the need, or set the goal. When I work with youth groups, I begin by demonstrating their inadequacies and establishing their need for improvement. Once this is clear to the students, they are more than willing to do whatever it takes to improve their abilities. They become eager to learn and train.

I’ve learned to teach beyond what the Church thinks students can handle. In fact, I teach the material from Cold-Case Christianity in precisely the same manner whether I’m teaching a room full of people my age or a room full of junior-highers. It’s the same information-packed presentation, regardless of age group. I will admit this requires me, as a trainer, to develop a strategy for communication capable of engaging young people with complex material. I try to take a robust approach that’s interactive, relevant, personal and visual. But I never underestimate the ability of my audience; they can handle whatever I’m teaching if they understand what’s at stake. When I first began my time as a youth pastor, my sons and daughters were 12, 10, 5 and 4 years old. None of them were old enough to be in my ministry, but they sat with me each week as I taught high school students. I was amazed to find they had mastered the material by the time they were in high school themselves. Even though I was teaching my students at a college level (to raise the bar for them as teenagers), my elementary aged children were grasping it as well. You’ll never get more from your students if you don’t expect more. Raise the bar and see what happens.

When our students have been properly tested and challenged so they understand their need, you’ll be surprised to see the passion and willingness they’ll demonstrate as they seek answers. Test your students and raise the bar.  Tomorrow we will talk more about the next step in the process: Arming students with the truth.

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