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16th August, 2010

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Inspiration of the Old Testament revisited

Believers wish the question of biblical inerrancy would cease as an issue by dint of all acknowledging the Bible's inerrancy, while atheists wish it would go away for the opposite reason. To the chagrin of all, the wrangling will probably persist indefinitely. For the longest time, few in the West doubted the divine authority of Scripture. But beginning with Spinoza's 1670 Theological-Political Treatise, in which he argued that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, the genie of skepticism was released and no man, it would seem, will ever be able to rebottle and recork it.

This author contends that the chief contention of skeptics - that Moses did not write the "books of Moses" - is by and large nothing but a red herring. Nothing could be more obvious than that Moses did not write every word found in the Pentateuch; nobody has yet mastered the art of reporting his own death posthumously (Deut. 34:7). To acknowledge the possibility that the "book of Moses" (2 Chron. 25:4, etc) reached its current form via a long process of editing is not tantamount to conceding that it's a con job. Proof that the book of Deuteronomy as we have it is written in a late version of Hebrew in no way undermines that book's bona fides as a record of "words which Moses spoke to all Israel" (Deut. 1:1). As believers have long contended, divine inspiration is not limited to the original manuscript; redactors, too, can be led by the Holy Spirit.

For this writer, the strongest evidence of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament is found in a simple observation - no human being would ever have written much of what is written. The thoughts and words contained in so many passages just would never occur to a human author. Indeed, evidence of a non-human origin of Moses' writings can be found in the "bizarre" nature of their legislation. Atheists shoot themselves in the foot when they mock the "silliness" of many Old Testament laws, such as, "You shall not sow your field with mixed seed" (Lev. 19:19); their laughter comes close to an admission that no human being would have come up with these statutes! On the opposite side of the same coin, which of us clothed in flesh and blood would have thought up a law such as,

You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's (Ex. 20:17).

Sure, laws against stealing, murder, adultery - human beings have enshrined such laws without divine aid; but coveting? And who has ever really cared about idolatry? And by the way, don't forget where the edict "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" comes from (Lev. 19:18); it wasn't an Egyptian Pharaoh or Hammurabi who thought that one up.

What group of people has ever cherished the same values as those extolled in Scripture? O.K., many people have given lip service to truth, justice and. what was the third principle

Superman stood for? The Messiah, too, cherishes these values, and will ride forth to conquer those who reject them (Ps. 45:3-5). But note in this passage from Psalms that His arrows will sink into the hearts not only of those who resist truth and justice but also. wait for it. humility. No human leader would consider indifference towards humility morally repugnant. Can you name a mighty leader in all of history who has sought the company of folk of a "poor and contrite spirit" (Is. 66:2)? (Sure, many surround themselves with sycophants, but that's not because they value obsequiousness in friends.) And where else will you find the gold medal going to "mercy and truth" (Prov. 3:3)?

What ancient Greek philosopher ever taught anything even vaguely similar to, "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (Prov. 16:32)? Or that one should pay close attention to one's very thoughts (Prov. 4:23), think carefully about the effect of one's words on others (Prov. 10:19-21, 15:23), and avoid wrecking friendships like the plague (Prov. 6:19). Has Dr. Phil ever suggested that conflict can often be avoided by recourse to a "soft answer" (Prov. 15:1)?

And then you have so many sublime thoughts that no human being, not even the most lofty-minded poet, would ever think:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go. Oh, that you had heeded My commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea" (Is. 48:17-18).

Consider, too, the aura of supreme authority stamped on many passages, such as Zephaniah 1:7, 17:

Be silent in the presence of the Lord God; for the day of the Lord is at hand, for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests. I will bring distress upon men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like refuse.

Who can read words such as these and dismiss them as a literary contrivance, or as the words of some megalomaniacal tyrant just before he charges off to invade a neighboring country? And which other religious writings depict God speaking in the first person at all, let alone with such convincing authenticity? Which other spiritual texts speak of the sinfulness that so thoroughly characterizes the human race?

No doubt Confucius penned some wise words, and Buddha preached charity and forbearance; but no other texts put it all together. The Old Testament is stamped from beginning to end with all the trademarks of a mind infinitely superior to ours in all good respects. And we haven't even touched on the topic of fulfilled prophecy!


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