A Small Pop Quiz on the Bible

Dear Lenny,

I am a Christian and have been for 10 years. I've read the entire bible at least once and parts of it many times. God has given me a logical (or as you put it "technical") mind, but I still have some questions I hope you can help me with:

Question 1. How should we interpret this verse? Has the old testament been corrupted?

(Jer 8:8 NIV) "'How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?

I think your confusion comes from a misunderstanding of the role of a scribe. Scribes were Levites. They not only copied the Old Testament, but because they do so with such care and attention to detail, they were considered experts in the law. If you spent twenty years reading, re-reading and copying God's word, always checking for any errors or flaws, you would become so familiar with it that anyone could come to you with a question (such as "Does it really say this?") and you would be able to answer it easily.

The trouble started when the scribes started editorializing and commenting on the text. They would give the people the wrong impression of what God was trying to communicate to them. That's why when Jesus taught the crowd was amazed at His authority and definiteness, "not as their scribes."(Matt. 7:29) The scribes were teachers, but like certain groups today, they had the word and mis-interpreted it.

This sort of leads to

Question 2. What is your position on English bible translations and why? 

I've studied parts of the KJV, NIV, NASB, Strong's concordance, and NAS-concordance in parallel. I've found an extremely high degree of agreement between the NIV and KJV, although the NIV changes sentence structure (because it is a paraphrase translation) and relegates some verses to the footnotes (because of discovery of older transcripts). The NASB often interprets verses differently, in a way that I do not feel comfortable with. I don't believe that the KJV is perfect as many proclaim. For instance, the contradiction between Acts 9:7 & Acts 22:9 created when the construction of the verb "to hear" was ignored. Also Jesus said that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach us and help us recall all he had said... and Cor 4:4-6 comes to mind. So what is this battle over translations all about?

The big question over which translation is better is really a non-argument. Many people who grew up with a King James Bible as their primary source for the Word feel uncomfortable with some of the new translations. A few take it farther and say that any other translation is not of God. This is ridiculous. I see it much like when the Roman Catholic Church started saying their mass in English instead of Latin. Many were outraged at the supposed non-holy services. They didn't care that no one could grasp any of the things going on, they just didn't like change.

Similarly, most bouts over Bible translations fall into the same category. Many who know the KJV come across a familiar passage in the NASB and because it seems to connote a different thought, they say the new version is wrong. They fail to realize that the meaning of words has changed drastically since 1611. Also, as you mention, since the KJV was based primarily on an earlier version (The Tyndale Bible) for the New Testament, they didn't have many of the most accurate Greek texts at their disposal, and therefore errors in translation were inevitable. So the argument is spurious.

You should choose a translation that fits your needs and your desires in Bible study. If you are new to the ideas and concepts in the Bible, then the NIV is a good place to start. It is a thought for thought translation, not a word for word translation, and can help many grasp the thrust behind its teachings. If you are doing a more careful expositional study, I recommend the NAS Bible because it is based on newer manuscript discoveries, and it tries to follow the word order of the original manuscripts as closely as possible. If you are studying with many commentaries, then the KJV may be right for you because every commentator will refer to any problems in the KJV text and give you the accurate rendering, while the problems of the other versions may go unnoticed. I would not recommend the New Revised Standard Version.

Mainly, you should choose a translation with which you're most comfortable and can get the most from. Remember, it's about getting God's word into you and into your daily life.

Question 3. Is baptism by water necessary for salvation? 

Please explain.

This is a very important question because it touches on more than just whether one should be baptized or not. It is really a question of what is salvation and who accomplishes it. I think we can both agree that the whole thrust of the Bible is the reconciliation of man to God. Your question is really who accomplishes it.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." If baptism is a necessary component for salvation then we are saying that Christ's work on the cross is not enough. We need to add something that we do (baptism) to what He did in order to make salvation complete. To say what God did is not enough, not complete, is against everything taught in Scripture. Other Scriptures confirm this:

Romans 10:9-10 "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

1 Peter 1:18-19 "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." (If Christ's blood redeems us, then baptism cannot earn that which has already been purchased.)

The most dramatic example of this is in Luke 23, when the thief on the cross next to Jesus asked for remembrance, and he was not baptized. The Lord still said he would be in heaven. Now some have argued that there was a special dispensation given to this man because of his situation, but I don't find that to be scriptural. We are all dying from our sins right now! It would be unjust of God to change His demands on something as essential as salvation for this person and not the many others throughout history who've suffered sudden deaths.

Just remember, there's nothing that we can do to make Christ's sacrifice "more perfect". On the cross Jesus cried "It is finished!" and I believe He meant exactly what He said. To require baptism would mean that God couldn't do it all Himself, which not only is a contradiction, but elevates man's works to a God-like ability (i.e. "I have to help God with my salvation.") Isaiah 64:6 tells us that even good deeds done in our own strength are unclean before the Lord.

We know that in us no good thing dwells, but only God can bring us to repentance. The Lord loves us so much that He is not willing leave our salvation in anyone else's hands, including our own. We are imperfect, and He would never risk us "messing up" our eternity because we had to do some human thing in order to make it complete. For more information on this subject, please see "Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?"

Question 4. I'm surprised that I've never heard a mocker call this verse a contradiction:

(Luke 14:26 NIV) "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple."

I understand this has something to do with hating your own life, not loving the things of this world, taking up your cross, etc. But I don't understand the verse -- how does it fit with Jesus' ministry of love your neighbor as yourself?

These are two completely different ideas with which you're dealing. This is an example of how context can really determine the thought of the verse. A similar teaching is in Matthew 10:37 where, after quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus says "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." The idea He's trying to convey is one must be willing to believe in Jesus even if it means that your family will not approve. Salvation is so important that one should take the risk of their family shunning them to become a believer. This is not as big a problem in the U.S. as in other parts of the world (particularly Muslim nations), but many who have become Christians have had deep animosity develop within their own homes as a result of their decision.

When we are commanded to "love thy neighbor" it is a guide for practical dealings with the outside world. We are to help those in need, Christian or not. The above command deals with convictions of the heart. This is not a new idea in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 13 the people of Israel are warned that they should not listen to anyone, even a loved family member, if that person is enticing them to stray from the true God. In fact, they are to convict that person of idolatry, a capital crime! Everyone who wishes to follow Christ must be willing to put Christ's will first in their lives. In Acts 5:29 Peter declares "We must obey God rather than men." The men he refers to includes friends, loved ones, and even ourselves. If we don't want to become a Christian because we are afraid of losing a girlfriend or spouse, then we aren't really ready to put Christ first, and our God, who is a jealous God (Ex. 34:14), will never allow Himself to be second place in someone's life.

It just so happens that those for whom you feel most strongly are the ones who can get irritated or jealous by your devotion to God. If He comes first in your life, this would be expected. God doesn't try to create strife within the family, but those who are unbelievers will at best not understand your motivation in spiritual matters (because it comes from God's Spirit) and at worst be hostile to your Christianity because of their discomfort and conviction. Also, the enemy would hinder us in whatever way possible.

Question 5. Where in the prophecy timeline does the following fit?

(Isa 19:23-25 NIV) In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."

Does the bible give us any clues as to how Egypt and Assyria will reach this status?

What an interesting prophecy! As a precursor, I must explain my eschatological position. I believe that consistent interpretation of the scripture calls for a real judgment of the earth as stated in the book of Revelation and the literal reign of Christ on this earth for one thousand years. The context of the prophecy shows that it is a contrast between the Egypt of Isaiah's time and the Egypt during the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:4). We know during the Millennium, the entire earth will be ruled by the Lord and all will worship Him (Psalm 66:4). In Isaiah 11 it states: "For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Then it will come about in that day that the nation will resort to the root of Jesse (an Old Testament title for the messiah), who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious." This means that Assyria and Egypt will come to worship the Lord in Jerusalem like the rest of the world.

The irony is that Egypt and Assyria, two nations that enslaved the Jews, will be building roads to Jerusalem to worship the Jewish Messiah! This occurs after all the nations are judged for their actions in Matthew 25. Of course, the world will be markedly different then, when a person who dies at one hundred is considered young ( Isaiah 65:20).

Question 6. Do you believe the bible supports (and only supports) a pre-tribulation "rapture"?

If so, tell me how you would refute post-tribulation arguments.

I don't think anyone can say the Bible only supports a pre-tribulation rapture or a post-tribulation rapture. There is no single scripture that gives a definitive timeline on when it will happen (and thus the controversy). I will tell you that I do hold to a pre-tribulational rapture position and I haven't found anything that persuades me to give up that position. The post-trib view holds some problems for which I have yet to find adequate answers.

The biggest problem with the post tribulational view is that it forces its adherents to allegorize passages that the pre-trib believer can take literally. Jesus said "No man knows the day which the Son of Man comes (Matt. 25:42). If the church is still here during the persecution, then it would be easy to know the day... wait for the Abomination of Desolation and count three and one-half years (Daniel 9:27, Matt 24:15). Another difficulty is with the Millennium and the population of the earth. If all believers are raptured after the God's judgment of the planet, and all the non-believers are judged, who is left to populate the planet during the Millennium? The Millennium has to be reduced to a symbolic reign of Christ over the nations, for there will be no more nations left to judge.

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the Bema Seat judgment of Christ are two events we know happen between the Rapture and the Second Coming. If Christ's return is a single occurrence, then those two events must be spiritualized or happen instantaneously also.

As to the pre-tribulation position, there are many passages which lend credence to this view. One of the most conclusive is Revelation 3:10 where our Lord promises the church of Philadelphia (widely interpreted to be not only an actual church in Asia, but also representative of the faithful believers in the last days) "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world." This is very consistent biblically with God's previous judgments. In Genesis 18, Abraham successfully argues that God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked. In fact, in Genesis 19, the angel who came to bring judgment onto Sodom tells Lot (who is called righteous in 2 Peter) he can do nothing until Lot is removed from there (Gen 19:22).

The post-tribulation arguments to which you pointed me does have some problems in their assertion that the rapture could not happen before the tribulation. Some attribute the pre-trib rapture idea to "a tongue and an utterance in Scotland". Actually, John Nelson Darby, a famous Bible expositor, first voiced the idea of the church and Israel being separate and distinct entities in 1875. He is the one credited with popularizing the pre-trib rapture position. Also, I know of no serious scholar holding the pre-trib position who believes that during the Rapture, the Lord's foot will touch the Mount of Olives. That prophecy is clearly fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. In 1 Thess. 4 it says we "will be caught up (rapturo in Latin) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."

Lastly, some critics take the sounding of the trump in 2 Thess. 4:16 and assume that it is the seventh trumpet from the book of Revelation. There is no scriptural basis for this assumption. (It could be the first, the third, or an entirely different trumpet sound, we are not told.) Since all the other objections given can be met with Jesus' returning to the earth independent of the Rapture, the points do not conclude the necessity of a post-trib snatching away.

I do want to note that the debates of pre- or post-trib are very detailed... more so than I have ability to demonstrate here. No one can be called "wrong" for holding either position, for it is not a foundational point. If you have good scriptural reasons to hold your viewpoint, then I respect that, but I am much more interested in how you arrived at your position than whether it agrees with mine or not.

Question 7. Did Jesus die on Friday or Thursday (John 19:31)? 

If you think Friday, please read http://www.indirect.com/www/thebible/feasts.html about the Passover, and tell me how you would refute it. If you think Thursday does this affect the 3-days temple/Jonah prophecies, what is the basic timeline?

This is one debate that I've really shied away from. I've heard excellent arguments on both sides of the issue, but nothing that can truly sway me in either direction. It would take me more time than I have currently to research the issue properly, but the biggest reason I don't hold a strong view one way or another is it really doesn't enhance my understanding of the act of redemption. We know that Jesus was physically dead. We know that He died on Passover by the hands of Romans at the bequest of the Sanhedrin. We know that before dawn on the first day of the week He rose. If it were Thursday or Friday doesn't seem to change the miracle of His resurrection or give any additional insight to the events.

I realize that some will try to use the "Three days and three nights" phrase as a contradiction, but the standard defense of that phrase referring to any part of a day being counted as a whole day is adequate to silence most critics. (If I tell you that I will have a delivery in a week and it comes in six days, are you going to quibble?) Anyway, I hope you don't think I'm pawning this one off. This is definitely one area where we can give everyone liberty in their beliefs. (As a personal P.S., whenever the church has made enormous blunders in trying to understand difficult passages, it is usually because they don't take the text literally enough. For centuries, the church erred when it spiritualized the promises given to Israel, thinking those cannot be literal, for Israel was wiped out over a millennia ago. This is not an admission, just a thought.)

Thank you for hearing my questions. Your brother in Christ,


Thank you for your kind words. I hope you'll pray for me and this ministry. It is only through Him that anything can be accomplished, so I lean heavily on God's Spirit. May the Lord bless you in this season and the new year.

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