Questions from an agnostic

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Jack Matthews, Oct 12, 2006.

  1. Jack Matthews

    Jack Matthews
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    I've mentioned that I have a friend who claims to be agnostic, though he seems to enjoy engaging with me in conversations about Christianity. Here are a couple of questions he raised with me yesterday.

    If the Bible is inerrant, infallible, essentially "perfect" and breathed by God, then please explain the following:

    1. Acts 7:14 reports that 75 members of the house of Jacob went down to Egypt during Josephs time because of the famine. Genesis 46:27, however, says that 70members went down. Personally, I think that is nitpicking, but it is a discrepancy.

    2, How do you explain the three missing names in the genealogy from David to Azariah found in I Chronicles and Matthew. I Chronicles says that Ahaziah was the son of Joram. Matthew says that Azariah was the son of Joram, who is listed in Chronicles as Joram's great-great grandson.

    3. Genesis 35:16-19 says that Benjamin, Rachel's and Jacob's youngest son, was born in Bethlehem, or where Bethlehem would eventually be located, in Israel. But Genesis 35:23-26 says that Jacob's sons were born in Paddan Aram, which is in Syria.

    4. Matthew 3:13-15 and Mark 1:9 both report that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Luke, however, 3:18-21, reports the baptism of Jesus took place after John was put in prison by Herod. John does not report the baptism of Jesus at all.

    I think #4 is just a matter of the way the passage is being written. Luke recounts that John eventually was put in prison, then goes back to the baptizing event. However, the other two clearly say that John did the baptism, and Luke doesn't actually say that.

    5. Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 both list the number of returnees in each clan of Israel that returned from the Babylonian exile. The numbers in Ezra do not match the numbers in Nehemiah. Look at the clans--Arah, Bebai, Pahath Moab, Zattu, Azgad, Adonikam, Adin, Bigvai, Bezai and Hashum. Look at the numbers.

    Recording discrepancies? Women counted in some but not others? Only adults in one children in the other?

    I have my pastor working on these as well. I'll meet with my friend again on Monday or Tuesday of next week. If anyone has any answers or explanations, I would appreciate it very much.
     
  2. Grasshopper

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    #2 Grasshopper, Oct 12, 2006
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  3. Marcia

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    Jack, since you are dialoguing with this agnostic, I think it would be a good investment to get one or both of these:

    1. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, by Gleason Archer

    2. When Critics Ask, by Norman Geisler

    Both of these go through problems such as you mention in your post and address them.

    Dealing with difficult questions topically is When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler.

    Also, see
    http://sub.namb.net/essentials/users_guide_3_5.asp

    http://www.carm.org/bible_difficulties.htm

    http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm

    http://www.douknow.net/ath_nt_contradictions__part1.htm
     
  4. Baptist_Pastor/Theologian

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    The above posts are certainly helpful for your own interests, but I would add a note about the need to keep your conversation focused on the person of Jesus. If you center you approach on the person of Jesus then you will do well to stay on the offensive. As Josh McDowell has pointed out, Jesus is one of three things: He is either a liar, lunatic or Lord. He either knew he was not God, or he thought he was and deceived, or he actually is who he says he is.

    One other thing that you should try to do with your friend is stay up on the latest and best research that is constantly coming out about the weakness with the theory of evolution. The more holes you poke in that theory the more reason he has to abandon his primary option to believing in God.

    One last thing, that I would recommend is that you ask your friend to read the Bible. If he is willing to read the Bible for himself then the Lord may convict him of his need of salvation while doing so.
     
  5. Jack Matthews

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    I have both books by Geisler. So does he, along with his own comments about most of what Geisler has written. Occasionally, I can slip something in there.

    I'm guessing his questions, especially about issues related to inerrancy of the Bible, come from a common source. I've dealt with more than a dozen other difficulties he's brought to my attention, and I never really know what he's thinking afterward.

    This is a guy I went to law school with at Vanderbilt. He did his undergraduate work there as well, a dean's list summa cum laude, so he's no dummy. And a lot of his Bible knowledge, which is pretty extensive, came from Bob Jones University. His grandmother offered to pay for all four years of his college if he would give BJU a try for one semester, so he did. He's pretty hard to pin down, for a lot of reasons. He saved his virginity for marriage, doesn't drink, smoke or want to, never did drugs and never uttered an innapropriate word in my presence. He points to all of that in arguing that if those are the fruits of the spirit, or the blessings of a Christian life, he enjoys them without the baggage of religion.

    I've used Strobel's and McDowell's material to point out the manuscript evidence for the Bible and argued that even if the Bible wasn't inerrant or infallible, it still fell well within the parameters of accuracy of the text as a historical resource, and therefore, its historical material should be considered accurate to prove the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, as well as an accurate record of his teachings. He had to concede that point.

    I certainly appreciate the posts. They are the sort of thing that will interest him.
     
  6. Amy.G

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    These posts are all very intellectual but there is no substitute for faith and the drawing of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit alone who draws someone to the Father. We can give all the convincing arguments in the world and still fail to bring someone to Christ simply because of their lack of faith. If your friend is still engaging in spiritual discussions with you then he is still seeking God. The most powerful thing that you can do is pray for God to open his eyes.
     
  7. Allan

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    Yes but the fruit of the Spirit is for the benifit of others not specifically for ourselves. It is about an attitute that does these thing for the glory of God and not self. Just because one has SOME of these fruits, ask him if he has the friut of Peace with God - meaning He is safe from Gods judgment against his sin?

    If He says Yes, ask him what he bases it upon?

    In point of fact (having delt with many intellectuals as well) it sounds like what many do, and try to use the reasoning "I'm doing pretty good without God, what do I need from Him?"

    Just like everyone else they need to see they are lost. And since he is well educated (and a lawyer) use the OT law - specifically the 10 Commandments.

    This is just a basic thing "I" do with educated people to help them see where they are truly before a Holy and Just God who will not tolerate sin in His presense.

    1. Has he ever told a lie, and this includes those little white lies?
    If Yes, state "Since people are defined by their actions the very fact you lied, makes you a what? --- A Liar!

    2. Have you ever stole ANYTHING in your life?
    If Yes, state "Since people are defined by their actions the fact you have stolen, makes you a what? -- A Thief!

    Jesus stated if you are angry with someone with proper cause to be, you are guilty of murder in your heart.
    3. Have you ever been angry with ANYONE and every time was perfectly just or right?
    If Yes, state "the fact you were angry with just cause make you a what? -- A Murder

    Jesus stated if you look on a woman in a desirous (sexualy) way, you are guilty of adultry.4. Have you EVER looked (thought about) on a woman in any way sexual?
    If Yes, state "the fact you thought about her sexually makes you in the eyes of God a what? -- Adulturer

    So far, they are a lieing, thieving, murderous, adulturer before God.
    And since according to scripture the wages of sin (singular) is death, this person more than qualifies for God to judge him for breaking 4 of the 10 basic laws of God and you haven't even finished yet!

    This may be something you can use and maybe not but use what God shows you will best open the eyes of your friends heart that is obviously searching to know a little more about God but wants to be sure it isn't some quack ancient cult. Conviction is the tool God uses to show people He is real.
     
  8. Marcia

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    I agree prayer is essential, and that's a good point.

    However, some people are intellectual and Christians can and should give answers to their questions and objections. We do not need to remain silent or act like faith in Christ is not related to reason or history. After all, Christ is an historical figure, the Bible is historical, God is objectively true, and reason and logic come from God Himself.

    I think it is productive to engage in these discussions with skeptics who are more intellectually oriented to show them that Christians are not just sitting the dark believing in a fairy tale, and to show that Christians can think, too. Many of my emails from unbelievers (I have a website and so get a lot of such emails) express pleasant surprise that they've come across a Christian who can think and discuss things without saying, "you just have to have faith."

    The one statement I hate more than any other is "Blind Faith." I realize faith is not intellectual understanding or reason, and that God draws the person, but God can and does use dialogues like this. I think this is what happened with Josh McDowell, who once was an atheist. I've also heard testimonies from former skeptics and agnostics who said they could not refute the historical nature of Jesus with their arguments and were drawn that way.
     
  9. Marcia

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    I would point out that
    1) All moral behavior is not fruit of the Spirit. Man can try and often succeed to be outwardly moral, but God judges what's on the inside as well.
    2) Fruit of the Spirit glorifies Christ and goes beyond outward behavior. So if a non-Christian is behaving morally, his behavior is not a reflection of Christ because the person is not acknowledging Christ or giving credit to Christ or the HS for these moral behaviors. They merely spring from the person's own efforts.
     
  10. Deacon

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    Regarding answering the questions of an agnostic (noted in the OP) as others have noted, answer his intellectual needs but be sure to to deal with his spiritual needs as well.

    I've found that those with a desire to learn can be drawn to the Lord more easily when they look inside themselves and realize their need.

    Those with a need to exert dominance may try to obfuscate the issue by continually bring up obscure questions (some will even do internet research to try to confuse and demoralize the chosen).

    Rob
     
  11. Baptist_Pastor/Theologian

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    If I were you I would do an end around on this guy. He sounds to be self-righteous in his claim to a high level of morality. Use that against him. Have you ever asked him why he does not participate in the list of sins? Chances are this could lead to a discussion about the existence of God through a moral argument. God has uniquely equipped us to bare his image, and a part of baring the image of God is a sense of morality. The cosmos does not have a sense of morality. Animals in the wild do not have a sense of morality, therefore, the fact that he has a sense of morality indicates that he has a creator. If there is no God and no afterlife, then why would anyone worry about petty moral behavior? If one follows through with the philosophy of evolution it would not follow to have a moral system. The only morality of evolution is survival. Humans have instincts that run contrary to evolutionary principals. Why did those firemen run up the stairs that others were running down to escape the horrors of 9/11? Why do soldiers jump on a grenade to save others while giving up their own lives? If no one would know the difference why do we feel compelled to return the excess change that we are given by the casher at Walmart or volunteer to pay for the idem our kid snuck past us after we are out the door? This guys needs to read C.S.Lewis and try to grapple with his moral argument.


    In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) makes the following argument:
    1. There is a universal moral law.
    2. If there is a universal moral law, then there must be a universal moral lawgiver.
      Therefore,
    3. There must be God.
     
    #11 Baptist_Pastor/Theologian, Oct 13, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2006
  12. Amy.G

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    Marcia, I totally agree with you. I think we have to try to meet people where they are so to speak. I was just in a discussion last weekend with my brother in law, who is not a believer and he kept saying over and over..."give me some evidence". We talked for over 2 hours and I did the best I could, but ultimately I know that when he comes to God it will be because the spirit draws him. Two things came to mind later..Jesus said that even if someone rises from the dead you still will not believe. And Paul says that he led people to Christ not by his eloquent speech, but by simply preaching Christ and Christ alone. I totally understand what you are saying and agree. I just wanted to say that no matter what we do, it's always God that does the convincing. Just wanted to clarify. :)
     
  13. Marcia

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    I agree, Amy! Thanks for clarifying! :thumbs:
     
  14. Charles Meadows

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    I Think Deacon is right on here.

    There are instances where two books of the bible describe a story with slightly different details. God has allowed people to transmit His word. But is that not His way? Look at God's visitation in Jesus. He came as a humble servant - not one who was high and mighty and commanded worship.

    A person will come to Christ when he/she realizes his/her own need and that only Jesus can fulfill that need. He/she will believe the Bible when he/she reads it and experiences God's love for people - nNOT when someone proves it on an intellectual level. If that were God's purpose then we would have a very different Bible which gave a story about a different Jesus.
     
  15. thjplgvp

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    Jack, question number one is relatively easy for Acts records the facts looking back while Genesis recorded the facts of the time. They are both correct 70 came out at the time of Joseph because there was Joseph, his wife, Manassah and Ephraim and an older brother (can't think of his name right now) already in Egypt. Acts is looking back and there were a total of 75 members of the family in Egypt. The time of the writing has much to do with the reporting of the story.

    I would say that the effort you are putting into this will probably not be reciprocated by your friend.

    Thjplgvp
     
  16. Humblesmith

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    First, ask him this:
    If I give you a reasonable answer, will you believe in Christ and become a Christian? If he says no, then his problem is not evidence, but refusal to believe. If he says yes, then answer his questions.

    1. There could have been 75 when they left, and 5 turned back, or died on the way, or there could have been 70 when they left, and picked up five cousins on the way, or there could have been babies born on the way. Further, the previous verse mentions 66 other people who went, "not counting the sons wives." So there is many possible explanations for the numbers.

    2. The genalogies in the bible often say "son of" when it is really grandsons, or great-grandsons, etc. Matt. 1:1 says Jesus was the son of Abraham and the son of David. So in context, all these verses are true, according to the common biblical usage.

    3. The question misquotes the passage. The passage says Jacob was "on the way to" Bethlehem, not in it. Further, Gen. 48:7, Jacob explains the whole story, saying they were on the way from Paddam to Bethlehem, still a distance away from Bethlehem. In those days, there were no "Welcome to Israel" signs on the side of the highway, so the borders were imprecise.

    4. The verbs in Luke 3:21 that speak of Jesus baptism are in aorist tense, which does not speak of past, present, or future. The passage is just saying that it happened, not that it happened in senquence. This is clear in English from the context, which includes Jesus' genealogy after it had him speaking as an adult. That Luke and John do not specifically mention John the baptist is of no consequence, since one gospel often includes or excludes details that the other gospels do not.

    5. This has the same basic answer as number 1. They could have left with one number, picked up cousins along the way, had children born, had babies and mothers die, as often happened in childbirth, people could have turned back, etc. Travel was difficult in those days. Last fall a few hundred thousand people left Houston all on the same day trying to escape a hurricane, and there were pregnant women and very frail old folks.....the same number that left was not the same number that arrived.

    So here are reasonable answers to each of these questions that would pass the "reasonable doubt" test that is expected in a court of law. However, more basic to all this, is that to a committed skeptic, we are in a no-win situation. If we say the passages match exactly, then they say they match too closely, and the authors must have gotten together and collaborated to "fix" the information. If they don't match exactly, then the authors are accused of making it up or getting it wrong. I just find it difficult to believe that the same author in the same chapter would make a significant disagreement with his own writing in the same chapter, which is what is implied in the Genesis passage.

    Read the bible as you would a newspaper, and it will speak for itself.
     
    #16 Humblesmith, Oct 14, 2006
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  17. Humblesmith

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    This is a GREAT way to turn the questions back onto a doubter. The reason is that it gets to people where they care about things the most.......at an emotional level. All people have something that they care about......it might be the environment, economics, free speech, global warming, whatever. But everyone has something that they think that the opposite of it is morally wrong. So, find out what it is, and ask them why is it good? Why is the opposite of that bad? You mean to tell me that polluting the environment is the same as not polluting the environment (or whatver they hold as important)? Then get to the reasons that are mentioned above. If there were no objective moral law that is outside of all people, then no one anywhere has the right to say that anything is ultimately right or wrong. If there is anything right, that applies to all people, there must be a moral lawgiver that is external to all people.

    This is one of the greatest arguments because it gets at the areas that people care emotionally about.
     
  18. Humblesmith

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    Oh, and btw,......

    Vernon McGee says that he took a picture of Rachel's tomb when he was in Israel. So if your friend wants to check for evidence, he can still today go to the road that is mentioned in Gen 35:20 and lay eyes on the proof.
     
  19. Benjamin

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    I was also given a list of supposed contradictions in the Bible recently by a Muslim and thought to myself where did he get all these, he certainly didn’t come up with them on his own, went to some atheist sites and there they are listed with pride to cast doubt and feed dissension, it is present on most any of them. The guy had given me a list of 15 and told me he could get some more in a proud challenge if I wanted. Now I could take the time and do all the home work and give him an answer to them and that wouldn’t hurt me any, for that matter I could make it a mission to collect all the answers to these type questions. As a matter of fact I once saw a site that had a collection of disputations toward scripture and the answers. But why take the time and have someone else decide my studying schedule, somewhere you have to ask yourself what is the meaning of giving that which is Holy unto the dogs and throwing your pearls before swine and what is this there for, I mean you answer them and they rend you again just as the Word warns.


    So I think it comes down to the persons motivations for going through the trouble to gather these questions. If they’re sincere in wanting to know the truth why are they doing research on these types of sites? I think some wise words to cut to the case and maybe just asking them this question directly to see if they show any heart felt need in really wanting to know might be the first course of action. But then again they might just need some softening first so it’s a tough situation to turn from.
     
  20. Jack Matthews

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    My friend is an avid reader, and I am sure he gets his information from either an atheist website of some sort, or a book that contains the information. He's also smart enough to know that I'm going to have several reliable sources of information in my library. Actually, what I've done is pretty much given a couple of books to him. The first one I handed him was Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. He read the whole thing without comment. He also has a copy of Josh McDowell's A Ready Defense which I highlighted for him. As of this point, the only comment on that comes when I mention something to him and he says, "Yes, I read that in McDowell's book."

    Actually, today, I took the advice of some who have posted in this thread, and shared the passage in I Corinthians about the things of God being spiritually discerned, and that Christian faith isn't just a matter of sorting out the scripture and finding a way to consistently interpret them. There is a thread that runs all through the Bible which points to principles and practice that is consistent, and that is God's desire to redeem his creation, and his provision of a way to do that. Faith is spiritual, and without the spiritual element, it is not faith. We'll see where that goes. When I told him that, I got a half smile, a wink, and a change of subject.
     

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