The Bible

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Book Review: “Revelation” by Richard Swinburne

Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy” by Richard Swinburne is one of those rare books which forces one to think about and analyze every argument it contains, whether one agrees or disagrees with the conclusions. It addresses claims of revelation. Can it be true that a religion’s books or creeds contain truth?

The book starts off with a section on “Meaning” which analyzes terminology, presupposition, analogy and metaphor, and genre in turn. This section is fantastic reading for the philosopher of religion as it takes some higher notions found in philosophy of language and applies them to religious studies. The chapter on presupposition was the first part I found particularly striking. It is here that Swinburne first begins to lay the groundwork for his overarching argument about the Christian Revelation and Scripture. He argues that presuppositions are not contained in the message conveyed in spoken or written word. He writes, “In order to separate statement from presupposition, we must ask, whatever the speaker’s actual beliefs, are there any common beliefs of the clture presupposed in the utterance which can be siphoned off, leaving what the culture would naturally suppose to be its message intact?” (30). This “siphoning” of meaning is necessary because “[a]lthough speakers may use declarative sentences for many different purposes… the paradigm job of such sentences is to convey information, to ad to the hearer’s stock of beliefs” (29). Swinburne offers the following example to demonstrate his argument. Suppose a Roman historian wrote that “The divine Augustus traveled to Brindisi.” This sentence is not intended to convey the information that Augustus is divine. That Augustus is divine is presupposed by the author of the sentence. Rather, the sentence is intended to tell the reader that Augustus traveled to Brindisi (29). Swinburne also outlines and describes various genres and how they can relate to a religious revelation.

The next part of the book argues for four possible tests to determine whether a divine revelation has occurred. These tests are 1) whether the content is the “kind of thing which God would have chosen to reveal to humans” 2) “whether the method of expression is one to be expected of God,  3) whether “the church has developed the original revelation in a way which plausibly brings out what was involved in it …”, and 4) “whether the interpretations provide the sort of teaching which God would have chosen to give to humans” (107-108). He argues convincingly for each of these tests applying to the Christian Revelation.

The third part of “Revelation” examines the Christian Revelation specifically. Swinburne argues that Jesus and His message were the “original revelation” provided to believers (145ff). It is in his discussion of the Church and the Bible, however, wherein he forwards his most controversial claims.

The Church, argues Swinburne, is responsible for more than simply establishing the canon of Scripture. He argues that the Church has a central place alongside Scripture in the Christian Revelation, for without the church, interpretation could not happen. The creedal statements central to Christian faith may not have been derived had it not been for the Church (see page 189ff). Further, the Church acts as a method for assessing “rival interpretations” of various Scriptural truths (200). It is undeniable that Swinburne advocates the Church as a high authority–perhaps even on a higher level than Scripture, for he argues that many conflicting interpretations of Scripture can receive almost equal footing on Scripture alone, so the Church is required to determine which of these should be approved (again see p. 200 for an example of this). Swinburne’s view of the Church is one of the most important things in this book, in my opinion, for the Christian to read and digest, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees. For one’s view of the authority of a church body is vastly important with regards to how one views other doctrines. As Swinburne writes, “Which doctrines are to count as central Christian doctrines… depend[s] very much on which ecclesial bodies we judge to be part of the Church. The wider our Church, the fewer such doctrines there will be” (214). This is undoubtedly true, for if one takes only the Roman Catholic Church, for example, as a valid ecclesial body, then one’s net of central Christian doctrines can include everything sanctioned by the Roman Catholics. But let us say that one takes both the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic church to be authoritative, or perhaps they take the Orthodox, Roman, and Reformed churches as authoritative. Well then it seems that only those doctrines which all these bodies agree on can be regarded as central, or essential to, true faith. For if one church contains a doctrine which the others do not, it cannot be regarded as absolutely essential if the other churches are still legitimate. If it were essential and the other bodies disagreed, then those other bodies would not be legitimate, by the criterion of not agreeing on an essential Christian doctrine.

This then provides a valuable springboard for thought about central Christian teaching and what doctrines and ecclesial bodies one regards as valid or central. Swinburne’s discussion on this topic cannot be downplayed. He goes into various criteria which can be used to determine whether a Church body is legitimate. These arguments are incredibly in-depth and interesting. His arguments force the reader to consider his ideas.

The Bible is the final major topic Swinburne addresses in “Revelation.” Here we see all the groundwork laid in Part 1 come into play. What do genre, presuppositions, etc. tell us about the meaning and interpretation of Scripture? This section is another which the Christian would do well to ponder. Swinburne argues that we must take Scripture as being entirely true, but he qualifies this claim by arguing we must also realize what Scripture is–a collection of books written with divine approval but by human hands. Thus, he argues, we should take great care to realize the difference between presupposition and message, history and allegory, etc. While I do not agree with Swinburne on every point, I find his insights particularly interesting. He notes that “[t]he falsity of the presuppositions does not, therefore… affect the truth-value of a sentence which uses them” (244). This kind of argument can be of direct worth to the apologist, for example. He utilizes Genesis 8:2(“The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained” ESV) as an example: “The sky has no windows out of which the rain comes, but the quoted sentence is just the author’s way of saying, within the presuppositions of his culture, that the rain ceased” (244-245). This is a different approach apologetically than the one I would tend to favor, which would argue that the word “window” is used here in a metaphorical or analogous way.

Swinburne’s high view of the church is necessary alongside his view of Scripture. Swinburne writes that “The slogan of Protestant confessions , ‘the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself’, is quite hopeless” (255). For it is the Church which determines acceptable interpretations of Scripture.  He writes that “Scripture belongs to the Church” (256). Reading and interpreting Scripture requires a guide. This guide “…is the Church’s theological definitions and other central teaching, its tradition of the proper way to interpret the Bible, and its tradition of how particular passages should be interpreted” (256).

Swinburne’s final chapter seeks to discuss and interpret moral teaching found in Scripture.

Swinburne’s central argument is strong. God has given us a Revelation and has given us the tools to discover what it means. This Revelation is found in Scripture and historically in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is the nuances of Swinburne’s argument which make the book so wonderfully useful. I found myself at times nodding, agreeing with everything Swinburne wrote. At other times I shook my head, jotting rebuttals alongside his text. But the vast majority of the book found me engaged on a new level with topics I thought I had addressed and laid to rest. While I disagree with details of Swinburne’s argument (i.e. he accepts the JEDP view of Scripture, denies the historicity of the person of Jonah, etc.), I found his core arguments compelling. We do need to remember the genre(s) we read as we read Scripture. We need to realize that the ultimate author of Scripture is God, but that Scripture was written within a set of presuppositions distinct from our own.

Swinburne’s analysis of the authority of the church was equally compelling. While he holds a higher view of church authority than I do, his view intertwines the Church with Scripture in compelling ways which absolutely must be considered.

It has been over a month since I finished this work by Swinburne, yet I have found myself consistently turning back to it, and even while writing this review, I found myself contemplating his arguments and drawing truths from him while still disagreeing with him on other areas. I reiterate that I find this work absolutely essential reading for the Christian philosopher. It will challenge and reward the reader in ways that may be entirely unexpected.


Swinburne, Richard. Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy. 2nd Edition. Oxford. 2007.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.


Bible Difficulties 4: Hardening Hearts

Exodus 4:21 (ESV): “And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”


The Bible speaks of the Israelites in Egypt in Exodus. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart “so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). Throughout the stories of the plagues Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, either by himself or God.

Why is this passage difficult?

Why would God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Doesn’t this mean God is causing Pharaoh to sin? Does this mean Pharaoh is not accountable for his actions?


It is first important to note that God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart until after Pharaoh had himself hardened his heart against God (compare Exodus 7:13, 8:15, 8:32 to Exodus 9:12). As Geisler and Howe put it, “God did not harden Pharaoh’s heart contrary to Pharaoh’s own free choice” (65, cited below). It seems as though Pharaoh, freely reacting to God’s interaction, hardens his heart against the will of God. Such an interpretation is strengthened greatly by Exodus 5:2: “But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh declares that he does not know the LORD, and refuses to submit to the LORD’s will. Such rebellion demonstrates a profound choice to harden his heart.

Another way to respond to the challenges listed above would be to note Paul’s own interpretation of the passage in Romans 9:17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'”

Granted that all authority in heaven and on earth is given by God, the fact is that Pharaoh’s position of authority was given by God Himself. Therefore, the rebellion seen in Exodus 5:2 is even more haughty than previously thought. Not only that, but Paul’s comments on these verses show how God intended to use Pharaoh’s actions to show His power and authority over all the earth. Thus, God was using Pharaoh to spread His name such that even greater amounts of people could come into a saving relationship. It therefore seems as though God utilized Pharaoh’s hardened heart to bring about a far greater good: the spreading of His name.  This is a theme seen throughout Scripture. Geisler/Howe cite the story of Joseph as another instance: Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God utilized this for good (445).

Instead of viewing this story of Pharaoh’s hardened heart as God somehow forcing Pharaoh to sin, we have two ways to counter such reasoning:

1) Pharaoh hardened his own heart against the commands of God (Exodus 5:2, 7:13, etc.), which means God did not cause him to sin and Pharaoh is accountable for his own actions

2) God utilizes the wicked actions of man to bring about His own purposes, while still allowing for freedom of the will. His omniscient (including, of course, middle knowledge) perspective allows for Him to take into account and plan for such evil actions and utilize even great evils for good.


The Lutheran Study Bible. Concordia Publishing House.

Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Baker Books. 1992.

This post is the fourth in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.

Bible Difficulties 3: Joshua 6:21-24

The Bible has been compared to an anvil–no matter how hard people beat on it, it remains firm, it stands strong. I love this comparison, and I have my own to offer. The Word of God is like a sword being forged. It is under attack by others, who beat on it with hammers, trying to destroy it, yet in all their attacks, the Word only gets sharper, and its blade more keen. The Word stands.

This post is the third in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.


One of the most commonly-cited difficulty with Scripture is the charge that God commands wicked actions. I’ve offered other defenses of such charges before (see here and here), but here I’d like to examine one specific case (and I will likely do so in the future as well). Today I’ll discuss the case of Jericho found in Joshua 6:21-24 (found in  context here).

These verses say: “They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys… Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house.” (Joshua 6:21, 24).

Why is this passage difficult?

Surely this is a hard truth! Men, women, children, and animals are destroyed due to God’s command.


There are a number of ways commentators address these verses and others like them. I’m going to outline my own view, which is a synthesis of many others.

Most importantly is the idea that the entirety of Scripture witnesses of God’s relationship to man. This is made specific in the revealed incarnation of God into the person of Jesus. Thus, verses like these should be seen in light of the whole of Scripture. More on this in a bit.

The second most important point is that God is, necessarily, sovereign. Sovereignty implies that God is in absolute control of the universe. This point is so important because it is the case that God has created all living things and has sustained them by His grace. Thus, all things owe each second of their lives to Him. We don’t deserve anything, only God deserves anything–which is our adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.

Now, before getting into a Scripture-in-context argument, we can examine this individual case. The charge is (essentially) that  God is unjust for allowing and endorsing the total destruction of Jericho, including women, children, and animals. Geisler and Howe make the fivefold argument, found in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, that

1) The Canaanites were far from innocent. The Canaanites abhorrent immorality is described in Leviticus 18, which includes descriptions of such Canaanite practices as child sacrifice (see Leviticus 18:21, 24, 25, and 26). These people were not walking around minding their own business. They were a dangerous, defiled nation (Geisler, 137).

2) God had given Palestine more than 400 years to repent, starting with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:16. The people of the land, however, had not repented (137).

3) In regards to killing everyone, including women and children, the fact of the matter is that they were part of a people whose depravity was such that anyone who came in contact with it was polluted (see Leviticus 18 once more). Geisler and Howe further put forward the controversial view that children who die before the age of accountability go to heaven (they cite 2 Samuel 12:23 for this) and so God was being merciful by bringing them to Him rather than having them condemned for eternity (138–I am not endorsing the latter part of this argument, but I think it was worth repeating here).

4) God’s sovereignty means that He who has created life may also take it (138).

5) The threat of such a vile, violent, and corrupt people meant they must be eradicated so as not to lead astray God’s chosen people, who had already shown themselves susceptible to such apostasy (138).

I think that Geisler and Howe make a fairly credible defense here, though I think a high understanding of Christology can enhance the defense further. The Lutheran Study Bible commentary about “Divine Warfare” states that “Satan and man’s sin started warfare… Christ’s divine warfare [his death and resurrection] achieves victory and salvation… divine warfare [is] God’s just punishment [for] human sin… the Church’s warfare is spiritual… a Christian view of warfare must distinguish Law from Gospel” (376). These points combine to show a Christian understanding of such passages:

As I mentioned above, Christ can be seen as the key to understanding even these passages. Paul, in the book of Romans, writes that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). There is no one righteous, not even one (3:10). Thus, all deserve death and punishment similar to that of Jericho. However, God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die once for all sinners, thus opening salvation to all who believe. This is by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, when viewing a difficult passage such as this, as Christians, we can see a distinction between Law and Gospel. God’s Law is evident in His Just dealings with sinners–the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a)–while also remembering that God’s mercy is in all things, for “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b).

Further, one very important point to make in all matters like this is that the Christian understanding includes the belief that all things have eternal relevance. Things that happen in this life have repercussions for the next. As such, any understanding of temporal suffering should take into account God’s plan of eternal salvation for all who believe.


Geisler, Norman and Thomas Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Baker Books. 1992.

The Lutheran Study Bible. Concordia Publishing House. 2009.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Bible Difficulties 2: Adopting the Attitude of the Ethiopian

This post is the second in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.

How should Christians react when met with Bible difficulties? What about when encountering others interacting with Scripture?


When asked why God didn’t make the Bible easier to read… we should remember the example of the Ethiopian whom Philip met on the road (Acts 8:27-36). Philip asked the Ethiopian,” Do you understand what you are reading?” This is the question all Christians should seek to ask when they encounter someone reading Scripture–do you understand? We must inform ourselves such that we can answer the hard questions. The Ethiopian’s answer is equally enlightening: “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”

How can others understand the Scripture unless someone explains it to them? We should rust to sit with our fellow man or woman when they read Scripture. We should rush to explain it to them in light of Christ. Not only that, but we can apply this very message to our own lives. What about those times we run into a passage of Scripture we find difficult? Should we give up? No, we have many options. We can turn to a fellow Christian and ask for discernment. More importantly, however, we should remember that, as I’ve said before (a quote from a source I cannot remember), “The Bible is the only book whose Author is always present.” The Holy Spirit not only inspired Scripture, but is also omnipresent and ready to fill us with His Word whenever we approach it. We therefore have access to the Author of Scripture whenever we open the Bible.

Geisler once said that the Bible should be given the benefit of the doubt, in cases where potential difficulties arise. This is because of how often it has been right and vindicated in light of extreme criticism (cited in Lee Stroble, The Case for Faith). Archaeological evidence has vindicated various claims of Scripture. Biblical criticism has failed to provide a serious challenge to the message of Jesus (see N.T. Wright’s monumental study, Christian Origins and the Question of God). Thus, as Christians, when we run into a difficulty, rather than assuming the Bible false, we should seek out the answers.

We should adopt the attitude of the Ethiopian in all things. When we encounter others struggling with Scripture, we should help them through this struggle. When we struggle ourselves, we should give the benefit of the doubt to its Author and seek out the answer in the many resources available, including other Christians, prayer, utilizing Scripture to interpret Scripture, etc. Daily, we should explore the Word with the attitude of the Ethiopian–seeking understanding.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Bible Difficulties 1: Judges 11:29-40

I have written a new post discussing this Bible story because I no longer hold the positions of this post. See Jephthah, Human Sacrifice, and God: What should we make of Judges 11:29-40? for more.

This is the first in a series of posts on Bible difficulties. See the introductory post here.


Judges 11:29-40 (see it in its entirety below) is a section of Scripture I struggled with for some time. In this passage, Jephthah, a Judge, vows to God that he will sacrifice whatever comes first out of his house if God grants him victory in a coming battle. God does grant victory. His daughter is the first to come out of his house. Thus, he despairs, for he has sworn to God to sacrifice her. She is obedient, and asks only that she is given time to mourn that she is unmarried before Jephthah does “as [he] promised”.

Why is this passage difficult?

A number of questions arise: Do these verses imply that God condones human sacrifice? Did Jephthah actually kill his daughter? Did God really want Jephthah to kill his daughter?

Often web sites that feast on Bible difficulties will point to these verses to “demonstrate” that God condones human sacrifice (interestingly, they often cite the near-sacrifice of Isaac also, ignoring the fact that God would have known the outcome in advance, and so was clearly not condoning it to begin with–but that’s something for a different post, I suppose). I think there is more here than meets the eye.


These verses questions have a couple different ways to answer. The first answer is perhaps the simplest. Jephthah did indeed kill his daughter because of his vow to God. A vow to God is higher than any other law, so this is what had to happen. Thus, Jephthah simply offered his daughter as a burnt offering.

I think this answer is unsatisfactory. It doesn’t seem to fit the text. A better solution is offered, I think, by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. They argue that Jephthah would have been aware of the law prohibiting human sacrifice (see Leviticus 18:21). Further, Jephthah could have offered his daughter as a living sacrifice, not a burnt offering. The Hebrew word is olah, one meaning of which is “sacrifice” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon). This helps explain why Jephthah’s daughter doesn’t mourn her coming death, but rather that she will remain unmarried. The concept of living sacrifice entails remaining unmarried for one’s life.

Another answer that fits the text is to simply say that yes, Jephthah did offer his daughter as a burnt offering. But this doesn’t somehow mean that God condoned the action. One could very well vow to God that one would murder as many people as is physically possible, if only God would let the sun rise tomorrow. This doesn’t somehow mean that the sun rising means God condones the action of murdering as many people as physically possible. The text never states God’s position on the matter. As far as I can tell, it is simply reporting what happened. Jephthah told God he’d offer a sacrifice of whatever came from his house, he did so, the end. It doesn’t say that God wanted this to happen or that God approved of the action.

As with many other cases in the Bible, people seem to confuse description of events with these events somehow being prescriptive. They believe that just because the Bible says something happened, that means this is what the Bible somehow says should happen. That’s simply not the case. Describing what happens does not mean that someone agrees with it. I could describe the holocaust. That doesn’t mean I commend it or am glad it happened. No, I think it was a horrible atrocity! In the same way, the Bible often reports events that happened. That doesn’t mean that the Bible is saying this is how things should be.

I believe that any of these answers can solve the problem. Here are the three solutions offered again:

1. Jephthah made a vow to God, which superceded anything else. It doesn’t mean the vow was a good thing, but it was a vow nonetheless.

2. Jephthah’s daughter was only to be a “living sacrifice”–she merely remained unmarried the rest of her days, much to her chagrin.

3. The Bible simply reports what happened. This doesn’t mean it was right.

Judges 11:29-40 states (ESV):

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.”

36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.


The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from cited material which is the property of its respective owner[s]) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Bible Difficulties Introduction

One of the most common objections I see to Christianity is a citation from Scripture (or a long list of citations from Scripture) which someone takes to be contradictory, evil, or something else such that it somehow discredits Christianity and the Bible.

While I do not think there are contradictions in the Bible (though there may be apparent contradictions), I do think that those who make citations or lists do have a point. As Christians, it is vitally important to take what the Bible says seriously. Contemplative reading of Scripture can often lead to questions or difficulties that one may wish to answer. Interestingly, while the unbeliever generally takes these difficulties to be intractable problems that inevitably should destroy faith, the believer can approach such difficulties with an attitude that actually uses such difficulties as opportunities to increase in one’s understanding of Scripture.

It is only fair that I share my presuppositions immediately. I believe the Bible is the Holy, inerrant (in the autographs) Word of God. It is the source for sound doctrine, but its central message is Christ Jesus my Lord. Other presuppositions can be viewed on my “About” page.

Thus, I begin a series of posts discussing various Bible difficulties. These difficulties may include apparent contradictions, hard sayings, hard stories, etc. This series will explore Bible difficulties on a verse-by-verse basis, addressing whatever verses I find interesting at any given time. It will utilize an understanding of Greek and Hebrew, as well as commentaries and apologetics works. This post serves both as an the introduction and place for links to the other posts in this series (similar to the Evolution-Creation-ID debate links here).

Bible Difficulties 1 Judges 11:29-40

Bible Difficulties 2: Adopting the Attitude of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:27 and following)

Bible Difficulties 3: Joshua 6:21-24

Bible Difficulties 4: Hardening Hearts (Exodus 4:21)


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