It Doesn’t Matter?

Turkel Tries Another Twist
by Farrell Till

A reply to:

Precisely the Opposite

On Gospel Details and Precision in Narratives
by Robert Turkel aka James Patrick Holding

Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.

Thank you Mr. Till!

One of the certainties in debating biblical inerrantists is that no matter how lucid a biblical text may be, if the plain reading of the text results in a discrepancy, inerrantists will stretch imagination beyond reasonable limits to try to make it not mean what it clearly says.  The how-it-could-have-been scenario is by far the most popular method of “explaining” discrepancies, but the figurative/symbolic/metaphorical route runs a close second.  When the plain language of a biblical text results in a discrepancy, the biblicist can simply say, “Well, this wasn’t intended to be understood literally; it is all figurative [symbolic/metaphorical].”  We have seen Robert “No Links” Turkel beat this one to death in the debate on preterism.  What we haven’t seen from him, however, is any attempt to show why the relevant textual language should be interpreted figuratively.  He just asserts that it is figurative (symbolic, metaphorical) because he or some preterist he quotes says that it is, and expects readers to accept this “explanation” on the mere say-so of a partisan group with an emotionally important doctrine to defend.

Of late, some biblicists, tired of being taken to the woodshed so often, have just admitted that there are discrepancies and inconsistencies in the Bible, but that this doesn’t matter because it is still, in some unexplained, “higher” sense, the “word of God.”  There are two members of the II_Errancy list who have taken this track but have resisted for several months now all attempts to get them to explain how it is possible to determine truth from error in an errant Bible.  I am certainly no fan of Gleason Archer, but I believe that he was right on target when he argued in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties that an errant Bible could not be trusted. After pointing out that a witness in a court of law loses his credibility if he is caught lying in his personal testimony, Archer went on to apply the same principle to the Bible.

The same is true of Holy Scripture.  If the statements it contains concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extrabiblical records, by ancient documents uncovered through archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth, then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion. In other words, if the biblical record can be proved fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested.  As a witness for God, the Bible would be discredited as untrustworthy.  What solid truth it may contain would be left as a matter of mere conjecture, subject to the intuition or canons of likelihood of each individual.  An attitude of sentimental attachment to traditional religion may incline one person to accept nearly  all the substantive teachings of Scripture as probably true. But  someone else with equal justification may pick and chose whatever teachings in the Bible happen to appeal to him and lay equal claim to legitimacy.  One opinion is as good as another.  All things are possible, but nothing is certain if indeed the Bible contains mistakes or errors of any kind (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 23-24, emphasis added).

Although I have urged biblicists who take the errant-but-still-the-word-of-God view of the Bible to refute Archer’s arguments, they have all evaded the challenge.  The problem is a simple one.  If the Bible errs in matters where there is available information, such as that which Archer mentioned above, to establish that errors were made, then how can anyone be sure that the Bible is right in what it says about matters that cannot be corroborated by extrabiblical records?  Mark McFall, who publishes a paper called In the Word, is a member of the II-Errancy list.  After trying to defend biblical inerrancy in another forum, he had adopted the errant-but-still-the-word-of God view of the Bible before he joined the Errancy list.  The day before I sat down to write this article, I replied to one of his posts and asked him to explain to us how he can determine truth from error in an errant Bible.  This time he answered.

As I’ve said to you on many occasions, determining “truth from error in the Bible” is of little concern for me. Rather, my concern lies in what the text generally points to: God’s redemptive concern. I see the task of determining “truth from error in the Bible” as the wrong approach. For me, it is of more value to seek some type of understanding concerning the complexities of a text that I have high regard for.

A Mormon could substitute “the Book of Mormon” for “the Bible” and say the same thing word for word that McFall said, because Mormons no doubt have a “high regard” for their Mormon text, but I seriously doubt that McFall would see this as any kind of evidence that the Book of Mormon is a reliable religious guide.  To point out that his reply was not at all satisfactory, I posted another question for McFall.

How are you able to determine that “what the text generally points to” concerning “God’s redemptive concern” is truth? Let’s let X be a matter in the Bible that is recognizably erroneous, and let’s let Y be what the Bible says about God’s redemptive concern. If we know that X is erroneous because of available information that shows X is not true, then how can we know that Y is true, since Y is a matter for which there is no corroborative information?

This was McFall’s answer.

An X that is specifically “recognizably erroneous” due to verifiable information rests on the shoulders of that particular writer.  Y, on the other hand, is the prevalent theme throughout the entire Bible. If Y is also erroneous, then so is the prevalent theme of multiple writers. For me however, that multiplicity coupled with the length of time it took to compose the Bible suggests that the sagacity of God’s redemptive concern is true.

In other words, McFall was claiming that if a theme was recurrent throughout the Bible, this could be considered evidence that the theme was true.  Commenting on McFall’s statement above, Errancy-list member Nancy Todd asked him the following question.

A, if not the, prevalent theme in the literature of ancient Greece is that people cannot escape their fate. Does the multiplicity of writers whose works are permeated with this theme coupled with the length of time it took to compose all those works over the course of centuries suggest to you that the discernment of these writers is true?

McFall’s answer was, “You always get me to stop and think Nancy,” but he has made no further attempt to justify his apparent position that if enough people over a long enough period of time make the same claim, that claim has to be true.  Nancy Todd’s question brought McFall face to face with a familiar flaw in his reasoning: that which proves too much proves nothing at all.

In the “debates” with Robert “No Links” Turkel, we have seen him try just about every gimmick in the inerrantist repertoire: the language was symbolic, the language was idiomatic, there are subtle “nuances” in the biblical text that modern readers can’t understand, and so on ad infinitum. More recently, however, he seems to be leaning toward McFall’s camp to argue that discrepancies and inconsistencies in the biblical text don’t matter.  This is the track that he seems to have taken in an article that tried to explain away the problem of inconsistencies in the New Testament resurrection narratives.

Another factor for consideration in reckoning the harmonizing of Gospel records is a facet of the Eastern mindset that the precision-minded Western critic cannot comprehend. I think it will be enough to quote extensively from Abraham Rihbany’s The Syrian Christ [108ff]. Rihbany, a Syrian familiar with our culture, noted as follows:

There is much more of intellectual inaccuracy than of moral delinquency in the Easterner’s speech. His misstatements are more often the result of indifference than the deliberate purpose to deceive. One of his besetting sins is his ma besay-il — it does not matter. He sees no essential difference between nine o’clock and half after nine, or whether a conversation took place on the housetop or in the house. The main thing is to know the substance of what happened, with as many of the supporting details as can be conveniently remembered.

The implications of this should be clear. Gospel writers who differ on minor points such as times, number of angels at a tomb, exact locations, and so on, are signators [sic] to a semantic contract that Westerners haven’t even read. We’ll develop this point more with applications at a later date.

This is typical Turkelism.  He finds a quotation in a book that offers an excuse for inconsistencies in the Bible, and then he submits it as definitive proof without making any effort at all to show that the quotation is true.  For those who may not know, Abraham Rihbany was a Lebanese Christian who emigrated to the United States in 1891.  The Syrian Christ resulted from a series of articles he wrote, which were later compiled into a book in which he basically argued that one could not understand the scriptures without understanding Syrian culture and linguistic idioms.  Inerrantists have appealed to Rihbany’s book to “explain” references in the Bible to faith moving mountains, turning the other cheek, a camel going through the eye of a needle, hating one’s parents, selling all that one has and giving it to the poor, etc.  Such language wasn’t intended to be taken literally, Rihbany argued, but was just typical of the exaggeration of Semitic language.

The primary problem with Rihbany’s key to understanding biblical discrepancies is that it completely ignores the widely accepted Christian premise that the books of the Bible were inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent entity.  Hence, when Rihbany spoke of biblical writers who knew “the substance of what had happened” and then presented “as many of the supporting details as can be conveniently remembered,” he, to borrow one of his own terms, conveniently forgot that these writers were presumably not speaking on their own but were being guided by an omniscient deity, who would have known all of the supporting details of “what had happened.” Any errors or even ambiguities, therefore, would not have been the fault of the writers but of the omniscient deity who was allegedly guiding them as they wrote.

Turkel, of course, will pooh-pooh all of this as just a Church-of-Christ concept of “mechanical dictation,” but it just happens to be what the Bible teaches about the divine guidance that was exerted on those who were allegedly the spokesmen chosen of God.  I have been over all of this before, but some people are slow learners, so I guess I will have to run through it again.

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you [the disciples] out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

This passage is claiming much more than that the disciples would be speaking “the substance of what had happened” and giving “as many supporting details as they could conveniently remember.”  It was claiming that the disciples were not the ones actually speaking but the Holy Spirit who would be speaking through them.  That is about as “mechanical” a view of “inspiration” as one could imagine.  It was claiming that the disciples would be sort of ventriloquist dummies through whom the Holy Spirit would speak.

A comparable text in Luke presents the same view, i. e., the disciples were given divine guidance to let them know what they should say.

Luke 21:12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. 13But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. 14Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.

Inerrantists will argue that these texts spoke of divine inspiration that would be given to the disciples in situations where they were brought before kings and rulers and said nothing about written inspiration, so I have no doubt that Turkel will grab this straw.  This will put him in the situation of arguing that God was careful enough to put into the mouths of the disciples the words they should speak, which would be gone and forgotten moments after they had spoken them, but when they were writing books that were intended to guide mankind for thousands of years through the Christian era, they were left pretty much on their own to record “the substance of what had happened” and to give “as many supporting details as they could conveniently remember.”  Well, why not?  Such a position would be no more idiotic than various other scenarios that Turkel and his inerrantist cohorts have resorted to in order to circumvent numerous discrepancies in the Bible.

More reasonable people, however, will realize that this “you’re-on-your-own” view of inspiration is not at all in agreement with what the Bible teaches about inspiration. A prophecy attributed to the father of John the Baptist after the naming of his son claimed that he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he prophesied.

Luke 1:67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: 6 Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, 70As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began….

Now if Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Spirit” as he spoke, I doubt that Luke meant for his readers to understand that Zacharias was speaking the “substance of what had happened” and then giving “as many supporting details as he could conveniently remember.”  If that is all that there was to the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit, then why was God even bothering to fill his prophets and writers with the Holy Spirit?

In speaking to “those who were the leaders of the Jews,” whom he had invited to his house in Rome, the apostle Paul quoted a prophecy and said that the Holy Spirit had spoken it through Isaiah the prophet.

Acts 28:25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; 27 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”‘

Now was Paul right when he said that the Holy Spirit had spoken these words through the prophet Isaiah, or was this just something Isaiah had said on his own, telling “the substance” and giving “as many supporting details as he could conveniently remember”? I’ll let Turkel and his cohorts argue with their own “inspired”–whatever inspired may mean to them–“word of God.”

I couldn’t even begin to quote the number of times that  Old Testament writers said, “Thus says Yahweh, “or “The word of Yahweh came to me,” but these are expressions where the writers were claiming to state either what Yahweh had said or what Yahweh had given them to say.”  The apostle “Peter” agreed that what the prophets of old had said were not really what they had said but what God had said through them.

2 Peter 1:19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

This is completely contrary to the bill of goods Turkel and his like-minded cohorts are trying to sell to their gullible readers.  They claim that biblical writers were left to choose what information they wanted to put into their books, and so this accounts for apparent discrepancies in parallel accounts.  Matthew “chose” to mention only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, but Mark “chose” to mention these two and a third woman named Salome.  Matthew and Mark “chose” to mention just one angel, but Luke “chose” to mention two.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke “chose” to mention the midday darkness during the crucifixion, but John just didn’t consider it important.  Matthew “chose” to mention the resurrection of the many saints who appeared to many after the resurrection of Jesus, but the other gospel writers just didn’t consider this important, and so on and so forth.  As an explanation for glaring variations in the biblical text, it isn’t worth much, because it fails to take into account that the Bible claims that those who spoke and wrote their words were actually speaking and writing by the guidance of an omniscient, omnipotent deity. Inerrantists, however, claim that the divinely guided writers of the Bible spoke of their own will.  It is a dodge that they must resort to in order to “explain” obvious inconsistencies in the Bible.

I have no problem with recognizing that hyperbole is not to be taken literally, but I do have a problem with claims of hyperbole in biblical passages where the contexts give no legitimate reason to think that hyperbole was intended.  Take for example the references to faith that can move mountains.

Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. 20And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” 21So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. 22And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Now if this text had merely said that “faith can move mountains,” I could understand how it could be interpreted as hyperbole intended to mean that faith could accomplish great things, i. e., move figurative mountains, but look at the context.  In verses 18-20, Jesus had pronounced a curse on a fig tree that didn’t have figs on it in, and immediately the fig tree “withered away.”  It is difficult to see how anyone could think that this was just a symbolic or hyperbolic withering, so the fact that the tree literally withered becomes important in understanding the rest of the passage, because Jesus used this supernatural feat to tell his disciples that if they had faith, they would be able to do the same thing and even greater things: “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done.” What was done to the fig tree?  It was withered by the pronouncement of a curse upon it.  This statement makes no sense at all unless readers understand it to mean that if the disciples had faith, they would be able to do feats greater than making a fig tree wither; they would be able to move a mountain and cast it into the sea.  What contextual reason is there to think that Jesus did not mean this literally?  The specific, step-by-step language here is entirely different from just a hyperbolic statement that says, “Faith can move mountains.”  It is a statement that plainly said that those with faith could speak to a mountain, move it, and cast it into the sea.

The command to sell everything and give it to the poor is even harder to reconcile with Rihbany’s it-doesn’t-matter theory.

Matthew 19:16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”  17So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. 18He said to Him, “Which ones?”  Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” 20The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

If this was merely “hyperbolic” language, why didn’t the rich young man recognize it as such?  After all, he was not a tourist from another part of the world who just happened to be visiting in Israel at this time.  He was undoubtedly a native to that region, who was familiar with the language and customs of the people who lived there, so if Jesus’s command was simply some idiomatic exaggeration, why didn’t the young man recognize that it was? The fact that he went away sorrowful indicates that he understood exactly what Jesus had said and was unwilling to part with his wealth.

Christianity makes some tough demands of its adherents, and the truth is that few people who claim to be Christians obey the really hard commands.  They practice a smorgasbord Christianity by picking and choosing what they want to accept and rejecting what they don’t like.  Inerrantists like Turkel belong to an any-interpretation-will-do school.  By that, I mean that they are not at all interested in understanding the meaning of texts that contain inconsistencies, discrepancies, and absurdities; they just want some kind of interpretation that will “explain” the problems.  They will read a book like The Syrian Christ and right away seize it as a catch-all explanation of  problem texts in the Bible.  If what a text plainly says is so patently ridiculous that no one can believe it or makes demands that are contrary to human nature, they will say, “Well, this was just hyperbolic or symbolic or figurative,” but isn’t it strange that none of these inerrantists ever claim that the texts were just hyperbolic or symbolic when they told of Jesus walking on water or quelling a storm or raising Lazarus from the dead or rising from the dead himself?  No, these aren’t hyperbolic.  They are to be understood literally.

I have to ask why.  If biblical stories that told of resurrections from the dead literally meant what they said, then why should we think that another story that said that a person who has faith and does not doubt in his heart can move a mountain and cast it into the sea was just “hyperbolic”?  Both stories are so contrary to empirical observations that rational people should view them with extreme suspicion, but since one of them is so central to a religious faith-system, adherents of the religion will accept the one as fact and dismiss the other one as just “hyperbole.”

Be that as it may, Robert “No Links” Turkel is now taking the position that inconsistencies in biblical texts just don’t matter, and what is his authority?  Abraham Rihbany, a Lebanese Christian immigrant, whose book The Syrian Christ was just an apologetic effort of his time that tried to explain away problem texts by arguing that inconsistencies in the Bible just didn’t “matter” because the language was hyperbolic exaggerations that were not intended to be understood literally.  Hence, if there are inconsistencies in the biblical text, this really didn’t matter to the people who lived in biblical times and understood the idioms.

It is a pity that Abraham Rihbany and Robert “No Links” Turkel were not around when Jewish leaders were trying to decide which of their sacred books were “canonical.”  They could have spared the Jewish councils a lot of internal debating that took place when the selections were being made.  Contrary to what Rihbany claimed, Jewish leaders, at that time,  were very concerned over inconsistencies and discrepancies in books like Ezekiel.  They were, in fact, so concerned over discrepancies in Ezekiel that this book was almost rejected outright.  Only through the efforts of  Hananiah ben Hezekiah, a first-century AD rabbi, was this book spared the rejection that was accorded apocryphal and pseudepigraphic writings.  According to Jewish tradition, ben Hezekiah retired to his chamber with 300 jars of oil for his lamps and did not come out until he had harmonized to his satisfaction the discrepancies in Ezekiel that had been troubling his rabbinic cohorts.

I’m surprised that Turkel, who seems to consider himself an expert in ancient Near Eastern cultures and languages, would not be aware of the concern that Jewish leaders expressed over discrepancies in the books that they were considering for canonical selection.  If he had just done a little research in Jewish literature, he would have known about these concerns.  (Now watch him come back and claim that he knew about it.)  There are various Jewish websites that tell about Talmudic efforts to resolve these discrepancies.  The quotation below can be found at The Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism.

The Talmud records the following controversy concerning the book of Ezekiel.

Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: In truth, that man, whose name is Hananiah ben Hezekiah, should be remembered for a blessing, for if it were not for him, the Book of Ezekiel would not have been included in the canon of the Bible, since its words contradict the Torah. What did he do? … He sat in the upper chambers and reconciled the contradictions. (adapted from the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 13b). Parshat Emor and its Haftarah ostensibly deal with the laws which govern the lives of the Kohanim – the priests, who served as the religious leadership of the Jewish people in Temple times.

Parshat Emor sets down the standards which were to govern the lives of the priests both in their personal lives and in their ritual roles. Ezekiel’s prophecy concerns itself with the priesthood in the Temple in Messianic times. When we compare Ezekiel’s standards for the priesthood with those of the Torah, we note a number of differences which bothered the rabbis. On a number of issues, Ezekiel seems to mandate a standard which is stricter than that of the Torah.  Ezekiel’s rulings are more demanding with regard to the length of the priests’ hair (verse 20), marriage prohibitions (verse 22), and handling the dead (verse 25). Similarly, while the Torah prohibits participation in Temple rituals only to those Kohanim who have certain specific physical deformities, Ezekiel limits the future priestly role only to a select family of priests who have never played a role in idolatrous practices. Ezekiel is as concerned with the spiritual purity of the priests as he is with their physical state.

How do we explain the discrepancies between the laws and standards as found in the Torah and as we find them in Ezekiel’s prophecy? Can it be that Ezekiel was unaware of the Torah’s standards? It is possible that he wanted to create more exacting standards for Israel’s future religious leadership. He hoped that by elevating the regulations which govern their appearance, beliefs and behavior they would serve as more effective role models. Perhaps this explains why Ezekiel details the priests’  most important roles as teachers, judges, and legislators only after he has established the standards which will make them worthy of  these positions. (verse 23-24). Only when our leaders will be worthy of serving as role models will we be able to achieve God’s will on earth.

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, a teacher of Talmud and Midrash, gave a similar account of the Talmudic record of the controversy over discrepancies in Ezekiel.

The Babylonian Talmud records the following discussion of the discrepancies between the laws in this week’s haftarah and the laws in the Torah: “Thus said the Lord God: ‘In the first month, in the first day of the month you shall take a young bull of the herd without blemish and you shall offer it as a sin offering in the sanctuary.’ [The Talmud notes the discrepancy with the following question.] [You say it was a] ‘sin offering’, surely it was a ‘burnt offering’ [as was prescribed by the Torah for Rosh Hodesh – see Numbers 28:11]? Rabbi Yochanan [attempts to minimize this difficulty with the following response]: This discrepancy will be explained by Elijah in the future [since it is beyond our ability to reconcile these two verses]. Rabbi Ashi [offers another possible answer]: [the passage in Ezekiel refers to] the special dedication ceremony that was to be offered in the time of Ezra [when the Jews returned from Babylonia after the first exile when they rebuilt the Temple], just as it was offered in the time of Moses [when he consecrated the sanctuary in the desert]. [Similarly, this debate between these two sages from the period of the Talmud] was also taught by two sages from the period of the Mishnah: Rabbi Judah said: This passage will be interpreted by Elijah. Rabbi Yose said: ‘It refers to the dedication ceremony offered in the time of Ezra just as it was offered in the time of Moses.’ Rabbi Judah replied: ‘May your mind be at ease for you have set my mind at ease.’ (adapted from Menachot 45a)

Another Jewish account of this controversy:

Many sections in the text are confusing however, and their meaning has eluded both traditional commentators as well as contemporary scholars. Moreover, there are theological elements and halachic directives which contradict verses found in the Torah itself. Thus while Exodus 20:5 says that God will visit ” the guilt of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and fourth generations of those who reject me,” Ezekiel 18:4 maintains that “only the person who sins will die.” With respect to halacha, Leviticus 21:7 forbids the high priest to take a widow or divorcee as a wife, whereas Ezekiel 44:22 extends this prohibition to all priests. As a result of problems such as these, the Talmud records an attempt to remove the Book of Ezekiel from the Tanakh, and conceal it. Rabbi Hananiah ben Hezekiah is credited with reconciling all of the discrepancies and apparent contradictions, ensuring that the book would remain in the canon.

History just doesn’t support Turkel’s claim that inconsistencies in the biblical text didn’t matter to the people who lived in biblical times.  The controversy over accepting Ezekiel into the Jewish canon clearly shows that the leaders responsible for those choices were very concerned about textual inconsistencies.  Hananiah ben Hezekiah, who seemed to be the Gleason Archer of his day, did his reconciliation work before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, so he too would have been a person familiar with the customs and languages of that time.  If he thought that inconsistencies in biblical texts just didn’t matter, why did he spend so much time stewing over the book of Ezekiel?

Of Late, Turkel, citing his friend Glenn Miller, has tried to explain away biblical discrepancies by arguing that “Jewish exegetical methods” remove the discrepancy, but Jewish “exegetical methods” were nothing more than attempts to explain obvious problem texts that were embarrassing to the claim that the Jewish scriptures were divine in their origin.  In that sense, they were doing the same thing that the likes of Gleason Archer, William Arndt, and John Haley did and that Norman Geisler, Robert “No Links” Turkel, Glenn Miller, etc. are trying to do now, which is to distort the biblical text in attempts to show that the Bible does not mean what it plainly shows.  The Cambridge History of the Bible in chapters iv:12 and v:13 [volume I] has an excellent discussion of tactics that were used by Jewish rabbis and early church writers to make the Bible not mean what it clearly said, but the following section is particularly relevant to more recent attempts to remove biblical discrepancies by pleading that “Jewish exegetical methods” were being used by New Testament writers.

The exegesis of the primitive Christian Church was a direct and unself-conscious continuation of the type of exegesis practised by ancient Judaism in its later period.  This Jewish exegesis had a number of traditional methods and characteristics which can all be recognised without difficulty when they are reproduced in early Christian exegesis, and some of them can be identified in the New Testament itself. The most important function performed by exegesis in ancient Judaism was the interpretation of the Law (Torah).  The rabbinic schools set themselves the task of making the large collection of legal enactments, sagas, myths, stories, histories and cult material, which we call the Pentateuch, into a code of law capable of covering the whole life, inner as well as outer, cult  as well as conduct, of communities of Jews living under quite different circumstances and in a much later age.  In order to achieve this formidable task, they found it necessary to produce a complex and flexible technique of exegesis. Inconsistencies in the biblical text had to be explained away; errors, redundancies, absurdities, or anything shocking, indecent or unworthy of divine inspiration had to be removed. Every verse was regarded as potentially independent of others and capable of interpretation without any reference to its context. It was necessary largely to ignore the historical  background. Rules were made whereby the natural, historical sense of any  text could be evaded, and sometimes a quite unnatural, symbolic sense cold be read in. A cautious, Torah-directed form of allegory was born. Several examples of it can be found in the New Testament (R. P. C. Hanson, “Biblical Exegesis in the Early Church,” The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol. 1, p. 412, emphasis added).

Turkel talks a great deal about “scholarship” when scholarship is on his side, but I doubt that he will think much of the scholarship I have just quoted, even though the author of the chapter from which this quotation was taken was a professor of historical and contemporary theology at the University of Manchester.  He, like the Jewish sources that I quoted above, recognized that Jewish leaders were well aware of “errors, redundancies, and absurdities” in their sacred literature, and so they developed an elaborate system of “exegesis” to explain them away.  In reality,  this “exegetical” system would have been more appropriately named if it had been called the Jewish “eisegetical” system, because it was not a system that tried to determine the meanings of disputed texts; it was a system that read into disputed texts meanings that would conveniently remove discrepancies.  The existence of this “exegetical” system, however,  does not remove biblical discrepancies unless it can be shown that those methods were literarily sound.  As I have said many times, the meaning of a text must be determined by the words used within that text, and if the words of a text clearly indicate that the writer meant X, no amount of “Jewish exegesis” can make it mean Y unless it can be demonstrated that Y was what the writer intended his words to convey.  Needless to say, most proponents of the “Jewish exegetical” theory make no attempt to prove the legitimacy of this “exegetical” method.  They simply say that the method was used, and so the discrepancy is then supposed to disappear on their mere say so.

Abraham Rihbany’s claim that inconsistencies in the Bible did not matter to those who spoke biblical languages and knew the customs of the time is itself inconsistent with the history of that era, because the mere development of a “Jewish exegetical method” is proof within itself that biblical inconsistencies did matter to those people.  If inconsistencies hadn’t mattered, no such system would have been developed. Furthermore, Robert “No Links” Turkel’s website is testimony to the fact that biblical inconsistencies matter a great deal to him.  If they don’t matter to him, why does he spend so much time trying to show that the inconsistencies don’t exist?

3 Replies to “It Doesn’t Matter?”

  1. Turkel is now legally, J. P. Holding. And he’s citing scholars from the Context Group, who are not inerrantists, and who disagree with JP that the use of riposte in today’s society is the way to go. It’s even questionable whether JP’s grade school insults are anything more than simply grade school insults. Calling them “riposte” seems a bit grandiose for his nana booboo face remarks, and yelling screwball and having sexy buxom bunnies do his Christ talking for him. I’m sure Jesus is pleased that all that JP got out of Jesus’ teaching to be as wise as serpents and pure as doves, is that “doves can be vicious.” Of course JP’s own riposte amounts to attempting to strike like a serpent at people, so vicious dove or striking serpent, JP follows his master. The one in hell by the way. *smile*

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