FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I am not “the Bible Answer Man.” My responses to these frequently asked questions are not “be-all, end-all” answers. Rather, my responses indicate what has helped me on my spiritual journey. My responses express what I have come to understand or have chosen to believe. As I continue to explore “all things biblical” my responses may change. That is why I include the date that I wrote each response, in parentheses (month/year). In some cases, I may recommend resources that are helping me, rather than telling you what I think. I hope you find at least some of my perspectives and recommendations helpful on your journey to, or through, faith.
You, a visitor to my website, are free—and indeed strongly encouraged—to think for yourself. You may totally disagree with one or more of my responses and that’s OK. If you choose to send me your thoughts and/or further questions, all I ask is that (1) you do not judge my motives, and (2) your comments and questions are respectful of me (and others). We may disagree, but that’s no excuse for being disagreeable, disrespectful and judgemental. I am convinced that we can learn so much when we engage in mutually respectful dialogue. I may disagree with what you think, but I agree with your right to choose what you believe to be truth.
What is the bible?
The Bible is an anthology of texts that were authored, copied, and edited over a period of hundreds of years. Much later these texts were brought together as an authoritative collection—a process called ‘canonization.’ In fact, there is no “the Bible.” The Jewish Bible, which is known by most as the Tanakh, is a collection of 24 texts in three sections: Torah (Instruction or Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). In content it is basically equivalent to the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament. However, the order of the books and naming of some books are different.
The Protestant Bible is comprised of 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Books. Both the Catholic Bible and the various Orthodox Bibles have the same 27 New Testament books, and the same 39 Old Testament books, plus the addition of various texts known either as the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books.
Many Jews and Christians consider the books of their Bible to be the word of God and hold to some view of inspiration. However, there are also many who do not believe that the texts are inerrant (that is, without error). So, the answer to “What is the Bible?” depends entirely upon whom you ask. For a chart that clearly shows the variety of Bibles that exist, see: https://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Heb-Xn-Bibles.htm
Do you believe that the bible is the Word of God?
My honest and, hopefully, clear (though not complete) response is this: I have chosen to believe that there are writings that are, in some sense, “God-breathed.” I prefer to use that phrase rather than the word “inspired.” I choose to believe that God breathed life into numerous human-authored texts that include most, and possibly all, of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible but could also include some other Second Temple Jewish and early Christian writings (that is, books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigraha). While I’m not entirely clear what “God-breathed” means or involves, I am convinced that it doesn’t mean inerrancy, internal consistency or scientific and/or historical accuracy. That’s not to say that I see the biblical texts as filled to overflowing with errors, inconsistencies and/or contradictions. I believe there is much historical reality and, especially, spiritual wisdom (i.e., truth) from God to be found in these texts.
Do you believe that the biblical texts are without error in their autographs as claimed by the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy?
Internally and externally, for me, there is enough clear evidence that the biblical texts are not inerrant, as we have them now. To say, as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states, that the biblical texts are inerrant in their autographs is a statement of “blind” faith, since we do not possess any biblical text in its entirety that dates even close to when most autographs were supposedly written. The texts that we do have do show clear signs of being edited in various ways at various stages.
Why are there bibles which include different “books” in their Old Testament?
During the Second Temple period (ca. 515 BCE – 70 CE), many texts were authored, copied, distributed and considered by some sects of Judaism as authoritative. A number of these were translated from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek in 3rd century BCE through the 1st century CE. A few were probably originally penned in Greek. Once the books of the Bible were collected and circulated, not as individual scrolls, but in the form of a codex, many of these Second Temple Jewish writings were included. Catholic and Orthodox Christians retained some of these writings in their Old Testament collections. Later, but only gradually, Protestants leaders decided to return to only the books that were equivalent to those in the Hebrew Bible. The story of how we got the Bible, as we have it today, is a complicated story, parts of which are seldom told. That’s sad, because it is also an exciting story.
What do you understand the author of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 meant by “all the scripture is God-breathed”?
The word translated as “inspired by God” by numerous reputable English versions is, in my opinion, not a translation but an interpretation. In actuality, “inspired by God” is one word in all Greek manuscripts: θεόπνευστος (theopneustos). When a word appears only once in the Bible is it called a hapax legomena. θεόπνευστος is a hapax legomena and it literally translates best as “God-breathed.” Taking that into account, plus the immediate context of 2 Timothy 3:16–17, I do not read v. 16 as “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” but rather, “Every God-breathed scripture is useful…”. For a detailed explanation of the significance of what appears at first to be only a slightly different translation, see: http://brianfelushko.blogspot.com/2020/05/every-god-breathed-scripture-is-useful.html.
When, how and by whom were the books we have in our Bibles canonized?
Why are there so many versions of the Bible today and which ones are more accurate?
What is plenary, verbal inspiration and does it explain how the biblical texts came to be?
JESUS & THE GOSPELS
What do we know about Jesus outside of the New Testament accounts?
Without the New Testament writings, and especially the four books we call the Gospels, we would know almost nothing about Jesus, other than: (1) he lived, (2) he had a public ministry for a short period of time, (3) he was crucified, and (4) his followers claimed that he rose from the dead. There are only a few brief references to Jesus, or someone we think might be Jesus, from non-Christian authors, both Roman and Jewish. Probably the most famous, at least among Christians, is found in a work by the Jewish “historian” Josephus. In the latter third of the 1st century CE, in Antiquities, he wrote:
“About this time comes Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is proper to call him a man. For he was a worker of incredible deeds, a teacher of those who accept the truth with pleasure, and he attracted many Jews as well as many of the Greek [way]. This man was the Christ. And when, in view of [his] denunciation by the leading men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to a cross, those who had loved him at the beginning did not cease [to do so]. He appeared to them on the third day alive again, for the divine prophets had announced these and countless other marvels concerning him. And even now the tribe of the “Christians” – named after him – has not yet disappeared.” (18.63–64)
Only a small minority of scholars think that this is an untampered account by Josephus himself. The vast majority understand it to be either a totally Christian interpolation or, at best, a highly edited text. The italicized portions above were added later by Christian scribes—in my opinion and in agreement with many scholars.
Is it important that we understand the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the earliest disciples?
Jesus was not a Christian. No, for real! Jesus was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, understood and used the Scriptures as a Jew and died a Jew. To understand his life and teachings of Jesus as set forth in the four canonical Gospels, as well as the other writings of the New Testament, it is vital that we understand the majority context of Jewish life in the 1st century CE.
Are the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, deeds and teachings reliable?
Is Jesus as portrayed in the four canonical Gospels, the historical Jesus or a creation of the authors of the Gospel accounts?
Why are there differences––and some would say even discrepancies, errors and contradictions––when one compares the four Gospel accounts with each other?
THE TANAKH AND THE CHRISTAN OLD TESTAMENT (OT)
Is the Christian OT equivalent to the Jewish Tanakh (i.e. the Hebrew or Jewish scriptures?
The Protestant Old Testament is essentially equivalent in content to the Jewish Tanakh. The books are named and ordered differently. The first seven books of each are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges. After that, the difference in order are significant. The Tanakh ends with the books of of Ezra-Nehemiah and then Chronicles, whereas the Protestant OT ends with the 12 books of the Minor Prophets.
Are the narrative accounts in the OT historically accurate and reliable?
Can we date the original texts that make up the OT?
When did the texts that comprise the OT become “the Bible”?
What is the Septuagint and why is it important?
What are the oldest manuscripts of any/all of the texts that comprise the OT?
In the Beginning: Genesis 1-11
How should one read and interpret the creation account(s) of Genesis 1-3?
Is scientific evolution compatible with the Genesis creation account(s)?
Can one accept the theory of evolution and be a faithful Christian?
What do we do with creation and flood stories that are older than the Genesis accounts, yet are similar in many detailed respects?
GOD AS PORTRAYED IN THE BIBLE
Why is the God of OT/Tanakh often portrayed as condoning or even commanding violence?
It seems that the ancient Israelites and Jews who authored the texts of the OT/Tanakh conceive of their God quite differently than the Christians who authored the NT texts. Is that an accurate observation?
Were the ancient Israelites always monotheists?
Does the Israelite conception of God evolve throughout the OT/Tanakh chronologically? If so, how and why?
Is God in control?
THE APOSTLE PAUL
Did Paul author all the letters attributed to him in the NT?
Paul seems to focus almost exclusively on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and its implications, but has little to say about Jesus’ life and teachings. Is that an accurate observation and, if so, is that because he didn’t know much about Jesus’ life and teachings?
What did Paul teach about the role of women in the church and are his teachings authoritative for all generations of the church until Jesus returns?
THE APOCRYPHA AND PSEUDEPIGRAPHA
What is the Apocrypha? What is the Pseudepigrapha?
Which books of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are included in the Catholic and Orthodox canons of scripture and why?
Why is it important for all Christians to have at least some familiarity with the main Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical texts?
THE EXILE AND THE SECOND TEMPLE PERIOD
What’s so special about the Second Temple period when it comes to understanding Judaism and Christianity?
What are the most significant writings of this period? Why? Where can I read them for myself?
Why do Jewish beliefs and practices as portrayed in the Gospels, in many ways, seem so different than those we read about in the Tanakh (Protestant OT)?
Why do you say that “the exile” was the single most significant event in the history of the ancient Jewish people?
What are the Dead Sea Scrolls and why is their discovery often referred to by scholars as the single most important discovery of the 20th century?
MORE ABOUT ME
Why are you such a fan of Peter Enns, the Bible for Normal People podcast, and other scholars and podcasts that are often labelled as “progressive”?
How would you explain your evolving faith journey from atheist to conservative to Christian to where you are now?
Would you refer to yourself as a Progressive Christian?
What is your take on “Open and Relational Theology” (ORT) and what aspects of it appeal to you?
How can you disavow the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and yet say you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?
Why are you such a Bible nerd?