The Historicity of Esther

The Historicity of Esther

Many liberal scholars argue that the Book of Esther is a work of fiction like the apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit. Their main argument against the historicity of Esther is that the events recorded in it are not explicitly recorded in any other ancient source. If it is historical, then why don’t ancient historians like Herodotus or Plutarch ever describe them? As a Protestant, I am in agreement that the apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit are fictional and non-canonical, but there is good evidence to believe that the events described in Esther are historical.

1. The deliverance of the Jews as described in Esther is celebrated by the Jewish people every year in the festival of Purim. If Esther is a work of fiction, then where did the celebration of Purim come from? This festival is a historical relic pointing back to a real event that the Jewish people have always believed really happened. Just as the Jews celebrate Hanukah because it is the celebration of their deliverance from the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC, they celebrate their deliverance from those who wanted to destroy them when they lived among the Persians. In contrast, the Jews have never celebrated the fictional events described in the apocryphal books of Judith or Tobit.

2. The events of the Book of Esther fit in well with the life of King Ahasuerus or Xerxes as described by Herodotus. After Ahasuerus was defeated by the Greeks, Herodotus writes that he “sought consolation in his harem.” This piece of corroborating evidence gives us another reason why he took Esther into his palace. In addition, the book’s description of the government and customs of Persia fit in with what we know from other sources.

3. The argument that the events described in Esther cannot be historical because they are never explicitly repeated in any other ancient writing is an example of the multiple attestation fallacy. This historical fallacy commits the error of thinking that historical events cannot be proven to be true unless they are recorded by multiple ancient sources. But if this method of doing history were to be consistently applied, then a large portion of ancient history would be unknown to us because there are many historical events which are only recorded once. Our knowledge of the ancient world is fragmentary and we are fortunate to have as much information as we do. This argument also reflects an anti-supernatural bias against the Bible since these critics do not want to believe in the God who rescued the Jewish people through Esther. This is ironic given that Esther is the only book in the Bible which does not use God’s name.

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How Do You Know Hebrews Is Canonical?

How Do You Know Hebrews Is Canonical?

When Catholic apologists are up against the wall and don’t know how to respond to objections against their beliefs raised by Protestants, their favorite question to ask is, “How do you know the Book of Hebrews belongs in the canon of Scripture?” Catholics believe this is an unanswerable question for Protestants because they don’t believe in an infallible papacy which defines what books Catholics consider to be God-breathed Scripture. Catholics argue that only an infallible church can produce an infallible list of inspired books. But since Protestants don’t believe in the infallibility of the church, they can’t know for certain what books of the Bible belong in the canon. But not only is this argument impossible to defend historically based on church history and the many errors in the Apocrypha, but there are good reasons to believe Hebrews is canonical without appealing to the opinion of a man who doesn’t even believe people need to believe in Jesus to be saved:

1. Hebrews was written before the close of the canon of Scripture during the first century when Timothy was still alive and before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. The author refers to “our brother Timothy” being recently released from prison confirming the first century date of his letter (Heb 13:23). Hebrews was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD because the author is completely silent about the destruction of the temple. If Hebrews was written after the temple was destroyed, the author surely would have used its destruction as a reason not to return to Judaism since there is no longer any animal sacrificial system to go back to. He refers to the Old Covenant as “becoming obsolete” in Hebrews 8:13 because there were still animal sacrifices going on which had not yet vanished away but would soon with the destruction of the temple. The author speaks as if the animal sacrificial system and priesthood in Jerusalem was still going on (Heb 10:11). He describes himself as a second-generation Christian who heard from those who heard from the Lord (Heb 2:3). The date of Hebrews is in contrast to the writings of the apostolic church fathers which were written after the Book of Revelation was completed. 1 Clement, regarded as the earliest writing of the apostolic church fathers written around 95 AD, quotes from Hebrews 1:3-5 in 1 Clement 36:2-5 proving the early date of Hebrews.

2. Hebrews was regarded by Christians living at the end of the first century to be canonical. They received Hebrews as canonical Scripture and the Holy Spirit testified to the genuineness of the letter as coming from himself. 1 Clement quotes from Hebrews 1:3-5 in 1 Clement 36:2-5 as Scripture. If the elders of the church in Rome at the end of the first century who wrote 1 Clement quoted from Hebrews as Scripture, that is strong evidence that the rest of the church did as well. In addition, every major canon list of the early church fathers includes Hebrews as Scripture.

3. The earliest manuscript tradition of the New Testament includes Hebrews in it. P46, also known as the Chester Beatty papyrus written around 200 AD, includes the letter with other New Testament letters. Hebrews is included in every complete copy of the Greek New Testament that we have prior to the invention of the printing press.

4. The letter is self-attesting to its own inspiration. No Christian can read the letter without being amazed at the glory of Christ in it. It is in a different category than the writings of the apostolic church fathers. The Holy Spirit testifies to the inspiration of the letter in the hearts of those who believe in Christ as they read it. The entire church testifies together to its inspiration because they all share the same Holy Spirit who authored the letter.

Based on the early date of the letter before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the closing of the canon, the testimony of 1 Clement at the end of the first century to its canonicity, God’s providence in preserving the letter for us today, its inclusion in the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament, and the universal testimony of the church to the canonicity of the letter based on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to the church, there is every reason to accept Hebrews as canonical and no good reason to reject it.

How Do You Know Matthew Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?

How Do You Know Matthew Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?

There was once a debate between two Catholic apologists and two Protestant pastors over the topic of sola Scriptura. During the cross-examination, one of the Catholic apologists asked, “How do you know Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew?” The pastor opened his Bible and pointed to the title “Matthew” in it and claimed that was the reason why he knew Matthew wrote Matthew. But how do we know that the English titles in our modern Bibles are accurate? While that might be an acceptable answer for the average Christian, it doesn’t go over very well in a debate. But there is a reason why our English Bibles have Matthew as the title:

1. There are no Greek manuscripts of Matthew which assign authorship to anyone else besides Matthew. This is strong evidence that Matthew’s Gospel originally had Matthew’s name in its title. If the Gospel had been anonymous, then it is likely that we would see at least some manuscripts with different titles or no title at all. Based on the textual evidence, there are no other candidates for its authorship.

2. The testimony of the church fathers is unanimous that Matthew was the original author of the Gospel. Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Origen, and Eusebius of Caesarea all claim that Matthew was the original author of the Gospel which bears his name. I am not aware of any ancient writer who argues otherwise. Based on the testimony of the church fathers, there are no other candidates for its authorship.

3. An internal study of the Gospel itself is consistent with Matthean authorship. Matthew alone uses the more precise term nomisma (state coin) in Matthew 22:19 whereas Mark and Luke use the more common term dēnarion. This could show that the author of Matthew had a financial background since Matthew was a tax collector (Matt 9:9).

In light of the unanimity of the title of Matthew in the Greek manuscript tradition and the universal testimony of the church fathers, there is no reason to think that anyone else wrote Matthew besides Matthew.

Does Numbers 5 Sanction Abortion?

Does Numbers 5 Sanction Abortion?

A newer argument by atheists against the Christian pro-life position is that Numbers 5 gives approval to the practice of abortion since the passage describes the death of an unborn child after his mother is intentionally given a mixture of bitter water that causes her to miscarry. This is known as the “water ordeal” where a woman accused of adultery would drink a special mixture of water, ink, and dust and she would miscarry her child if she was guilty of adultery.

While there is some debate as to whether the passage is even describing a miscarriage, I believe the Hebrew terminology the passage uses is a euphemism to describe a miscarriage. This is also the interpretation of the majority of biblical commentators. The answer to the atheist’s argument is not to deny that the passage is describing a miscarriage, but, just as with God commanding the killing of women and children, we have to remember that what is allowable for God is often not allowable for us. The shedding of innocent blood is an abomination in God’s sight and therefore the intentional killing of an unborn child is forbidden to us (Prov 6:16-17). But God, who is the creator of all life, has the authority to give and take life as he sees fit (1 Sam 2:6). God’s causing of adulterous women to miscarry their unborn children is a punishment for their sins, not the willful choice of the woman to have an abortion. It is God who causes the miscarriage, not the bitter water since nothing happened in the case of women who were innocent.

If Numbers 5 gives approval to the practice of abortion, then 2 Samuel 12 gives approval to the practice of infanticide because God struck dead David’s child for his adultery. It would have been murder if David had killed his own child. But it is not murder when God takes the life of David’s child. God’s killing of people does not sanction our killing of people because we are not God. These passages teach us that our sins have consequences for our entire family, including our children. God ordained these events to teach his people the great evil of sin because it cost them the life of their innocent children. Other people had to die for their sins foreshadowing the death of Jesus for our sins.

Why Did God Command the Killing of Women and Children?

Why Did God Command the Killing of Women and Children?

One of the most common objections to the Bible is God’s command to Israel to kill all of the men, women, and children of the nations who lived in the land of Canaan. How could a God of love and justice command the killing of innocent children? How can the picture of God in the Old Testament who commanded such things be reconciled with the picture of Jesus we see in the New Testament?

The answer to this question is twofold: the pagans who lived in Canaan were guilty of crimes worthy of death and because God has the freedom to do with his creation as he sees fit. This is not a popular answer, but it is the reason Scripture gives for why these pagan nations had to be entirely wiped out by Israel. As a God of justice, he cannot allow sin to go unpunished.

God was patient with these nations and gave them hundreds of years to repent. God said to Abraham more than 400 years before the exodus from Egypt: “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16:). The Bible teaches that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). But the opportunity for salvation is limited. We only have so long to repent and each day that we live is a gift from him and another opportunity to get right with God.

The Canaanites and other people groups who lived in the promised land practiced child sacrifice where they would burn their children to false gods like Molech. Deuteronomy 18:9-12 tells us this is the reason why they must be annihilated:

“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”

Their entire civilization had to be destroyed (including the women and children) because it had become so corrupted and polluted by sin that the only solution was to destroy it. To use an analogy, if part of your body becomes badly infected, then the doctors may have no other option but to amputate it to save your life. If you have cancer, the only solution may be to cut it out of your body entirely. The pagan nations in Canaan had become a cancer and the only solution was to kill all of them so that they would not infect Israel with their idolatry. And it is exactly because Israel disobeyed God and did not wipe all of them out that their descendants turned to idols and were brought under judgment for their sin (Josh 23:13). Therefore, we believe by faith that God had a good reason for ordering the killing of women and children to prevent the spread of idolatry and sin.

God can justly order the killing of women and children because he is the sovereign Lord of the universe who can do whatever he pleases (Job 23:13; Ps 115:3; Dan 4:35). God is the giver and taker of life (1 Sam 2:6). Every death is ordained by God since our days are determined by him (Job 14:5). Because God is the creator of all life, he has the authority to take any living creature out of this world anytime he pleases. There is no injustice on God’s part when he takes life because he is the creator of life and therefore has the right to end it for whatever reason he chooses.

Many things which are not allowable for us are allowable for God. It is wrong for us to commit the sin of murder because we are not the creators of life and therefore have no right to take it except in special circumstances. But God cannot commit the sin of murder because he is the creator of all things and by definition has the right to do with his creation as he sees fit. The objection to the Bible based on God’s ordering women and children to be killed is really just an objection to the concept of the sovereignty of God as if God doesn’t have the right to do with his creation as he sees fit. Hence, the objection is nothing more than the angry ravings of sinful man against God’s sovereign power over all things. Because they do not want such a God to exist, they deny his existence because God’s sovereignty is offensive to their concept of human autonomy.

Why Did God Command Rapists to Marry their Victims in Deuteronomy 22:28-29?

Why Did God Command Rapists to Marry their Victims in Deuteronomy 22:28-29?

A text that is often used against Christianity is Deuteronomy 22:28-29 where a rapist who rapes a woman who is not engaged to be married is forced to marry her. Since we would never approve of such a thing today, it is argued that the Bible is immoral and cannot reflect the teachings of God. The text reads:

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

To properly understand this text, we need to understand ancient Hebrew society and marriage laws. The reason why the man must marry her is because his rape of her has deprived her of the ability to ever be married to anyone else in Hebrew culture. Hebrew brides were expected to be virgins on their wedding night and she can never become a virgin again (Deut 22:20-21).

By marrying her, he is legally giving her what she would have gotten through an arraigned marriage. That he can never divorce her ensures that her property rights and those of her children are safe because she cannot be disenfranchised. The heavy fine, division of property rights, and inability to ever divorce her are designed to disincentivize men from rape and protect the woman’s ability to be provided for instead of becoming an outcast with no one to care for her. Women were dependent on men to provide for them and marriage ensures that his property would be shared by her as well. Rape often results in children who need to be provided for as well.

Rather than being a cruel law designed to punish women for being raped, this law was designed to force the rapist to provide for the needs of the victim as long as she lived without the possibility of being abandoned. In a society where women depend on men for everything, this law ensured that she will have the financial stability that she would have gotten had she been married as an engaged woman. Hence, this law gives her what she never would have been able to get as one who is no longer a virgin. But today, we no longer live in a society where property rights are everything and women are completely dependent on men to provide for them.

The World in John’s Writings

The World in John’s Writings

One of the most common words in the writings of the Apostle John is “world.” In fact, the New Testament uses the term at least 150 times. Understanding the different ways the term can be used is essential for understanding his writings. Often, it describes the world in which we live: the planet earth to which Christ came. A second way it is used is to refer to the Satanic world system ruled by demons that is opposed to Christ. It is the present evil age that is hostile to God. A third way John uses the term is to describe the world as the present time we live in now in contrast to the world to come and can overlap with the second meaning. A final way John uses the term is to describe all people groups in the world: every tribe, language, people, and nation.

A verse which illustrates this last usage is John 4:42 which says, “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” Here, Jesus is called the savior of the world. Christ is the savior of the Samaritan people, but not every single Samaritan. He is the savior of the world, but not every single individual in the world. He is the savior of all without distinction (all people groups regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, or economic status) but not the savior of all without exception (universalism). Salvation is not just for Jewish people, but for Gentiles as well. John 12:32 teaches the same truth: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” No people group is excluded from God’s saving work.

This usage of world is not a quantitative term meaning every single person who has ever lived, lives, or will live, but a qualitative one meaning every people group in the world. The emphasis is ethnological. Christ takes away the sins of every people group because representatives from every nation will be among the redeemed (Rev 5:9). This is in contrast to the particularism of the Old Testament when God was primarily focused on the people of Israel. Now, the scope of salvation is for all people groups, both Jews and Gentiles.