Jon Meacham, the Bible, and His “Problematic Source”

Introduction

It has been a few years since Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” was all that the world could talk about. It was a situation bound to receive controversial media coverage – it just comes with the territory of religion in the media. A case in point was the February 16 issue of Newsweek published in anticipation of Gibson’s film. About a week before this publication hit the stands, Jon Meacham’s cover story entitled, “Who Killed Jesus?,” was published online on MSNBC.com in four internet pages – then later archived on Newsweek.com.

Meacham’s article feigned an attempt to evaluate Gibson’s new movie, and instead, assaulted the biblical text. He openly affirms, “the Bible is the product of human authors.” He further argues that these authors were producing religious propaganda for Christianity, and like any other literary work the Bible is plagued with historical inaccuracies. Concerning the Bible Meacham writes:

The Bible can be a problematic source. Though countless believers take it as the immutable word of God, Scripture is not always a faithful record of historical events; the Bible is the product of human authors who were writing in particular times and places with particular points to make and visions to advance.[1]

This is just one quote from a number of similar statements found throughout the article. The editor of Newsweek couches his statement with liberal theological overtones. In other words, Scripture is regarded as human produced literature designed only to give morals, void of any direct involvement of God. We shall see that the problematic source is not the Bible, it is Meacham’s theological presumptions.

The Media’s Treatment of the Bible

Meacham’s view of the Bible articulates three ways the Bible is often misrepresented in mainstream American media: (1) the Bible is of sole human origin, (2) the Scriptures are unreliable historical records, and (3) the biblical sources are legendary that need specious sources to embellish the narrative to provide the “true story.” With a national circulation over 3 million plus, there is no doubt that the church, our neighbors (religious or otherwise) and our youth are influenced by this.

How shall we respond? Bible believers need to be able to affirm the following response. Although these erroneous views of the Bible are widespread, the Bible (i.e. Scripture) is beyond that of human production and consequently trustworthy, because the internal evidence of predictive prophecy, the uncanny historical accuracy, and the marvelous unity of the 66 books is of supernatural origin and guidance.

Predictive Prophecy

Predictive prophecy is one of the most powerful lines of evidence that the Bible is beyond that of human production. The specific foretelling of future events serves as an accurate brief definition. Moreover, there are at least three criteria: (1) it must be given separated by a significant amount of time, (2) there are specific details (not generalities) and, (3) 100% fulfillment must follow (not 95% etc.). As an example, observe the prophecy of the rise and fall of four world powers of antiquity given in Daniel 2 and its relationship to the establishment of the church in the first century.

The image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:1-24) was a picture of 4 sequential kingdoms: Babylonia (605-539 B.C), Persia (539-331 B.C.), Hellenistic (331-63 B.C.), and Roman (63 B.C-A.D. 476).[2] Daniel living in the 6th century B.C. predicted the fall of Babylon and the rise of these world empires. Furthermore, in Daniel 2:44-45 the prophecy was declared that during the reign of Imperial Rome, the God of heaven would establish His kingdom for all time.

While Rome was in power Jesus was born, lived, ministered, died, and resurrected (Gal 4:4). He declared that he was going to establish His church (Matt 16:18), which in this context means His kingdom (Matt. 16:19-20; Mark 9:1). This kingdom-church would come after the Holy Spirit had come upon the 12 Apostles (Acts 1:4-8), which arrived on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The prophecy was fulfilled as precisely as it was given centuries in advance.[3]

Precise Historical Accuracy

Historical accuracy is another line of reasoning which demonstrates that the Bible is beyond that of human production. The book of Acts is a powerful example. Luke wrote the book of Acts, which is a chronicle of the labors of Peter and Paul as the gospel goes from Jerusalem to the entire world.

The accuracy of Acts is such that no human could have been so accurate, except for the guidance of the Holy Spirit; observe:

This companion of Paul was a careful and meticulous historian. For instance, in Acts he mentions thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine Mediterranean islands. He also mentions ninety-five persons in Acts, sixty-two of which are not named elsewhere in the New Testament. He is thoroughly familiar with the geographical and political conditions of his day. And this is really amazing since the political/territorial situation was in a constant state of flux and flow in Luke’s time.[4]

Accessibility to libraries was minimal due to how few or exclusive they were, and even if they had reference works, “the events Luke was trying to chronicle had taken place – at least at the beginning – in what the people of that day would have said were remote areas of the world.”[5]

There has yet to be the historical accuracy of the magnitude of Acts and the Bible recovered from antiquity to the present.

Unity of the Scriptures

A third line of argumentation is the unparalleled unity of the Scriptures. For instance, Jeremiah 25:1 and Daniel 1:1 are among a variety of passage appealed to substantiate the claim that the Bible is not a harmonious work. Here is the argument. Jeremiah 25:1 and Daniel 1:1 refers to the same event in antiquity, the invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the date of the event mentioned appears upon face value discrepant for Jeremiah says the event happened in the 4th year of Jehoiakim’s reign while Daniel says the timeframe was during the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s rule (see “System” chart[6]).

System 1st Sovereign 2nd Sovereign 3rd Sovereign 4th Sovereign
Babylonian Year of Ascension 1st Year of Reign 2nd Year of Reign 3rd Year of Reign
Palestinian 1st Year of Reign 2nd Year of Reign 3rd Year of Reign 4th Year of Reign

If the two accounts cannot be harmonized then this is a historical mistake, underscoring a purely human enterprise. The answer to this riddle, however, lies in the distinct systems of dating regnal years used by Daniel and Jeremiah. Bruce K. Waltke writes:

In Babylonia the year in which the king ascended the throne was designated specifically as “the year of accession to the kingdom,” and this was followed by the first, second, and subsequent years of rule. In Palestine, on the other hand, there was no accession year as such, so that the length of rule was computed differently, with the year of accession being regarded as the first year of the king’s reign.[7]

Therefore, Daniel living in Babylonia used that system, while Jeremiah employed the Palestinian method. The unity spans cross-cultural methods of communication, how wonderful! The remarkable unity is so strong that even difficult passages backfire on the critic.

As so often happens, the supposed discrepancies become evidence against the critics of the Bible.

Conclusion

The Bible is not a problematic source; however, that does not mean that it has no range of complexity. The Bible is “a faithful record of historical events,” and its principles are grounded upon historical reality (e.g. creation, the Exodus, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.). The Bible comes together like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. It is due to overwhelming evidence like this that we affirm that the Bible is beyond human production. The “problematic source” is Meacham’s liberal perspective – it is not the Bible!

Sources

  1. Jon Meacham, “Who Killed Jesus?,” Newsweek.com (Accessed: 16 Feb. 2004), par. 6.
  2. Robert T. Boyd, World’s Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1996), 309.
  3. Jason Jackson, “How Can the Church be the Fulfillment of Daniel 2:44?,” ChristianCourier.com (Accessed: 28 Sept. 2005).
  4. Wayne Jackson, Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 1982), 46.
  5. James M. Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997), 14.
  6. Jovan Payes, “Ascertaining the Date of Daniel: A First Look,” BiblicalFaith.wordpress.com. This particular line of reasoning is important evidence supporting the unity of Scriptures against baseless accusations of intertextual (book to book) problems. We are not suggesting there are not difficult passages that take more depth to study, but we are asserting that this “problem” passage is an eloquent statement of intertextual unity.
  7. Bruce K. Waltke, “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” BSac 133 (1976): 326.
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