According to a recent New York Times article, Abraham and Moses probably never existed, the exodus from Egypt never took place and King David was just a two-bit provincial leader whose reputation was later amplified to rally the nation of Israel. Maybe that is what you would expect from the New York Times. But the article describes the content of a new Bible commentary—produced by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Such views have long been held within Judaism’s more liberal Reform movement, but the largely American Conservative movement (true to its name) has had a more respectful stance regarding biblical authority. It seems that has changed if Rabbi David Wolpe, contributor to the commentary, is to be believed. He said, The notion that the Bible is not literally true is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis.”
My Jewish people have been the people of the Book, have upheld and preserved the sacred Scriptures for all the world. But without a relationship with the living God, my Jewish people are a reflection of the larger society in which we live. This turning from the authority of the Bible among the leaders of American Judaism’s largest branch signals a wider trend throughout society. Recent articles in Biblical Archaeology and Harper’s magazine indicate a rekindled attack on the authority of the Scriptures, this time from archaeologists. For example, the fact that no Egyptian records mention the Exodus remains the greatest argument against the biblical account. Yet, that is an argument from silence.
Can you think of any reasons the Egyptians may not have wanted the Exodus on record? It doesn’t take an expert to come with an answer to that question. However, experts have come up with examples of historical revisionism that show how an embarrassing military defeat for a major ancient power could well have been purposely excised from the historical record. The Bible, on the other hand, makes no attempt to cover the more embarrassing aspects of my people’s history. It gives painfully detailed accounts of our failures and foibles as well as our victories. Yet, the silence of Egyptian records is thought by many “experts” to speak more loudly and authoritatively than the Bible.
Rabbi Harold Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People and co-editor of the new commentary mentioned above) asserts that most people are “locked into a childish version of the Bible.”
Most people are locked into a childish version of the Bible—but not because they have read and believed it. Most people either have not read the Bible at all, or are only vaguely aware of some Bible stories they learned in their childhood. Their recollections are often sketchy and blended with fables. Their trust in the experts and the so-called evidence that the Bible is not true exhibits a more childish approach than if they would actually read the Word with an open mind and heart.
According to a recent poll conducted by Gallup, nine in ten Americans have at least one Bible in their homes, but nearly half of these Bible-owners rarely or never read the Bible. Forty-one percent of all Americans polled indicate they have never read the Bible. That’s about 116 million people! And outside of the U.S. the figures are even more dismal.
Kushner and his colleagues no doubt feel they are providing a service by trying to liberate people from “childish” views of the Bible. They feel that society has evolved past the need to take the Scriptures literally. They believe that “picking and choosing” and viewing the Bible as largely metaphorical will enable us to receive from it what is relevant. However, they overlook the tremendous power of the Bible to speak for itself.
I cherish the story of one of our former staff members, an educated and intelligent young man from an Orthodox Jewish background. Lev was riding a bus one day when another Jewish man seated next to him asked if he had ever read the New Testament. “Of course not,” Lev replied. “I’m Jewish.” “You may be Jewish,” the man on the bus said, “but you are illiterate.” That man went on to say that the New Testament is a book that has so shaped our society, any well-educated person must read it. Lev got off that bus, bought a Bible, read it and came to Christ.
We affirm that the Bible is historically, archaeologically and scientifically accurate. But even more, the Bible is a supernatural book. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
God speaks through His Word. When people read it with a heart to hear from God, things happen. The Bible will lay a claim on your affections; it will rock your worldview. It is a dynamic, living record of God’s truth and doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for passivity. That is, if you read it. Unfortunately, according to that man on the bus, most people today are illiterate.
Jews for Jesus missionaries find that the best indicator of spiritual hunger in the people we minister to is a desire to read the Bible. We always hope to engage seekers in a study of the Scriptures. Our surveys show that the majority of Jewish people who receive the Lord do so as a result of reading the Bible, especially the New Testament.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you have to be an Old Testament scholar in order to witness to your Jewish friend. Use the “man on the bus” challenge to get them to read the Bible. Pray for them and be prepared to study the Bible with them. It is the Holy Spirit who will take His Word and apply it to their hearts.
We ought to be prepared to answer those trying to undermine the Bible’s reliability. We need our evangelical archaeologists to counter renewed efforts to discredit the scriptural accounts. But, more than anything else, we need to “shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15b-16a). We need to be well-read in God’s Word and to challenge others to read the Bible for themselves.
That is exactly what our Jews for Jesus staff and Behold Your God volunteers will be doing out on the streets of cities around the globe in places like Portland, Atlanta, New York, Mexico City, Boston, Tolouse, etc. In all of these cities our message will be the same gospel message, based on the same Bible.
In the meantime, we need you to shine your light as well. Remember, the turning from the authority of the Bible signals a wider trend throughout society. The Jewish scholars I mentioned are not the only ones with a condescending view toward Scripture. More and more Christian Bible colleges and seminaries have developed similar views. And we are reaping the fruit of it in churches and denominations.
When those in church leadership deny that Jewish people need Jesus to be saved, or stress that our emphasis ought to be in respecting others by not presuming to tell them they need Jesus, we need people who are familiar with the Word of God to step forward. We need you to quote chapter and verse, and teach your sons and daughters and grandchildren the Word so they will not be misled in these matters.
Our challenges may come in many different forms and languages, but the answers will be found in the same source: the Bible, the Word of God. Please pray that we will indeed shine and that those we meet will take the challenge to read the Bible for themselves. Pray that many more will come to know the Word made flesh, our Messiah Jesus.