This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 32, number 3 (2009). For more information about the Christian Research Journal, click here.
In his book Jesus, Interrupted, which boasts the provocative subtitle, Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, poses the following as a telling example among an alleged plethora of errors and inconsistencies in the Bible. Says Ehrman, “In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses, ‘I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD [=Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them’ (Exodus 6:3). How does this square with what is found earlier, in Genesis, where God does make himself known to Abraham as the LORD: ‘Then he [God] said to him [Abraham], “I am the LORD [=Yahweh] who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans”’ (Genesis 15:7)?” (emphasis in original).1 Thus, this alleged contradiction involves God’s progressive revelation of all that is imbued in His name, and, as Ehrman is wont to do, he reads the text in shallow and simplistic fashion.
First, what Ehrman considers a problem I would submit is a profound and glorious truth. For implicit in the name “Yahweh” is the profundity that we as mere mortals perceive God progressively in the performance of His promises. Abraham caught but a glimmer of reality when the infinite I AM brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans. For Abraham, God was indeed the Almighty provider and sustainer (the meaning of El Shaddai in Genesis 17:1), though the promises God made to Abraham remained largely unfulfilled. Moses, however, experienced the glorious revelation of Yahweh, the eternal “I AM that I AM” (or “I will be as I will be”)2 in a progressively greater and more intimate way, culminating in the awesome Exodus out of Egypt. Yahweh’s deliverance of His people manifested ever more clearly His enabling power and enduring presence.
Furthermore, as those of Ehrman’s students who have grappled with Jewish law know full well, the words of the Torah are deceptively simple and deeply profound. As such, a wooden literalist is rendered impotent to grasp its profundities. A case in point concerns the Book of Revelation, which draws heavily on the Torah. As the venerable New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham rightly points out, “The Apocalypse of John is a work of immense learning, astonishingly meticulous literary artistry, remarkable creative imagination, radical political critique, and profound theology.”3 Even John’s so-called defective Greek grammar is due to literary artistry, not deficient linguistic acumen. An apt example of a deliberately chosen grammatical construction for which John is often unjustly chided is found in the following greeting to the seven churches in the province of Asia: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4 NIV, emphasis added). Though technically the words “from him” should be in the genitive rather than the nominative case, John uses this peculiar Greek construction to make a point about the unity and nature of God. As Dr. James Moffatt explains, this is “a quaint and deliberate violation of grammar in order to preserve the immutability and absoluteness of the divine name.”4 Contra Ehrman, a similarly subtle and sublime sophistication is at work in the Torah accounts of the divine name.
Finally, let me state forthrightly that there is an unsettling lesson to be learned here. If we harden our hearts against divine revelation, the very words of Yahweh will become to us an indecipherable parable. In the words of the Master Teacher, “They may be ever seeing but never perceiving and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!” (Mark 4:12 NIV). God’s revelation is an occasion to receive and be healed, or to reject and be harden ed. No one can remain unaffected.
— Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast heard daily throughout the United States and Canada. For a list of stations airing the Bible Answer Man, or to listen online, log on to www.equip.org.
- Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions In the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them) (New York: Harper One, 2009), 10.
- Exodus 3:14; the divine name, YHWH, is closely connected with the verb hayah, “to be.”
- Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh, Scotland: T and T Clark, 1993), ix.
- James Moffatt, The Revelation of St. John The Divine, in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1976), 337.