This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 18, number 3 (1996).
Summary Critique of
C. Dennis McKinsey
The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy
Prometheus Books, 1995
The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy is hardly a piece of scholarship. In actuality, it is an exercise in blasphemy and vituperation directed at God Himself. While much attention is given to certain passages in Scripture, which author C. Dennis McKinsey classifies as contradictory and mistaken, the underlying stance is belligerent antisupernaturalism. The author refuses to seriously consider the elements in the Bible that cannot be explained as human authorship.
Discounting the enormous contribution that the sacred Scriptures have made to all the lands of Christendom, McKinsey concludes that there is not and cannot be any such thing as a revelation of God.
He is no atheist, however, for he often goes out of his way to revile God. For instance, on page 171 the reader encounters this diatribe: “God created evil. Evil came from the Lord. He deceived and told people to lie. He rewarded liars. He ordered men to become drunk. He rewarded the fool and transgressor. He delivered a man, Job, into Satan’s hands. He caused indecency. He spread dung on people’s faces. He ordered stealing. He made false prophecies…He caused adultery…He supported human sacrifice. He ordered cannibalism. He demanded virgins as a part of war plunder.” This series of accusations against God occupies 33 lines of text, deploring God as a despicable character. McKinsey assigns himself the role of bringing God to task. He weighs the Almighty in the balance and finds Him wanting!
Consequently, McKinsey deprives human life of any ultimate meaning. If God, the Ultimate Reality, is basically malevolent, then there is no foundation for any hope or goodness. Shakespeare’s MacBeth would be right: “Life…is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (V.v. 26-28).
McKinsey defines himself as a freethinker rather than an atheist, and he summons us all to join him. Without a good and holy God in heaven above, however, there is no solution to be found in freethinking or any other kind of thinking. All the great theologians of the past, such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin, have to be dismissed as a pack of simpletons, incapable of understanding the Bible and philosophy.
While McKinsey strives to uphold a moral code, he has no basis to do so. Any murderer, rapist, or gangster could claim freethinking as a justification for his or her crimes. Freethinking ends in anarchy and nihilism. Without absolute truth, guaranteed by God, there is no sure basis for right or wrong whatsoever. Life essentially has no meaning, no glory, no worth.
As the author combs through Scripture, he dogmatically dismisses any possible interpretation but his own. On page 357, for example, he accuses God of falsehood regarding the divine warning to Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit, on that very day they would die. He observes that according to Genesis 5:5 Adam did not die until he was 930 years old; ergo, God failed to keep His word. McKinsey ignores the fact that Adam and Eve did on that very day lose their life of blessed communion with God. Moreover, they came under a divine curse, suffered expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and entered into a state of spiritual death. The term “death” has more than one dimension, as McKinsey ought to have known had he studied the biblical use of this word. In fact, Paul (whom McKinsey thoroughly detests) stated that “the mind set on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). A student of the text should pay attention to the various nuances in which a term may be used rather than oversimplifying it.
McKinsey raises a similar objection against Peter, who quoted Moses: “Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me” (Acts 3:22, KJV). On page 437 McKinsey reasons that Jesus could not be God incarnate, since Moses was not God incarnate, nor did Jesus ever claim to be God. Yet how could any of Peter’s hearers ever suppose that he was affirming Moses as the Son of God? It was perfectly evident that Moses served as a type of the Messiah as indicated in Hebrews 3:2: “[Jesus] was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all his house.”
McKinsey actually joins with those who taunted the crucified Savior on the cross, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself” (Matt. 27:42). On page 36, where the author quotes Matthew 27:46: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” he asks incredulously, “How can Jesus be our Savior when he couldn’t even save himself?” The crucifixion accounts, of course, make it quite clear that Jesus was perfectly able to save Himself had He so wished. In fact, Jesus stated that He could easily have summoned 12 legions of angels to rescue Him from the cross (Matt. 26:53). Had He done so, however, there would have been no atonement for the sinful human race. McKinsey’s ignorance regarding Christ’s emptying Himself of divine rights could have been avoided by a study of Philippians 2:5-11.
McKinsey’s inadequacy in Hebrew and Greek appears in his naive treatment of the Sixth Commandment. He asserts that more recent English translations have altered the King James “Thou shalt not kill” to “You shall not murder” in order to excuse capital punishment (p. 84). Both the Hebrew tirsah and the Septuagint Greek phoneuo, however, specifically refer to first-degree murder. He also blunders with regard to the name of the hill where Christ was crucified (p. 96), for he imagines a discrepancy between Golgotha and Calvary. Apparently he is unaware that Golgotha means “skull” in Aramaic and that Calvarium means exactly the same thing in Latin. He overlooks the fact that Latin was the language of the Roman government in Christ’s time.
McKinsey also dabbles with prophecies that he construes to be unfulfilled, but his judgment is mistaken in every case. Contrary to McKinsey’s view, the amazing program of redemption set forth in Scripture proves beyond a doubt that the Bible is divinely inspired. Whereas no human beings are able to consistently predict even the short-term future with accuracy, the Bible is filled with accurate prophecies of the long-term future, marking the progress of a unitary plan of redemption.
Beginning with the promise of the Satan-crushing seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), a plan unfolds. God announced to Abraham that the Egyptian sojourn of his descendants would last four hundred years before they return as a nation and take possession of Canaan (Gen. 15:13-14). After the Israelite conquest, God’s prophets continued with messages of assurance in times of national crisis. Such was the promise of a son of Isaiah, who would be born of a virgin, and within whose lifetime Judah would be saved from Assyrian forces (Isa. 7:14-16). After the Battle of El Tekah, 185,000 of the Assyrian troops suddenly died by a plague, forcing Sennacherib to abandon his siege of Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 36).
When King Manasseh led his people into idolatry, he received a message from God’s prophets that Jerusalem would be totally destroyed (2 Kings 21:11-15). Isaiah also clearly foretold that a conqueror named Cyrus would restore exiled Judah from Babylonian captivity after 70 years (Isa. 44:28; 45:1).
Just before this took place, the aged prophet Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar’s banquet hall and warned that the Medes and Persians were about to sack supposedly impregnable Babylon. Sure enough, they invaded via the Euphrates River, and the Medo-Persian Empire began under King Cyrus (Dan. 5:26-31). It is noteworthy how much earlier in Daniel’s career (circa 600 B.C.) the prophet had foretold by divine revelation the succession of all the great empires until the coming of Christ: Chaldean, Medo-Persian, Greek (under Alexander the Great), and Roman (see Dan. 2:31-45).
An even more remarkable prediction is found in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, which foretells a period of 483 years between the issuance of a decree “to restore and build Jerusalem” (later granted by Artaxerxes I in 458 B.C.) “until Messiah the Prince.” Four hundred eighty-three years after 457 B.C. comes out to A.D. 26, when Jesus began His teaching ministry in Israel. For this fulfillment there is no possibility of a pious fraud, since the Book of Daniel was composed centuries earlier than the date of fulfillment.
Another prediction, found in Deuteronomy 28:68, foretells the mass transportation of the Jewish survivors of the capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by Titus, who (according to Josephus) shipped 97,000 to the slave market in Alexandria, Egypt. Instead of recognizing this as proof of divine foreknowledge, McKinsey complains that it violated God’s earlier promise to Moses that His people would never return to Egypt. Deuteronomy 28:68, however, acknowledges that this compelled return would be an exception. The fact remains that here is a promise that dates back to 1445 B.C. (if it is genuinely Mosaic) and extends to A.D. 70, a total of 1,515 years!
Two other remarkable prophecies are found in Isaiah. The first passage (13:19-22) foretells the utter destruction and desertion of Babylon, which was the largest and wealthiest city in the world at the time. The entire area around Babylon absorbed so much salt from millennia of irrigation that it became impractical to do any farming there. No farming; no inhabitants in the city. The fulfillment of this prediction defies any naturalistic explanation.
The same is true of the second passage — Isaiah 52:13-15 and 53:1-12, which describes the rejection of the Servant of Yahweh, His vicarious sacrifice for sinners, and His resurrection. Here Isaiah clearly explained the passion week of our Lord Christ and the substitutionary nature of His death. Both John 12:38 and Romans 10:16 refer to the fulfillment of this prophecy. It is untenable to say these fulfillments are human inventions or forgeries.
In chapter 24 of his book McKinsey shifts his focus to refuting the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an. He highlights the Book of Mormon’s error in the naming of Jesus’ 12 apostles (p. 472) and underscores the arrant hypocrisy of their own extrabiblical passages like Jacob 2:24, which records God’s displeasure with polygamy — a practice Mormons embraced. He shows how the Book of Mormon makes Cain the progenitor of all blacks and then insidiously identifies the skins of the Lamanites as “a curse upon them because of their transgressions and their rebellion.” He also reveals how another Mormon text, 2 Nephi 10:3, describes the Jews as the most wicked race on earth. In addition, McKinsey cites Walter Martin as discovering at least 25,000 words copied from the King James Version, making Joseph Smith an obvious plagiarist.
As for the Qur’an, McKinsey declares, “It is not a viable alternative to Scripture, is flawed throughout, and is no more the word of a beneficent, perfect, supreme being than the Bible. One is as false as the other.” He notes that “the Qur’an propagates a message of intolerance, brutality, and barbarity towards non-Muslims.” Its contempt for Jews and Christians expresses itself most violently in Sura 5:33, which ordains that the punishment of those who war against God and His Apostle (meaning Muhammad) is execution, crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet. Intolerance of this magnitude exceeds that of the New Testament, McKinsey maintains, because the latter never advocates the execution of those who oppose Christianity. He further criticizes the oppression of women that appears throughout the Qur’an (p. 479). He argues that for Muslims to allege others are being particularly punished for their sins is especially hypocritical in light of the ignorance, superstition, deprivation, and disease prevalent in Muslim-dominated areas of the world.
His often-valid criticisms of Mormon and Muslim scriptures notwithstanding, McKinsey’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy mainly reflects the author’s obsession with twisting the Word of God and ridiculing its supposed discrepancies. I find the book a waste of time. Suffice it to say that most of the passages he works on have been satisfactorily handled in my book, An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan).
— Reviewed by Gleason L. Archer
Gleason L. Archer is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, and the author of A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Press).