Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?” Part 3
Written by Seth Bloomsburg on June 15, 2017
In chapter one, “Moses and His Moisture,” Bell sets a precedent for how he argues in for the rest of the book. The two biggest problems he has are that, with a single exception in the whole book, he does not provide any citation for obscure cultural or linguistic facts he refers to, and he also refuses to accept what the Bible teaches about itself.
He delves into the deeper meaning of Deut. 34:7: “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.” He says, “Notice anything unusual? How about that phrase nor his strength gone? Moses has just died, correct?” Before we get into what he argues from this, we should point out that this is a simple elementary mistake in reading a text. A text does not only and always proceed in chronological order. The phrase was clearly describing what Moses was like at the time of his death. If one were to keep track of the issues with Bell’s hermeneutics (and why would one not want to?), the first one would be: “Can’t read books well.”
Bell then goes into a cutesy diversion about the Hebrew meaning of the word leho. He maintains that it’s a euphemism for “sexual potency.” But Bell also urged us to be scholarly. So let’s be scholarly, shall we? Bell himself provides no citation of any kind for this comment. The word used there is Strong’s Hebrew Number 3893, “leach.” It does indeed mean “moisture” or “vigor” but there’s no indication in Strong’s concordance that it has a sexual connotation. Strike one against Bell’s scholarliness.
Bell then makes some generic points about how Abraham was being called into a new “era for humanity— based in love, not violence” (p. 12). Bell correctly says that the Bible has a linear view of history, whereas many other religions had a cyclical view of history. In such a worldview, progress is possible. But this about as insightful as this chapter gets.
He makes one comment near the end of the chapter that, while it could be taken in an orthodox way, flirts with liberalism. “But isn’t it actually a library of books written across a number of years by people who didn’t know each other with agendas and opinions and limited perspectives? Yes of course it is” (p. 16). If all Bell means is that these people were speaking from within the culture and time they found themselves in, this is surely correct. And yet the whole thing is infallible from stem to stern. But much of the time when a theologian begins speaking the way Bell has in regard to this, they are frequently about to deny the inspiration of Scripture. Bell doesn’t do that here, but he does in a later portion of the book.
It gets worse. “This [the Bible] is a dangerous, subversive, explicit, foul, honest, strange, contradictory, paradoxical, ruthlessly hopefully book” (p. 16). It is at this point that Bell has rejected what the Bible teaches about itself. Deut. 13:1-4 teaches that the touchstone of a prophet was that his message must be consistent with prior revelation. We saw this sort of thinking already in Part 2 of this review series when Paul in Gal. 3:16 drew a theological conclusion based on “offspring” being singular instead of plural in the OT, but this is further confirmed in other passages as well. In John 10:35 says “Scripture cannot be broken” and Deut. 8:3 says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Paul also insists Rom. 9:1 that he “isn’t lying.” Why would this be necessary unless doing so would invalidate his message?
Bell isn’t done yet. “But isn’t the Bible ultimately about Jesus and how there’s a narrow way and a few people will find it and everyone else is going to burn in hell? No, it’s not.” Again, Bell rejects what the Bible clearly says about itself. 1 Tim. 2:5-6 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” And finally, Acts 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” How could it be clearer?
By saying the Bible is contradictory, Bell has brought up a much deeper question than he probably realizes. Cornelius Van Til once pointed that, when it comes to the Christian system of thought versus the unbeliever’s, no fact or concept is world-view neutral. We only have two options: admit the Creator-creature distinction into our thinking and submit to God’s interpretation of every fact, or invent our own interpretation. And this, fundamentally, is the main problem with Bell. He simply does not submit to what God says. Instead of seeing the Creator-creature distinction as fundamental, he presumes to himself the prerogative of determining whether what God says is actually true or not and determines that God’s Word is contradictory; as such he denies the Creator creature distinction. Harkening back to the garden, Bell says, “Did God really say?”