Highlight the Apologetic Value of Details

Sometimes in preaching we will cover details that have apologetic value.  This will probably not be the main thrust of the passage, but if time allows, why not note the inference that can be made so that our listeners are strengthened in their view of the accuracy of the Bible?  Our churches would be stronger in this day and age if more believers had a fact-based robust evangelical bibliology.  We don’t have to wait for the next DaVinciCode-esque attack on the Bible, we can be reinforcing a proper view of the Bible through our preaching.

Consider, for example, Mark’s accurate knowledge of names and languages. The more we study, the more we discover that the gospels have exactly the pattern of names and languages we would expect them to have if they were true.  The more common names in Judea/Galilee at the time of Christ have qualifiers added to help the reader know which John (brother of James / son of Zebedee, or the baptizing one) or which Judas (brother of Jesus, Iscariot, or son of James).  On the other hand, no information needed to identify the Thaddeus (39th most popular name), or Philip (61st).   This may not seem that significant, but at that time, the 2nd most popular name among Jews in Palestine was 68th most popular in Egypt.  The writers (especially Matthew and Mark on this issue) demonstrate real accuracy in their choices of names and when to add clarification details – was this sophisticated research leading to accurate fiction, or was it just plain accurate history?

For another example, consider Mark’s knowledge of local languages. In 14:70 he knows local differences in accent.  In 5:41 he gives the correct Aramaic for that time and place (see also 7:11; 7:34).  In 11:9 he gives the right pronunciation for the locals saying “Hosanna,” rather than the Old Testament “Hoshiana” (in the Talmud the Rabbis apparently complain about the local crowd mispronouncing the “sh” as “s”).  Yet at the same time, Mark knows accurate Roman Latin – see 6:27 (speculator); 15:39 (centurio); 12:42 (quadrans) . . .  all details, but the kind of evidence you’d expect for an eyewitness testimony written in Rome.

As Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, recently stated, “The gospels have exactly the pattern of names and languages we would expect them to have if they were true.  The pattern is too complex for an ancient forger to reproduce (it would be a level of sophistication never seen in antiquity!)”

(Thanks to Peter Williams for his great teaching on this subject, and he would point to Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses as a key source.)

Notice the Details

When you are studying a text and preparing to preach it, make sure you notice the details.  No word is there by accident.  As I sometimes say, the writers of the Bible were neither drunk nor wasteful.  Not drunk means that they were coherent and deliberate in what they wrote.  Not wasteful means that papyrus was expensive, so they didn’t waffle for a paragraph or two before getting into it.

Sometimes the details in a passage are helpful theologically.  For example, why does Mark tell the reader that the grass was green when Jesus fed the five thousand?  Is this mere ornamentation?  Or is it part of a larger package of details and tone that are suggestive of Jesus bringing something of the eschatological feasting and abundance?  It can be hard to discern the difference between allegorical misreading of Scripture and sensitivity to the original writer’s intent.  The goal is not to make it say something Mark didn’t know, but to recognize what Mark intended to communicate both overtly and subtly.

Sometimes the details in a passage are helpful apologetically. In a day when the Bible is roundly mocked, we have listeners who need their trust in the Bible bolstered by our preaching.  Thus it is worth noting apparently incidental details that actually under gird a robust evangelical bibliology.  For example, notice the difference between names used in speech quotations and the same names used by the narrator.  Jesus was the 6th most common name in that part of the world at that time, so naturally in speech his name would be qualified, such as “the Nazarene, Jesus” (Mark 14:67).  Yet in the narration, Mark doesn’t need to identify which Jesus he is writing about, so it is just “Jesus” (eg. Mark 14:62, 72).  Mark could easily have had the servant girl referring to “Jesus,” but he didn’t.  Was Mark phenomenally accurate in making up the story, or is he in fact quoting speech with word perfect exactitude?  (Compare the narrator with the speech quotations in Matthew 14:1-11, for another example of this.)

Tomorrow I’ll share a couple more examples of textual details that offer apologetic value for our preaching.  (I’m indebted to Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, for these apologetic examples.)