Problematic Apologetics

A Careful Handling of the Evidence . . . and Text

by Bodie Hodge and Ken Ham on April 1, 2009
Featured in Answers Magazine
Audio Version

“Problematic apologetics?” What does that term mean? The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia. It is usually translated “answer” or “defense” in 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

If Christianity is true, and the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God, Christians should be able to defend their faith when asked skeptical questions. This doesn’t mean that Christians must have all the answers—but from a big picture perspective, they should be able to give a reasoned argument to counter attacks on the Christian faith.

Unfortunately, we often see two major problems in Christian apologetics:

  1. Most Christians have not been taught practical, basic apologetics, so they don’t know how to defend the Christian faith when it is challenged.
  2. Some Christians use incorrect or problematic arguments in their response. Bad arguments then become a stumbling block once the hearer sees the flaws.

Problematic apologetics comes in different forms, such as promoting urban legends or taking quotations out of context. We hope to deal with some of these in coming issues. This article deals with one problem, which we call “eisegesis problematic apologetics.”

Listen to an audio recording of this article.

Here is an illustration. Recently, a person made claims about how to interpret some scientific evidence and then quoted a Bible verse to justify his argument. But when the verse was checked in context, it did not support the claim. This is called eisegesis (a big word for “reading into the text”).

Instead of letting God’s Word speak to us through the style and context of the passage, people try to force their own ideas into the Bible to justify their beliefs.

Cults are masters at eisegesis, but it’s also a danger for Christians. In fact, every time a Christian defends compromise ideas about earth history and evolution, such as the gap theory, theistic evolution, and progressive creation, they are imposing their own ideas on Scripture. Then they claim that Scripture teaches their position. Such “eisegesis problematic apologetics” ultimately undermines the authority of Scripture and causes unbelievers to stumble.

Let’s consider just three examples to see whether they slip into eisegesis problematic apologetics.

Shroud of Turin: Is It Authentic?

An amazing cloth shroud, about 14.3 feet (4 m) long and 3.7 feet (1 m) wide, first appeared in 1357 in France and is now stored in Turin, Italy. The cloth has a realistic imprint that looks like a man’s face. According to tradition, the shroud was miraculously formed when it covered Jesus’s body in the tomb. Some people quote Matthew 27:59, Mark 15:46, and Luke 23:53 to justify the possibility of this miracle.

These verses seem to indicate that a single cloth was used to wrap Jesus when He was taken off the cross. But was this same cloth wrapped around Jesus’s body when it was placed in the tomb?

After the crucifixion, Jesus’s body would have been bloody from Pilate’s whipping (Matthew 27:26), the crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29), and the nails driven into His hands and feet (Acts 2:23). More blood flowed from the spear wound in His side (John 19:34). So this cloth would have absorbed a lot of blood.

Now did this cloth remain on Jesus’s body as it was carried to the grave? From a cursory glance at the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you might think so. However, John reveals more details (John 19:38–40). Joseph of Arimathea took the body prior to its placement in the grave. Later Nicodemus joined him, applying about 75 pounds of spices and wrapping the body in several strips of linen.

To apply the spices, the caretakers must have removed the bloody linen covering Christ at the cross. We have no reason to assume that they reused this single cloth. Instead, we would expect them to follow Jewish customs of cleanliness.

Also, no Gospel author mentions a second single-cloth linen around Jesus’s body—only a small cloth wrapped around Jesus’s face and several other linen strips around the rest of his body (John 20:7). Jewish burial customs usually involved strips of linen and a burial cloth around the head. In fact, John indicates Lazarus was given the same kind of burial (John 11:43–44).

At Jesus’s resurrection, both John and Luke mention the strips of linen and the cloth on His face (Luke 24:12; John 20:3–7). They mention nothing else. We have no reason to assume any other cloths were present in the tomb. To do so requires us to impose our ideas on the Bible, contrary to reasonable inferences, which is not the way to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The Bible, read carefully in context, rules out the Shroud of Turin as Jesus’s burial cloth.

Days of Peleg: Continental Breakup?

When looking at the surface of the earth, we find evidence that continental plates have moved great distances and are still moving (albeit slowly) today. If such major geologic change occurred in the past, wouldn’t it be recorded in the Bible?

Concerned about these scientific findings, Christians sometimes claim that the continents split apart during the days of Peleg, soon after the Flood. They usually cite Genesis 10:25, which says “the earth was divided” in the days of Peleg.

If you look carefully at the context, however, you see that this verse appears in the middle of a detailed account of the division of languages, when people were divided up and spread over the earth.

In fact, the Hebrew word translated “earth” in Genesis 10:25 is the same word used in Genesis 10:32 to describe the nations being divided. The same word appears again in Genesis 11:1, which says the whole “earth” spoke the same language. In each context, the word refers to the people living on the land, not the land itself.

Genesis 8:3–4 raises another problem. The Ark ran aground in the “mountains of Ararat” on day 150 of the Flood. These mountains in the region called Ararat appear to have been caused by the collision of the Eurasian plate, Arabian plate, and African plate. If the mountains were formed by continental plates moving in the days of Peleg, then the region of Ararat couldn’t have existed when the Ark ran aground! It makes more sense to believe that these continental shifts occurred catastrophically during the Flood, prior to day 150.

Another problem is that a continental breakup at the time of Peleg would have resulted in a global catastrophe similar to Noah’s Flood, with devastating earthquakes, earth movements, and tsunamis wiping out all life on the land.

The context of Genesis 10:25 is the division of nations. The context rules out the idea that the continents broke up at the time of Peleg.

Mt. Ararat: Have Remains of the Ark Been Found?

If Noah’s Ark really landed on Ararat, shouldn’t it have been found? Many expeditions have attempted to locate the Ark on modern Mt. Ararat, and some people claim they have found remains. But is it really necessary—or likely—to find anything?

So far, no hard evidence has come to light,1 and if you look closely at the biblical text, it doesn’t even say that the Ark landed on Mt. Ararat. The Ark landed on “the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:3–4), which is a much larger range than just the one mountain known today as Mt. Ararat.

The argument for Mt. Ararat as the Ark’s landing place is based on assumptions about geology. Genesis 8:5 says, “The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.” Since modern Ararat is much larger than other mountains in the area, some Christians believe the Ark must have landed there.

However, they are assuming that modern mountains had reached their current height during the Flood, which is extremely unlikely. Mountains were still rising and falling long after the Flood, even as they are doing more slowly today.

In fact, Mt. Ararat is a very large volcano, which sits on top of other rock layers laid down during the Flood, so it was apparently formed at the end of the Flood. Since the volcano has continued to be active, up until 1840, we know the mountain has continued to change since the Flood.

Rushing to accept evidence of Ark remains, when there is no hard evidence, is not good apologetics. In fact, it is probable that the Ark has been destroyed over the course of about 4,300 years (by natural or human agents), perhaps destroyed by the same violent post-Flood volcanic eruptions that built modern Mt. Ararat!

Caution in All Areas

Arguments that lack significant support from the Bible and other evidence can actually undermine biblical authority.

“The Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus and proves His unique death.”

“‘The earth was divided’ proves that plate tectonics is recorded in the Bible.”

“The discovery of the Ark proves that the Bible’s Flood account is true.”

Such claims have been used to “defend” the faith and supposedly uphold Scripture—but in doing so, they have actually undermined biblical authority. Each lacks significant support from the Bible and other evidence. When discussing such topics, we should always proceed with caution and hesitation, understanding not only the limitations of evidence but also what the Bible states clearly in context.

The Bible is the most defensible historical document of antiquity. So we don’t need to confuse our friends and loved ones with problematic apologetics. Instead, let’s each work hard to use the best arguments that honor our Lord and “rightly divide” His Word of truth.

Answers Magazine

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  1. For a refutation of popular claims that Noah’s Ark was found near Mt. Ararat, see Andrew Snelling’s “Amazing ‘Ark’ Exposé,” Creation (Sept.–Nov. 1992), pp. 26–38.


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