Question to Douglas Jacoby and John Oakes:
I’m reading the book on Daniel (John Oakes’ Book) after listening to the sermon at Riverside back in 2005 about the book of Daniel. This was prompted by a read through the Bible where I am currently in Daniel. I notice in most versions that ab is translated "father" in Daniel 5:18. However, the Holman Christian Standard translates this word "predecessor." Is this a likely translation for this word ab? Is it possible that the HCSB is making this adjustment due to the historical evidence that Nebuchadnezzar is Belshazzar's grandfather, not his father? Or is "predecessor" an equally acceptable translation of this word in Daniel 5:18? I notice that the liberal theologians beat on this book of the Bible. It seems this is likely due to Daniel being one of the strongest books of prophecy as far as proving the Bible is inspired by God. How do you guys keep such a solid faith amid the barrage of intellectual questions and challenges? I have always had a tough time with this. After being a Christian for two or three years, I just quit questioning things, as I found it a great emotional upheaval to continue to question and therefore doubt my faith. In this I was able to not struggle with doubt and questions. Now, 15 years later, I was finding my Bible study a bit dull and un-exciting. After re-examining some of my basic foundations of faith (as I had discussed creation/evolution and the biblical flood with you guys through email), I've re-awakened my excitement in the Bible. However, in this reawakening I find that I have also reawakened this old nagging skeptic in my mind. I am not going through the emotions of totally questioning my faith, but I don't want to be a person the book of James calls "double-minded and unstable." I want to keep that childlike faith, I don't want to lose site of the basic teachings of Christianity like so many scholars do. I do believe it's possible to know the scriptures on a very deep intellectual level and not become puffed up by knowledge and start stumbling all over my own arrogance. How do you guys do it? -- Chris Maness (Riverside, California)
Response by John Oakes:
In my reading of commentaries on Daniel by what I consider to be liberal non-believers, this question has come up. The claim is that the writer of the pseudepigraphal Daniel was confused about who were the descendants of Nebuchadnezzar--that they made up the person Belshazzar or were completely confused about the genealogy of the kings of Babylon.
You are correct in assuming that the Aramean word ab can be translated as father, predecessor or ancestor. Given that the word has more than one common meaning, the rule of biblical translation is to use the most common translation unless the context dictates otherwise. The context of Daniel 5:18 does not demand the use of ancestor or predecessor, which is perhaps why the NIV says father. Of course, when a modern reader sees "father" in the Old Testament, those with experience know that the English word can mean ancestor and that when a Hebrew translation has "father" it may be an ancestor. Then there is the question of whether the Holman translators allowed their work to be influenced by historical knowledge, rather than just the context. Perhaps this is so, as Daniel does not mention Evil Merodach or Nabonidus. Even if this is so, I do not believe they have violated any rules of translation if the word predecessor is a proper sense of the word.
I fully agree with your analysis of what liberals are doing with Daniel. If they accept it for what it claims to be--and as it obviously is, in my opinion--then the worst possible thing (for them) would result: They would have to admit that at least part of the Bible is inspired by a higher power. In essence, to accept Daniel for what it claims to be is to accept that God exists and that the book of Daniel contains miraculous prophecy. Some, unwilling to accept this, are willing to bend or ignore evidence to preserve their precious non-belief. This is pretty strong language, but I get emotional when it comes to the Book of Daniel.
How to keep my head on straight despite reading so much anti-God stuff from all the skeptics? That is a very good question. What I do is I try to remember those few things which I am absolutely and fully convinced are true--to the point that no supposedly new insight can even put a dent. I know for a fact that the Bible is inspired by God, that the universe and life are miraculous creations and that Jesus was raised from the dead. Even if I discover a possible "mistake" or a problem with some particular text or a philosophical challenge to one of my core beliefs, these biggies are not shaken. They aren’t even touched. I need to return to them on a regular basis as I read so much material by scholars who deny that the Bible is from God.
Do not be afraid to reawaken that old skeptic. It will do you some good as you analyze your own understanding of the nature of God and of particular Christian teachings. Our family of churches needs a few more humble skeptics. Our understanding of the Bible needs shaking up once in a while. Just remember as you do this that there are a few things which are rock-solid. Don’t forget to separate essential teachings from important ones from unimportant ones.
Maintaining humility is perhaps the biggest challenge for me. I am tempted to believe my own "press" as I travel around. This is something the "smart" and the "intellectual" among us must fight with all their energy, because pride goes before destruction. It is the endemic sin of the teacher. Being aware of Satan's schemes and actively fighting them is required. It is worth the effort. Do not assume that I do a perfect job of avoiding this sin. Please feel free to look over my shoulder and challenge me in this area any time you like.