There’s an old joke out there that goes, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you say “yes,” you imply that you used to do it. If you say “no,” you suggest that you are still doing it. Obviously, the question may be where the problem lies. If you do not beat your wife, the question would not be relevant and certainly not fair.
“I hear Brother So N So holds this position,” that “School X teaches error on such and such,” and that “Congregation A is ‘off’ on that.” Too often, maybe based on a feeling that the source is credible, a person gullibly accepts the accusation at face value and even passes it along to others. Of course, some are very blatant and public in teaching things that are contrary to the Word of God. They loudly proclaim and proudly publish their false views, but the aforementioned innuendoes and intimations are an altogether different matter. Why these rumors and accusations get started is sometimes hard to pinpoint. Is it jealousy, misunderstanding coupled with indiscretion, meanness, or possibly something more benign? Writing about presumption last year, I urged the presumptuous to “substantiate before you propagate, and then only carefully and prayerfully” (https://preacherpollard.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/the-problems-with-presumption/).
Solomon wrote that “a good name is to be more desired than great wealth” (Prov. 22:1) and that “A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecc. 7:1). While we are the primary stewards of our “good names,” others can tarnish it unfairly.
It is good to ask, “Do I know this rumor to be true?” Or, “Is it a matter of judgment and opinon with which I disagree, or is it truly a matter of doctrine and eternal truth?” Or, “Does the ‘reporter’ have an agenda that needs to be considered?” Or, “Why do I want to pass this along?”
“Slander” is a verbal offense that should not be in the Christian’s repertoire (Psa. 15:3; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1). That is “old man” activity! It is easy to besmirch someone’s character and reputation, but what a dangerous thing to do. May we bridle our tongues lest we set fires (Js. 3:3,6).
On his tombstone in Gloucester, England, James Bartley had written “A Modern Jonah.” Bartley was allegedly swallowed by a sperm whale while helping to hunt and kill the giant in 1891. The whale, as the tale goes, was ultimately subdued and conquered, and when its stomach was hoisted on deck two days later, an unconscious and crazed Bartley was found inside. He was a member of a party sent out to harpoon the beast, and in the melee that ensued Bartley was said to be accidentally ingested. By the mid-1890s, the story was published and circulated as fact on both sides of the Atlantic. For over 100 years, the Bartley story has been told by eager apologists to defend the veracity of the biblical account of Jonah. It has served as a theological pingpong ball vollied back and forth between believers and unbelievers. Research, particularly by a Bible-believing professor named Edward Davis (http://asa.calvin.edu:80/asa/pscf.html | 19:53:53 Mar 16, 2003), ultimately shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the story is a hoax. Too many aspects of the story do not stand up to scrutiny. The alleged ship, “Star of the East,” was not a whaler. There was no fishing off the Falkland Islands in 1891. Bartley’s name never appeared on a manifest of the aforementioned ship. The captain’s wife said that her husband never lost anyone overboard in all their years of marriage, and they were married in 1891. Atheists and skeptics have rejoiced in such findings, using them to discredit the Bible’s account of the Jonah incident. Apparently, some less than scrupulous (or, at best, sloppy researching) “Christian Apologists” have taken the Bartley story and run with it in an effort to substantiate that ancient account. Yet, opponents of Scripture have been as out of bounds in their response, making the nonsensical jump from the fraudulent Bartley story to try to discredit the validity of the book of Jonah. Because modern man fabricated a story about a man being swallowed by a whale does not mean that the account in Scripture should be rejected.
The account of Jonah is believable for at least these reasons. First, the Bible does not call Jonah’s captor a whale. It was a fish (Jonah 1:17). The NAS has “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40, but it is better translated “big fish, huge fish” (Louw-Nida, np). Second, this fish was “prepared” (appointed, NAS) by God for the occasion. We have no record of this “species” prior to or after this special occasion meant by God to persuade His pekid prophet. Finally, Jesus validates the historicity of the Jonah incident. In the aforementioned gospel account, Jesus refers to Jonah as fact rather than fable. If it was a fairy tale, Christ gives no hint of it. In fact, He says, “…just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of…” this creature (emph., NP).
Have creationists and “fundamentalists” ever overreached to try and prove their point? Undoubtedly! Have skeptics and atheists ever overreacted to try and protect their non-theistic bubble? Absolutely! When such battles as these are being waged, I find my confidence in going back and reading the text. Seeing what the Bible actually says is powerful in keeping us away from either extreme.