I read an AFA article this week that asked, “Is error free Bible required to prove Christianity true?” Now THAT caught my attention and I had I felt I had an answer, but wanted to hear what the author had to say.
Dr. Frank Turek, author, apologist, and host of Cross-Examined radio, says “No,” Christianity would still be true even if the Bible was never written. That’s what I thought, so why do we study (and so many dispute) the Bible?
Many Christians believe that what we know about Christianity depends on an error-free (inerrant) Bible. There is an ever-increasing number of archaeological findings that support characters and events in the Christian storyline, but some still think that Christian beliefs cannot be sustained unless the Bible is fool-proof.
The central event on which Christianity is based is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There are multiple accounts in the New Testament about the resurrection. There may be slight differences in each of the accounts, but we know that a dramatic event took place. The fact that those same people who wrote it down had everything to lose by proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection further proves it happened.
All of the New Testament reporters (except Luke), were Jews who could pay with their life for proclaiming the resurrection. Why would Jewish believers in Yahweh—people who thought they were God’s “chosen people” for two thousand years—invent a resurrection story that would get them excommunicated, and then beaten, tortured and murdered? Well, they wouldn’t. They saw something dramatic that they weren’t expecting, proclaimed it, altered their lives because of it, and later wrote about it, despite the fact that doing any of that would get them killed.
So, to get this straight, Christianity isn’t true just because the Bible says it’s true, but it is true because an event occurred. While we wouldn’t know much about Christianity if reports of Christ’s resurrection had never been written, but the event occurred before any reports were written. There were literally thousands of Christians before a single word of the New Testament was ever written. The New Testament writers didn’t create the resurrection—the resurrection created the New Testament writers.
The next question, naturally, would be … why study the Bible if it’s not necessary to be a Christian? A great article in Christianity Today (Why You Should Believe the Bible) offers additional insight.
The Bible is the collected writings of people who knew God over many centuries. But more than that, as Christians we understand that God has spoken through these people. Some Bible books recite what God has done in people’s lives—like 1 and 2 Kings. Other books, like Isaiah, show God speaking directly to us through the voice of a prophet. Isaiah doesn’t just reflect on his personal experiences with God. He speaks for God, and God actually speaks through him. And the New Testament Gospel writers have Jesus speaking directly to us.
Centuries ago, Jews and Christians had to settle which writings were inspired by God and which weren’t. But there were many more writings floating around than we now have in our Bible.
The Jewish community met about A.D. 90 to decide which writings were authoritative. The books of Moses? No question. The great prophets? No debate. But other books were discussed more. The collection of writings that was selected is what we now call the Old Testament.
Christians had a harder time coming up with the New Testament, because early Christianity was an underground movement; Christians couldn’t even hold public meetings until the 4th century. But 2nd-century bishops (overseers of groups of churches) were already writing to individual churches saying, “Read these books, don’t read those books”—even before there was an “official” New Testament. So, there were already books considered authentic and books considered fraudulent.
How did the church decide which books were authentic and which were frauds?
It’s based on two issues: historical credibility and spiritual benefit. Historical credibility means asking, “Does an apostle—one of the 12 disciples or Paul, for instance—stand behind this writing?” Matthew was an apostle, and he was with Jesus, so his book holds a lot of weight. Mark wasn’t an apostle, but he worked with Peter, and Peter was with Jesus; that’s why Mark’s book holds weight.
Many books claimed “apostolic connection,” but some of those claims—like the Gospel of Thomas—were fraudulent. Which brings up the spiritual benefit issue. Wise bishops in the early church examined these writings and asked: “Is Thomas really the author? Does this writing reflect the spiritual and theological commitments of the other books?” With the Gospel of Thomas, the answer was “no” on both counts.
Why are there so many translations of the Bible?
Translators want to reflect the original Greek and Hebrew as accurately as they can, but in a way that communicates clearly. It might be that one Greek word really should be translated as three English words. Some translations, like the New American Standard (NAS), give an almost one-for-one correspondence between Hebrew and English or Greek and English. You can set a NAS right next to a Greek text and follow along quite closely. But the New Living Translation, on the other hand, attempts to represent the heart and soul of the original languages, even though the sentence structure might be different from the original.
Does modern science disprove Bible miracles like the crossing of the Red Sea and Jesus’ resurrection?
No, although many people are critical of the Bible because it records events that seem fantastic, the stuff of fairy tales. Most people believe in a God. Most people believe God was involved in the creation of the world. And most people would say God is bigger than the world itself. So why are they skeptical of supernatural events?
If God created the world, doesn’t it make sense that he’d be interested in what goes on in the world? And if God is bigger and more powerful than all creation, and he steps into the world, wouldn’t people be dazzled by what he does? Fantastic events are possible. Miracles can happen. You can’t just disqualify them.
What sets the Bible apart from other great religious writings?
Christians believe the Bible is unique for a number of reasons. Take personal experience, for instance. Throughout the history of the Church, the Bible has had the power to transform lives. But Islam makes the same claim about its scriptures, the Qur’an.
The Bible wasn’t put together in secret; it was a very public process. People have been able to closely examine its claims all along, even to this day. And Christians welcome that kind of scrutiny, because we know our Bible can stand up to it.
We have multiple Greek manuscripts for the New Testament. The Bible wasn’t written by just one person, but contains many points of view. Four people tell me the story of Jesus, stories that were open to the public even in that day. People could read the stories and react to them. The life of Christ was evaluated, studied and examined by the people who had lived when Jesus lived, and could verify the accuracy of those stories.
Is the Bible still the best way to get to know God?
It’s still the best way, because human experience is timeless. People who lived in 100 B.C. struggled with the same personal issues we struggle with today.
Is the Bible really inspired, just because it claims to be?
Proving that the Bible is inspired—”God-breathed” is literally what it says in 2 Timothy 3:16—is more difficult. While I believe it is inspired, non-believers may not find that to be true. A skeptic whose heart isn’t in the right place probably won’t be receptive to the words of the Bible. The Bible isn’t magic. You can’t simply read it and expect it to show itself as inspired, but for those skeptics who have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, many close the book believing.
How do you deal with doubts like, “Maybe I only think the Bible is the Word of God because I’ve spent my whole life in church. Maybe if I opened my eyes, I’d see it’s all a sham.”
It’s OK to have doubts, and you’re not alone. Know that there are answers. Christian leaders and writers can help you work through your doubts.
Finally, test for yourself. Ask God to speak to you through his Word. Encounter the Bible on your own. You can’t inherit somebody else’s experience — you to have an authentic experience of your own.
“The BIBLE — banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it, dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.” (CHARLES COLSON)