Our Credible Bible (Lesson 4)
Perceived Bible Problems
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The Bible is by far the most reliable book ever produced in the ancient world. Manuscript evidence supporting its trustworthiness is overwhelming. The abundance of manuscripts available to us has let us determine with reasonable certainty what the original autographs said. Very few passages are left in doubt as to what the writer wrote. Thus the question: why is this fact not enough to convince most unbelievers to become Christ-followers?
One, some refuse to take time to investigate the evidence. Rather than do research, they often make a prejudgment based on hearing arguments against us that are one-sided and distorted. In some public settings, nothing bars attacks against Christianity. Other religions are off-limits, negativism toward them is deemed politically incorrect, but brutalizing Christianity is fair game. People often hear this onslaught against us, but ignore thousands of articles, books, blogs, etc., that present cogent arguments defending us.
Two, some say they cannot understand the Bible. This is not true. The Bible is noted for what theologians call perspicuity; it is understandable. It is the world’s #1 best selling book in all of history because people can read and understand it. Parts of it are difficult to read, but any person can take a Bible, read it from cover to cover, and walk away understanding what the Bible is all about. “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (PS 119:130 NAS). The Bible’s main truths can be grasped.
Often the problem is not misunderstanding, but understanding, the Bible, and not liking what it says. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand.”
Three, some reject the Bible not based on whether or not we have a reliable transmission of original writings, but due to what they consider to be culturally offensive messages in it. For instance, does the Bible promote slavery, or relegate women to a secondary role; did the Old Testament prescribe genocide? These attacks are specifically refutable with Apologetic rebuttals, but for our purposes we’ll take an overarching look at the issues.
We err in interpreting any writings if we fail to enter into the worldview of the writers when we try to judge their beliefs. We have to understand their setting in life. For instance, it would be easy for me to condemn my great-great-grandfather for supporting slavery and fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. To do so, though, would make me an elitist–as if to say I would have been above such behavior. Humility is a winsome virtue, even when exhibited across the ages. Was my ancestor wrong? Yes. Do I thus write him off as a terrible man? No. In fact, he became the spiritual patriarch of our family. He lived till 1924, and had a profound spiritual impact on my Grandpa Marshall, who in turn heavily influenced my spiritual formation. Perfection is not required for us to be effective, and it should not be required for us to think kindly of others.
Four, some reject the Bible because they feel the original writers were not trustworthy men. The manuscript evidence doesn’t matter because we can’t be sure the writers wrote the truth. The answer to this objection lies in whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. If Christ rose from death, all of Christianity is true. If Jesus did not rise, none of our faith is valid. Paul bluntly said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18 NAS). I believe we can confidently say the original followers of Jesus, including the writers of the New Testament, were credible, believable, trustworthy eyewitnesses of His resurrection.
When in college, I met an older student who was an ex-priest. He had renounced his vows, Roman Catholicism, and Christianity as a whole. We were one day discussing our lives. He had left behind the ministry and faith. I was in the beginning stages of ministry. I asked why he had renounced the faith. He answered, and asked why I believed. No one had ever confronted me with the question. My spontaneous answer to him then remains my more developed answer today. I believe primarily because the original followers of Jesus were willing to die for what they claimed about His resurrection.
Five, some reject the Bible because they believe it contradicts what they deem obvious teachings of science. Did creation take only six 24-hour days? What about evolution, geological dating, dinosaurs, the fossil record; was Noah’s flood worldwide? What about those miracles (BL 11)? This kind of questioning especially matters because many of our young adults who grew up in church are forsaking the faith, often due to these very issues. The arguments against our beliefs are often expressed in settings hostile to our faith. Our kids can find themselves bombarded with pressures of unbelief, and are in danger of ridicule or worse if they opt to believe and vocalize it.
Our churches and families need to do a better job of providing credible evidence to our youth to help them refute our critics. We are not doing well in preparing our own for the cultural wars they are entering. Sometimes the problem is not so much knowing a precise answer, but rather finding somewhere in our churches a safe place to ask and debate the tough questions. We would hope those who grow up in church could find there places of gentle Christian understanding, but many times they are inculcated with a sense of a harsh all-or-nothing choice from their childhood.
We in the church too often come across as being impatient with any who disagree with us, including our own children. We must be careful. Our Master said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NAS).
An atheist, Loftus, wrote in “Why I became an Atheist” that for many who leave the faith, there are three factors often involved (p. 24). One of the three relates to this very point. He says many leave the faith due to an initial serious investigation of a different worldview they had never examined in any detail previously. One problem is; young adults who ask questions are cut off quickly by their family and friends because they don’t know the answers; the questioner is thus treated like their having questions is wrong in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with questioning and debating issues. Many of us are too embarrassed to admit we do not know the answer, and rather than admit our weakness, and offer to take time to do some research, we cut off the questioner, which in essence usually drives them farther away.
Six, some reject the Bible due to a failure to understand how a good God can allow suffering. Surveys say the problem of suffering is the main reason people who seriously consider the faith refuse to accept Christianity. The atheist Loftus says one reason people leave the faith is a personal crisis of some kind that forces one to struggle with why God allows suffering.
Would a kind loving omnipotent God allow suffering among the innocent, or send people to an everlasting lake of fire? These question marks turn like fishhooks in many people’s hearts.
The 9/11 attacks, done in the name of religion, are seen by some as the event that spawned our modern day attacks from attacking atheists. These attacks are more and more aimed at Christianity. “How could a good God let this happen? Religion seems more bad than good.”
Seven, a sensed lack of love and support from believers at a critical crossroad in life. This is the third reason the atheist Loftus gives for why people forsake the faith. Many who adopt a sinful lifestyle sense the absence of love and care from the Christian community they were depending on; there is no place in the Christian community where they can be enfolded, accepted for what they are; not told their sin is okay, but where they know they are loved; only in a loving community like this can people who made wrong choices find a runway greased to make their return to the faith easier.
Eight, some reject the Bible because they think if it is the powerful Word of God we say it is, there shouldn’t be as many hypocrites as there are. Our detractors say many who say they believe the Bible don’t live the Bible.
Christianity groans under the burden of heavy baggage, sinful lives lived by people claiming to be Christians. We bear the burden of bad history, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnocentricism, being perceived as cultural hit-men who disrespect the views of unbelievers we disagree with. If reminded of these past failures, rather than becoming defensive, we must reply with humility.
This is a complex issue requiring long answers, but one thing I would like to interject here is; it is wrong to always equate failure with hypocrisy. A hypocrite is a fake, a person who knowingly pretends. Many sincere believers fail often. Their shortcoming is not hypocrisy, but rather frailty. We believers are not perfect.
We also need to distinguish between cultural Christians and committed Christians. Not all who claim to be Christians actually are.
Jesus spoke bluntly to this truth. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven: but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Many were baptized as infants, or as adults merely went through the formality of becoming members of a church, and yet never entered into a personal relationship with Jesus.