Answers to Skeptics Part III: Is the Bible Reliable?

This post is part of a series called “Answers to Skeptics.” The series contains some of the thoughts I’ve shared with my non-Christian friends over the years. Each post is written directly to skeptics. If you find them of value, feel free to share them with others. Join over 25,000 other readers and receive free blog updates. You can receive them by RSS or by Email.

“All scripture is inspired by God . . .” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

Those who know me are aware that I firmly hold that the Bible is fully reliable, fully inspired, and fully authoritative. This is why my books are packed to the gills with references to Scripture to buttress the points I seek to make.

As would be expected, I’ve received a good deal of push back on my belief in the truthfulness of Scripture from skeptics. But I’ve also received criticism from some fellow Christians, most of whom hold to a “canon within a canon” perspective or who hold to the idea that the Bible is only the Word of God when it’s accompanied by personal “revelation.” I reject both views and for that reason I’ve garnered some unpleasant mail.

That said, most of those whom I’ve had conversations with on the issue of the Bible’s reliability are people who presently reject Jesus. In this post, I’ll list their key objections along with my responses.

Suffice to say that in my experience, the majority of those who insist that the Bible is unreliable and untrustworthy have never investigated the evidence for themselves. They’ve just heard arguments put forth by others and repeated them without examining the subject for themselves.

The most notable are . . . 

1. The Bible has been copied so many times throughout the centuries that it cannot possibly be trustworthy. Surely the original meaning has changed over the many years of being copied and re‑copied. 

According to literary scholars, the genuineness of a written document is determined by the number of copies made from the original manuscripts (the original handwritten documents of the New Testament), the time interval between the original and the copies, and the number of discrepancies among those copies.

Using those metrics, the New Testament is the most reliable historical document in existence of comparable age.

Presently, there are over 20,000 copies of New Testament manuscripts (early copies) in existence. Homer’s Iliad, which only has 643 manuscript copies, ranks second to the New Testament in manuscript authority (numbers of copies).

But that’s not all.

The earliest copies of the New Testament manuscripts are dated extremely close to the time when the originals were penned. In comparison to all other classical writings of the ancient world, the manuscript copies of the New Testament are hundreds of years closer to their originals. And there is only a 2% variation within the manuscripts—most of them being accounted for by differences in spelling and punctuation.

Not one of the variants (differences) alters any Christian belief.

For these reasons, the New Testament is the most reliable piece of ancient classical literature in existence.

If you doubt the historical reliability of the New Testament, then you must also discard our entire knowledge of the ancient Greek and Roman world. Why? Because the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is far superior to that of any classical Roman or Greek work.

For example, the earliest copy of Tacitus’ Annals was written 1,000 years after the original manuscript and there are only 20 copies of it in existence today.

The earliest copy of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars was written 800 years after the original and there are only eight in existence today. In stark contrast, the earliest copies of the New Testament were written approximately 50 years after they were originally authored and there are about 24,000 manuscript portions of it in existence today.

Then there is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before the Scrolls were discovered in 1947, the oldest existing complete manuscript of the Old Testament was dated around A.D. 900. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls contains a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah. Paleographers dated the text around 125 B.C., over 1,000 years earlier than the manuscripts of Isaiah that we previously possessed.

Amazingly, the two copies were identical in 95% of the text. The 5% variation consisted only in spelling and in obvious slips of the pen. Therefore, the exactness of the two scrolls, which span a period of 1,000 years of transmission, demonstrates that the Bible is indeed genuine.

Note that the copyists of the Bible considered it to be a sacred text. So they exercised a great deal of caution and precision in transcribing it. They certainly applied far more care to the transmission of the Biblical text than did the Roman and Greek historians and playwrights.

To sum up, if someone is going to discard the Bible as being untrustworthy, they will have to discard all other pieces of classical literature.

2. The New Testament was filled with legends and myths about Jesus Christ that were written by His followers generations after He lived, so how could any of the information be accurate?

This question contains a false assumption. Scholars have demonstrated that the New Testament authors wrote their accounts of Jesus within a generation of the time in which He lived.

William F. Albright from John Hopkins University is regarded as “the father of modern archaeology.” Albright has said, “We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about A.D. 80, two full generations before the date of A.D. 130‑150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”

According to Albright’s research, “every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the 40’s and 80’s of the first century A.D.” The external evidence for this is compelling.

For instance, the earliest copy of the Gospel of Matthew dates into the last quarter of the first century and the earliest copy of the Gospel of John dates into the first quarter of the second century. These documents were found in Egypt, not in Palestine where they were originally written.

Therefore, the latest possible date for John’s Gospel carries us several years into the first century and the latest date for Matthew brings us quite close to A.D. 75 (for one must allow time for the manuscripts to get from Palestine to Egypt in a day when you didn’t have printing presses, automobiles, and fax machines).

Many contemporary scholars, however, date these books quite early, in the A.D. 50s and 60s.

The internal evidences, which are numerous, also indicate such early dates. Consequently, it is beyond the realm of debate that the entire New Testament was on paper well within the century in which Christ lived. Such evidence utterly destroys the notion that the New Testament contains mythology and legend.

You see, legends and myths simply could not develop and survive in such a short time span, for those who were firsthand witnesses of the events would have discounted the false reports. (Historians tell us that it takes at least two generations for a myth to develop.) This is unshakeable evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament accounts of Christ.

The external evidence supplied by archaeological discoveries also supports the authenticity of the Biblical accounts. Archaeologist Joseph Free has rightly stated, “Archeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.”

Along this same line archeologist Nelson Glueck declares, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference.”

Finally, according to William F. Albright, “The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited. Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.”

Some of the more recent archeological discoveries supporting the Biblical records are as follows: The Ebla tablets, the existence of the Hittite empire, the walls of Jericho, the Pavement (the court where Jesus was tried), the Pool of Bethesda, the village of Bethsaida, the cave of Machpelah, and many others.           

3. How do we know that the writers of the New Testament didn’t deliberately lie about their account of Jesus Christ: His Person, His miracles, and His resurrection? 

So the writers of the New Testament were not passing on legend and myth. But what about the idea that they fabricated their accounts in order to deceive their audience?

I find this unbelievable for several reasons.

First, the historical fact of Christ’s existence is well documented outside the Christian tradition. (Just a few examples are Tacitus, Annals, 15:44; Lucian, The Passing of Peregrinus; Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25:4; Pliny the Younger, Epistles 10:96; Phlegon, Chronicles; Thallus, Histories, Bk. 3; Josephus, Antiquities 18:33, 29:1; the Babylonian Talmud; etc.)

The historical evidence is quite clear that even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus.

Instead, the notion that Jesus never existed was put forth by several writers in the 18th‑19th centuries on inadequate grounds. So much so that no serious historian or scholar affirms it today.

In fact, there is more evidence for the existence of Christ than that of Caesar, Nero, Hammurabi, Aristotle, Plato, and many other major historical figures.

From a common sense standpoint, it is inconceivable that the person who has had the greatest influence on the civilized world never existed. The notion that the New Testament writers fabricated the man Jesus strains the bounds of credulity until they break.

As the famed historian Will Durant once said, “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels. After two centuries of High Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western civilization.”

Most contemporary historians agree with Durant’s assessment. Jesus of Nazareth’s existence is undeniable.

Second, the New Testament accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus were recorded by men who were either eyewitnesses of Christ themselves or related the accounts of those who were eyewitnesses of Him. The New Testament constitutes what is called “primary” or “firsthand” evidence.

Strikingly, what the New Testament writers reported was not only observed by themselves, but also by their contemporaries—some of whom were hostile to Christianity.

Consequently, since the New Testament writings were circulated within the lifetimes of those alive when Jesus lived, they could have easily denied the accuracy of the events reported. But they did not.

New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce has said, “And it was not only friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies (not to speak of willful manipulation of the facts), which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original apostolic preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, ‘We are witnesses of these things,’ but also, ‘As you yourselves also know’ (Acts 2:22). Had there been any tendency to depart from the fact in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective.”

So if the New Testament writers were inaccurate concerning their accounts of Christ, such fraud or inaccuracy would have been exposed by their contemporaries. Rather, we have external evidence outside of the New Testament whereby early critics of Christianity confirmed Christ’s words and acts.

While they conceded that the miracles that Jesus performed were real and the teachings that He gave were authentic, they disagreed with His message and attributed His powers to magical arts or demonic origins. But they never denied the actual events.

Third, the way the New Testament is written reveals its historical reliability. The New Testament authors recorded their own weaknesses and failures. This strongly suggests that they did not “invent” their reports.

Their writings themselves do not read like propaganda. Common sense dictates that if a person deliberately constructed a false event, he or she surely wouldn’t want to include their own weaknesses and failures in it.

Fourth, the New Testament writers willingly died for their testimony about Jesus and His resurrection. This fact alone is unshakeable. While many people have willingly died for what they believed was the truth, few if any would die for a lie that they themselves conceived.

The fact is that all twelve apostles of Jesus willingly suffered in the cruelest ways for their testimony that Christ had risen from the dead. They were tortured, flogged, imprisoned, and beaten for their testimony that they had seen the resurrected Jesus and that He was the Son of God. According to history, eleven out of the twelve disciples became martyrs for their testimony.

This suggests that what the disciples had reported concerning Christ was indeed accurate. I have never heard of a con man that was willing to die for his con.

(For a contemporary defense of the resurrection of Jesus by a first-rate historian, see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

4. Isn’t the Bible full of contradictions and discrepancies? And doesn’t this prove that it is unreliable and untrue? 

I have heard this objection a lot, but we should ask: “What constitutes a real discrepancy?” The New Testament provides us with four separate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, all written by different authors who told the story of Jesus from their own perspective.

It is not fair to conclude that every difference within the accounts constitutes a contradiction. In many cases, the Biblical authors narrated the same event, yet one was compelled to emphasize certain aspects of it while the other writers shoved those aspects into the background.

One of my atheist friends once argued that the Bible contradicted itself in regard to how Judas Iscariot died. According to the book of Acts, Judas fell “headlong and his body burst open.” According to the book of Matthew, Judas hung himself.

But is this really a contradiction? Matthew does not deny that after Judas hung himself he fell headlong. Neither does Acts rule out that Judas hung himself before his fall.

It seems that both are telling the same story, only a different part of it. That is, Judas suspended himself on a very steep cliff overhanging the Valley of Hinnom where the rope or the tree limb gave way. When the rope or limb broke, Judas fell to the bottom of the valley and his body became mangled.

Another cause for apparent discrepancies is when one makes the mistaken assumption that the Gospel writers are reporting the same event when they are not. For example, both Matthew and Luke list the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Yet, their genealogies differ greatly. This isn’t a contradiction.

Matthew traces Christ’s genealogy from the line of Joseph (Jesus’ legal father), while Luke follows the line of Mary (Jesus’ blood relative).

As one scholar has noted, “Every difficulty and discrepancy in the Scriptures is, and will yet be seen to be, capable of a fair and reasonable solution.”

In summary, the apparent contradictions of the Bible are often easily explained and reconciled when all of the evidence is examined in context. (See Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible which treats scores of apparent contradictions in the Bible and clears them up.)

What I’ve written in this post is merely an introduction to the subject. In my new book, Jesus: A Theography – a volume that argues that the entire Word of God (both Old and New Testaments) reveals Jesus Christ – I list a number of books that argue for the veracity of the New Testament in detail saying,

To those who would question the reliability of the New Testament and the Gospel accounts therein, we recommend The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1960); The Canon of Scripture by F. F. Bruce (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988); The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987); Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006); The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener; Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels by James D. G. Dunn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011); Memory, Jesus, and Synoptic Gospels by Robert McIver (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011); Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy (see n. 3); Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Richard Hays; The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) and The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) by Lee Strobel; and Gospel Perspectives (6 volumes), eds. R. T. France, David Wenham, and Craig Blomberg (Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1980–1986). See also The Art of Reading Scripture by Ellen David and Richard Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003); Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, rev. and exp. ed. by N. T. Wright (New York: HarperOne, 2011); The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006); Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture by Paul Achtemeir (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999); and The Bible Made Impossible (see intro., n. 68).

I believe the Old Testament is equally inspired and reliable. And a similar list of books can be compiled as well.

On a somewhat related note, see my post from May 2012 called On Mysticism where I argue that a person’s personal leadings or insights should never be placed on a par with or above Scripture, something I expand upon in Revise Us Again.

Stay tuned for Part IV of the series tomorrow.

Answers to Skeptics Part II: Is Jesus the Only Way?

Answers to Skeptics Part IV: Can a Good Person Be Condemned?

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Comments

  1. Anita says

    “Properly interpreted” = as long as it agrees with my world view. I notice you don’t really cite the Biblical scholars who disagree with your position.

    • says

      Not citing scholars who disagree is very simple. It’s a blog post not an academic book. A blog post that’s already too long.

      I’d be more than happy to give you a list of books that address (and shred) the arguments of scholars who deny the Bible’s authority and reliability.

  2. says

    “Scripture, when properly interpreted, is the standard and judge of such revelation.”

    Ahh, and there’s the rub. When “properly interpreted”. If I had a nickel for all the varying interpretations of scriptural passages I’d be a very rich man.

    That being said, I still believe the Bible is inspired. I definitely believe that it points to Jesus. I’m just extremely frustrated by the fact that even though the Bible seems to actively resist being nailed down, we Christians can’t seem to stop trying to do so. And doing so much damage in the process.

    • says

      Yes, interpretation is key. Len Sweet and I discuss and demonstrate how the NT Christians interpreted the Scriptures in “Jesus: A Theography.” We believe Scripture contains its own hermeneutic.

  3. Timothy says

    I agree with Travis Mamone. Barth’s view on the Bible not being the Word of God at all times seems correct to me. If we accept it to be this we elevate it too highly. Personal revelation if it’s of God is the same as the Bible. Have you read Barth?

    • says

      Not sure if you read my response to Travis, but here’s what I wrote to him below:

      While Barth — along with many other theologians from Augustine to Bonhoeffer — did a great job pointing out that all Scripture points to Jesus (something Len Sweet and I argue in detail in “Jesus: A Theography” – Oct, 2012), I agree with those scholars who believe that Barth’s view of inspiration was weak and uncompelling. Yes, Scripture is a finger that points to the Person of Christ. But that finger is alive with God’s life. Thus Paul could say, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” When we pit one against the other — on either side — we fall off the horse. I think you’ll enjoy the Theography. See http://frankviola.org/JesusChrist

      So I agree with Barth in some places. I like his Christocentricity — which was shared by Bonhoeffer. And he was a fierce and formidable critic against the liberal theologians of his day (hence why many evangelicals like him still). But his neoorthox view of biblical inspiration is something I regard as weak and thus I don’t agree with it. I also believe his ecclesiology was weak. Bonhoeffer’s was much stronger – see my post on “Act and Being.”

      If the Holy Spirit authentically speaks to someone today, it’s the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures. But it’s a mistake to regard such speaking today on the same par as Scripture. Scripture has endured the test of time and has been regarded by God’s people throughout the ages to be the standard for testing all revelation. Hence the word “canon.” Check out what that word means.

  4. John Philip says

    So much sense in what you write, Frank! Thanks for your many prophetic insights over the years.

    One thing with which I may disagree with you is the use of the phrase ‘Word of God’. I believe that, when using capital letters so that it is a title, this should be reserved for Jesus. When used with lower case (‘word of God’) it should refer to the words given directly by Yahweh, for example to Moses, by Jesus or by the Holy Spirit. I firmly believe that it is a huge mistake to view the whole bible as a sort of divine entity in its own right.

    This said, I completely agree with your views that the bible is both reliable and authoritative and that sceptics have rarely investigated their own claims. The last point unfortunately also applies to many Christians, whose trust in the authority of ‘the Word of God’ is actually greater than their trust in Jesus, and whose claims of the inneracy of the bible are based on what they have been taught, not what they have learned from honest appraisal.

  5. Ant Writes says

    Interesting how you’re writing these posts now. I’m getting bombarded with so many “liberal” Christians, who mock my evangelicalism as narrow-minded, uneducated and/or “fundamentalist”, that I am revisiting subject I haven’t in years. I was a vocal atheist in my younger years who got “radically saved” (is there any other way?) almost 20 years or so ago and haven’t looked back. I’ve read every Josh McDowell book cover to cover and all of Strobel’s books as well, but I feel as if liberal Christianity is the new rage. I find liberal Christianity as an oxymoron … if you can’t believe in the basic tenets of the Bible (that Jonah was real and not allegorical), how can you believe Jesus himself?

    Thanks for these posts during this season. I’m waiting for the mailman in earnest for your new book!

  6. says

    Having done quite a bit of study in this area, I would simply add that there are NO real historians, that are experts in the field of ancient history, that claim that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. And anyone on the fringe of historical studies that make this claim or not taken seriously as historical/biblical scholars by mainstream scholarship. I recommend reading Bart Ehrman’s (who is an agnostic and opponent of Christianity) take on this in his book, “Did Jesus Exist?”. Even Ehrman acknowledges the absurdity of being a Jesus-myther. It’s the YouTube atheists that propagate such nonsense.

  7. Nigel says

    Reference the discrepancies discussed at point 4 – I work for a law firm and am accustomed to taking witness testimony. It is quite usual for witnesses to the same event to differ on points of detail. Where the evidence of two or more witnesses is identical in every particular, this usually the suspicion of collusion between witnesses in the eyes of a court. From that perspective, the minor discrepancies referred to support the case that the accounts given are substantially correct. Indeed the abscence of discrepancies would lend support to the claim that the accounts had been fabricated.

    I also note that, on a more everyday level, a married couple describing the same event will again often differ on points of detail. This does not lead us to doubt the substance of what they are telling us.

    From all of the above, the existence of discrepancies strengthens rather than weakens the veracity of the bible.

  8. Hilary says

    Frank,

    This series of posts is so well timed. I constantly struggle how to present my faith to unbelievers as something that is rational, and this is very helpful. It is also great to remind myself of the fact that when we commit ourselves to following Jesus, we are not following a mythical person but a person that existed in history and is alive. Oh and I look forward to reading Jesus: A Theography!

  9. Paul says

    Frank,

    These articles could not have been more timely for me. for the last few weeks I have gone astray. I started reading books by Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, etc. to see what they saw about God and religion. Before I knew it I was starting to buy into the deception. I still have doubt, but now am realizing that doubting is a part of faith.

    I enjoy investigating science and the claims for evolution and am currently reading “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. I hope to see how the claims of science and Christianity can exist together. What are your thoughts for instance on “Young Earth Creation?”

    Anyway I don’t read every blog you post, but this series was extremely timely. Thanks

    • says

      I’m glad you found these essays of help. If you’re the only person who has been aided by them, I’m glad I published them. The subject of the earth’s age makes me yawn to be honest as it has no bearing on the reliability of the Bible. There are first-rate Christian scholars, theologians, and godly men and women on both sides of that issue. The texts don’t address the matter directly and cases can be made for several different viewpoints, all of which are built on inference. Scientist aren’t in agreement either, though there is the prevailing wisdom of an old earth. Whether the earth is old or young, Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and the First and Second Testament testimonies of Him are true.

  10. rikk says

    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.

    I don’t read much about this subject anymore, and I should admit that I should really have given it more effort as I do find this part of pop culture very interesting.

    I came across your post from twitter and noticed that you hadn’t approached the scientific claims of the bible that have been proven to be false, inaccurate and some dangerously misleading.

    Here’s the link I shared on twitter to give some examples.

    http://www.newscientist.com/mobile/article/dn13695-evolution-myths-the-theory-is-wrong-because-the-bible-is-inerrant.html

    I am aware that there’s been many attempts already to explain around these points but personally, I am unconvinced. I would find it interesting but probably not surprising to read about your own thoughts on this matter.

    • says

      That article is a straw man. It assumes too much and mis-assumes that all Christians read the Old Testament the way the article suggests. They do not. Not by a long shot. I suggest you read the work of N.T. Wright, John Goldingay, David Lamb, Peter Enns, and Paul Copan on these so called “scientific claims of the Bible.” I’d begin with my two interviews “God Behaving Badly” and “Is God a Moral Monster” in the archives. None of what you wrote overturns or discounts the points made in this post. Just sayin’. ;-)

  11. says

    This is awesome, Frank! I looked into this years ago and found similar information, and it really strengthened my walk in a time when criticism of Christianity and the Bible was very common. It is amazing to me how little known this information is. While our walk in Christ is by faith given by God’s grace, being reminded of these facts makes it very difficult to fall into doubt. I hope many Christians will check these articles out.

    • says

      Thanks, Mark. I’m publishing the series with the hopes of arming Christians with some answers to the common objections to the faith as well as helping those who don’t yet know Jesus yet who are searching for answers.

  12. Kelli says

    I would like to ask a clarifying question, Frank. Your last statement in this post says “On a somewhat related note, see my post from May 2012 called On Mysticism where I argue that a person’s personal leadings or insights should never be placed on a par with or above Scripture, something I expand upon in Revise Us Again.”

    My question is, if we are to learn to live by the indwelling spirit of God, meaning his spirit within us, and I understand that the bible is meant to help us in that endeavor, but we cannot place a book above God either, even if it’s a book inspired by Him in the first place.

    So what happens, theoretically, if someone were imprisoned and has no access to the bible or any sacred writings and has no access to the church (as you’ve defined it and as I agree with)? Are you saying that their personal leading and insights are to be discarded? Could you please elaborate on this because it seems to me that we can legitimately put our personal leading and insight ON PAR (but not above par) with Scripture (and in fact is beneficial to do so) but ONLY IF that personal leading or insight is in line with GOD’s INTENT as identified in scripture.

    I mean to say that we often times will read scripture with a predefined filter based upon our experiences and what we’ve been taught about how to interpret a piece of scripture. However, most of us who agree and align with your definition of Church would never have gotten here if we continued to believe what we were taught about Church from those who taught it to us. So in a sense, the personal leading and insight that brought you and many others to the same conclusions about what the Church is supposed to be came from within (and then substantiated by scripture after we got that little niggling in our gut that said something was off) and not from what we’ve been traditionally taught about Church. Having said that I do think that the personal leading/insight you and many others received was on par with God’s intent about Church and is in line with HIS intent as identified in scripture, if we’re open enough to take off the filter handed to us. I hope this is making sense and would really love to for you to elaborate.

    Thank you!

    Kelli

    • says

      I’ve not said anything about a person who is in prison and has no Bible or doesn’t know what the Bible says. The point is that if a person says that God told them to do something, for instance, and it contracts what He has said in Scripture, then their revelation is bogus. The same is true for what people teach. The Scriptures are the standard and either correct or confirm our subjective leadings as well as our sacred traditions. I make this case in “Reimagining Church” as it concerns ecclesiology. The Spirit and the Scriptures will always agree. Take a look at what Tozer said and the others in that May post. I gives examples in “Revise Us Again” as well. I grew up in the Charismatic movement and people were saying “God told me …” all the time. And many times such sayings contracted the teachings of Jesus. So God wasn’t really telling them those things.

      I’m looking forward to hearing the responses of non-Christians to this post as it was written to them. So if you know anyone who doesn’t know the Lord and they’re using the “unreliability of the Bible” as an excuse to reject Jesus, feel free to point them here.

      • Kelli says

        Frank, I appreciate the response as I know that my question wasn’t really relevant to the intent of the post. I was just curious what you thought and why you stated that personal leading and insight should not be put on par with scripture, especially when scripture can be grossly mistranslated and understood. I agree with you that many folks have gone the route of “God told me.” I too spent a number of years in the charismatic/pentacostal ways and have personally been guilty of doing the “God told me” thing. I think that both our personal leading and insights and our understanding of scripture should align with each other because if we don’t have emphasis on the spirit within then we fall into the ditch of becoming dogmatic and judgmental and scripture becomes a whipping instrument, but if we only have emphasis on the spirit then we can also fall into the other ditch of being led into ares that are not God’s will.

        Anyway, thanks for the response, I appreciate it very much!

        Kelli

        • says

          Regarding your concerns of falling off the other side of the horse, I’ve written a great deal on the indwelling life of Christ (via the Spirit) and not to dismiss or undermine it. But the other peril is to exalt one’s personal leadings above the Spirit, and I’ve given sufficient time to addressing that as well. Both are “errors by emphasis” (as I call them) and we should never pit the Bible against the Spirit on either side. The Scriptures have stood the test of time and they have the authorization of the body of Christ throughout the ages. So it’s spurious to equate an individual’s alleged “leading” to be on the same par as Scripture, which means to exalt it to the status of being a standard for judging truth. “Canon” means standard and Christians throughout the ages have held it as such. That’s not to say the Bible “is” the Holy Spirit as one Church of Christ person tried to tell me years ago. Nor is it to say that interpretations of the Bible are often erroneous and they must be weighed. Anyways, this post is mainly for those who don’t know Jesus so we’re really off the subject. But I hope it helps. Take care.

          • Rick Costa says

            Another thing to consider in this line of thought is that the Bible is for ALL believers at all times whereas a personal word given by the Holy Spirit may only be for a select few at a specific time.
            Also for me personal I would sooner trust what I see in the Bible which I know has been around unchanged for many generations than a person’s “God told” who’s integrity and intentions I can’t really know. Not to say that I don’t believe God can speak that way because He has used me to do so as well but I wouldn’t put that on the same level of Scripture.

  13. Travis Mamone says

    My approach to the Bible has changed dramatically in the past two years. I still believe that God speaks through us through Scripture . . . but I no longer believe that God “wrote” the Bible. Neither do I believe that the Bible is inerrant.

    For example, there’s no record of Caesar ordering a tax as described in Luke, there are two different creation accounts in Genesis, and the Flood story parallels a similar story found in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    Now that doesn’t mean we should stop reading the Bible. Heavens no! It’s just that we need to be careful not to hold up a collection of thousand-year-old books just as high as we hold up Jesus.

    • says

      Travis. Those examples in no way deny the Bible’s truthfulness of reliability. Archeologists and historians are constantly discovering events in the Bible that were not previously found in history only to be discovered in other sources later. Your example of Caesar’s tax in no way denies the historicity of Luke’s claim. The two Genesis accounts have been explained multiple times by theologians. Len Sweet and I even weigh-in on it in our new book, “Jesus: A Theography.” They are different takes on the same event viewed from different perspectives. One is a micro view, the other is a macro view. Yes, the flood is found in the literature of many cultures and many scholars have pointed out that this only affirms that it occurred. I suggest you take a look at some of the books in my list at the bottom of the post as well as the “Alleged Discrepancies” volume. In short, we can trust what Scripture says about Jesus and His claims as Messiah and Lord, which is most important.

      • Travis Mamone says

        I still believe that the Bible is a witness to Jesus, which is how it becomes the Word of God, as Karl Barth would say. I just think we need to be careful not to elevate the Bible to the same level authority as Jesus. The Bible, to me, is a finger pointing to the moon, not the actual moon itself.

        • says

          While Barth — along with many other theologians from Augustine to Bonhoeffer — did a great job pointing out that all Scripture points to Jesus (something Len Sweet and I argue in detail in “Jesus: A Theography” – Oct, 2012), I agree with those scholars who believe that Barth’s view of inspiration was weak and uncompelling. Yes, Scripture is a finger that points to the Person of Christ. But that finger is alive with God’s life. Thus Paul could say, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” When we pit one against the other — on either side — we fall off the horse. I think you’ll enjoy the Theography. See http://frankviola.org/JesusChrist

        • Claire Demtre says

          Sadly, the bible is always misrepresented, misinterpreted, misused and in the hands of mere men it’s just a weapon. God is quite capable of revealing to me His word/message.. as in “personal relationship”. What is written in the bible is one of many ways of knowing about God. But it’s God himself who speaks into our hearts who He is and His love for us. And He chooses how he reveals Himself to us.

          • says

            Certainly, the Bible has been misused and misinterpreted to justify all sorts of horrible things. However, to put one’s personal revelation above the Scripture is to err. Scripture, when properly interpreted, is the standard and judge of such revelation. The Holy Spirit will never contradict Himself.

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