Archives For Apologetics

In my last post, I explained that Christians typically try to convince non-Christians of the truth of the Bible by proving its reliability textually and historically. But non-Christians have another way of evaluating Christianity: they want to know if they can trust the Bible morally.

whitecrossIt doesn’t occur to me to answer that question for one main reason. I have lived so long inside the Christian worldview that I forget how different our religion is. Most religions and philosophies aim to change behavior from bad to good in order to please God, be a good citizen, or feel good daily. Christianity, on the other hand, only tries to prove that something happened historically. Once you’ve proved that, you work backwards to prove the rest.  My question is “Is Jesus God who rose from the dead?” Once I answer that question then I can assume that God knows how I ought to live.

Here’s why this is great news. When a person simply evaluates from their own perspective whether or not a certain philosophy or religion will make them “good,” “please God,” or “feel good,” they’re doing the best they can. But they’re basically just reflecting the current wisdom of their friends and family and media. They cannot rise above their culture because they’re stuck in it; just like a fish couldn’t imagine walking on land because his whole world involves water. When Christianity comes along with its way of “being good,” “pleasing God,” and “feeling good daily,” the wisdom comes from another world. It’s not up for debate or evaluation because we humbly realize that God is speaking (as opposed to humans, who should be critiqued).

We evaluate the trustworthiness of our religion in a completely different way. It has very little to do with personal experience, whether it seems to work, whether it makes me feel like I’m a good person, whether I get personal peace. (It will do pretty much all of that for you even though that’s not the point.)

Evaluating Christianity goes like this: Did Jesus die as a historical event? Did he rise from the dead? If so, then he must have been someone very important. What did he say about himself? Did God approve of his message? Jesus claimed to be God. And when God lets Jesus come back to life, that seems like a pretty significant endorsement of what Jesus said. Now, with that in mind, how did Jesus say we get on good terms with God? How did he command us to live? Our aim is to figure that out, respond accordingly, and assume that God knows best how to be good rather than bad, how to please God, and how to feel good today. History comes first, and all the practical stuff is the natural result.

Greek BibleA few weeks ago I preached a sermon called “You Can Trust the Bible.” Like I’ve always done in talks like this I laid out a simple path: 1) You can trust the Bible textually. 2) You can trust the Bible historically. 3) You can trust the Bible personally.

With the first point I showed how the copies of various books of the Bible are so plentiful and precise that we can know with nearly perfect confidence that the words in our Bibles are the words originally written by the authors. With the second point I showed how the Bible stands up to repeated attacks on its historical value, proving itself more accurate over and over. This makes sense because the authors have such an incredible advantage over modern people in terms of knowing what actually happened (i.e. they saw it happen).

After making those two points, I pulled in for the clincher, “That’s why you can trust the Bible and give your life to Jesus.” Christians in the audience loved it. I got lots of pats on the back from those in our family.

But then I got some texts from people who weren’t so convinced. “How can I believe a book that endorses slavery?” “How can I trust a book that is so backward about women?” “How can I trust a book that damns homosexuals?”

Nearly every book I read in college and seminary about how to “prove” the Bible took my two steps. But modern people expect another step. They have a different standard for evaluating a religion. They want to know if they can trust it morally.

Modern people expect to know if they can trust every moral claim about a religion or philosophy before they jump into it. Think about this for a minute. Why do they have this expectation? I’ll give two reasons, but I’ll only focus on the second.

1) Religions and philosophies aren’t chosen these days because they’re true but because you agree with them. People chose a religion as an endorsement of the philosophy they already hold. It’s like getting a historical, cultural stamp of approval that backs up what you already believe.

2) They want an answer to this question because this is how modern religions and philosophies are evaluated.

Buddha 1I’m finding that more and more of my non-Christian friends approach spirituality in a semi-Buddhist way, so I’ll use that religion to make my point.

Buddha was an agnostic. He didn’t make claims about God; in fact he said it was a waste of time to desire to know what God is like. In his opinion, caring about God too much hinders you from real enlightenment. What matters is living right, thinking right, and feeling right. The patterns of feeling, thinking, and living that you develop will give you personal peace. But Buddha didn’t claim that he got his stuff from God. No, he thought hard and came up with this philosophy. He then told people to follow him by thinking hard. The only test he offered people for evaluating whether or not Buddhism is “true” is personal experience. Huston Smith (the most famous professor of world religions) summarizes Buddha’s approach and includes a few quotes from the sage himself:

“On every question personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’”[1]

Not every person in the West thinks just like this. Not everyone connects their line of reasoning to Buddhism. But there are similarities among hard-working pragmatists, socially progressive secular humanists, well-meaning agnostics, generous atheists, and sweet and carefree New Agers. Ultimately they want to find a life-philosophy that helps them be good not bad, be good enough for ‘god’, or feel good today.

So, when I go on and on about historical arguments for the Bible and its factual nature, people yawn. Other people seem interested but unaffected on a spiritual level. The textual question doesn’t matter to them, nor does the historical question. They want the moral, life philosophy, personal peace, ‘be good’ question answered.

It’s an important question. And in the next post, I’ll explain how Christianity actually answers it.



[1]Huston Smith, World Religions, 98. Quotes from Woodward, Some Sayings, 283.

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesTwo Things No One Can Deny

Francis Schaeffer liked to talk about two aspects of the human experience that every person has to wrestle with. These are constants—every person who has ever lived has encountered these two things. The first (which I will explore in this post) is the existence of the external world. The second (which I will explore tomorrow) is what Schaeffer referred to as “the mannishness of man.”

The World 2We live in the midst of a world. We can’t deny it. We keep bumping into it. It’s everywhere we look. Try as we might, we can’t see beyond it, nor can we quite manage to see it differently than it is, though we often try. We can’t get its smell out of our nostrils or its feel away from our nerve endings. It’s just there. Unavoidable. Undeniable.

Of course, people being what they are, some have tried to deny the existence of the external world. Or at least cast doubt upon its existence. Renee Descartes’ famous dictum “I think therefore I am” was the conclusion of his experiment of systematic doubt. How do I really know anything at all? How do I know I even exist? Could not my senses or some evil spirit be deceiving me about everything I’ve ever known? The only thing that Descartes could not doubt was the fact that he was doubting.

Some of the eastern religions teach that this world is nothing more than an illusion. The trick is to call it out and realize that all of the distinctions we make between individual objects (I am not you, you are not a tree, the land is not the sea) are misguided. These distinctions are illusions. So we must let go of the illusion of an external world and mindlessly meld with everything.

How do I know I exist? How do I know you’re not a figment of my imagination? We can certainly ask ourselves these questions.

But at the end of the day, we’re still living in the real world. Go ahead and believe that this world is an illusion. You still can’t escape it. You still have to follow the dictates of gravity. You still come into contact with real people. You still see things like beauty and understand things like truth. Believe what you want, but we all know—truly and deeply—that the external world is real.

Literally every thing points to the reality of the external world. As Christians, the inescapable reality of the external world works in our favor. We can have a discussion with a Buddhist, for example, about the whole world being an illusion. And we can try to convince him intellectually. He will argue against us, but then he must go about his day living as though this world is a real place. In other words, he can say what he wants, but at this point—if he wants to function in the world that exists—he must live inconsistently with regard to his stated beliefs.

Or talk to the person who denies the existence of a Creator. She will explain that the existence of God is improbable or even impossible. But then she has to face the fact that this world is here. Why should it be here? She can appeal to concepts like “deep time” and talk about what could happen when time and chance work together over billions of years, but still—something is here! Where did it come from? That question must persist like a thorn in the brain when the only available answer is, “Well, who knows what could happen when you give it enough time and chance?”

The beauty of this whole thing is that the God who gave us the gospel is also the God who fashioned the external world. And he knows what he’s talking about. So when we speak to people about the truth of the Christian worldview, we can have full confidence that our worldview matches the world that exists completely. No one else has this advantage. So we have both truth and reality on our side—both working together to point people to the truth and power of the gospel. But even more powerful than the existence of the external world is “the mannishness of man”—a concept  that we will explore tomorrow.

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the seriesCan You Trust Your Bible?

Old holy Bible in German little dusty and used.The Bible is of the utmost importance to Christians. This is our foundation for life and godliness; the source for our beliefs about God, ourselves, and our world; and the place we go to hear the voice of God. Whether your Bible is dusty or well-worn, the Bible is essential to your life as a Christian.

But can we trust it? Most of us would say yes. Yet most Christians would be hard pressed to explain why they believe the Bible is trustworthy. When skeptics tell us that the Bible is unreliable, that it has been copied and recopied so many times that it can’t be trusted, that the Bible has been changed by human beings, that it’s old fashioned and irrelevant for today, and many other such accusations, we brush them aside. But deep down, many of us feel uneasy.

So can you trust your Bible? Absolutely you can. I’m going to take six posts to explain why. Here’s my gameplan:

Part 1: Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed Over Time?
Part 2: Doesn’t the Bible Contain Errors?
Part 3: How Do We Know the Bible Is Scripture?
Part 4: Who Put the Bible Together?
Part 5: How Do We Know We Got the Right Books?
Part 6: What Gives the Bible Its Authority?

  So here we go.

 

Part 1: Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed Over Time?

Two accusations against the Bible go hand in hand. One is that the Bible contains errors (we will deal with this tomorrow), and the other is that the Bible has been changed over time. Christians have historically believed that the Bible is inerrant (i.e., it contains no errors). So if the Bible does indeed contain errors—whether historical, scientific, self-contradictory, etc.—and if the Bible has indeed been changed, then we have a problem.

First of all, it is important to clarify that when we say the Bible is inerrant, we mean that it contains no errors in its original manuscripts. We don’t have any of the original manuscripts for any of the books of the Bible (this seems like a good thing considering how easy it would be for these manuscripts to become idols). We have many (I mean that: many!) manuscripts that are very old, but none that are original. So if we find a minor mistake here and there (and we do find minor inconsistencies), we don’t need to be unsettled—we’re only claiming inerrancy for the original documents.

Coptic ManuscriptNow, I just mentioned two scary things: (1) we don’t have any of the original manuscripts, and (2) our copies contain minor errors. Don’t be afraid. In reality, the diversity of the manuscripts we have actually strengthens the reliability of Scripture. Early on, the books of the New Testament were copied, translated, and spread across the known world. So if someone was going to tamper with the words of Scripture, they had a narrow time frame in which to do it. The reality is that we have many manuscripts in a handful of languages. So there are “families” of Greek manuscripts that are very similar to one another. There are also “families” of Coptic manuscripts that are very similar to one another, etc.

Let’s put this into perspective. We have somewhere north of 20,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in museums and collections around the world. That’s a lot. And if that doesn’t sound impressive to you, consider that many of other works we have from the ancient world are considered reliable even though they are based on no more than a few manuscripts.

And here’s the impressive thing. These diverse manuscripts agree with each other more than 99% of the time. So the Bible spread around the world, was translated into a handful of languages, and was copied like crazy. And all of these copies agree with one another almost completely. That less than 1% disagreement is not scary in number or in content. It is significant that we know exactly where these discrepancies are located. You can see them as you’re reading your Bible. Most English translations mark these with footnotes that indicate “Some manuscripts read “_____.” Pay attention to these while you read, and you’ll find that they are rare and that none of them are very significant.

Dead Sea Scroll IsaiahWe’ll talk about the Old Testament a bit in Part 4, but it’s worth pointing out the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were discovered in 1948 in caves near the Dead Sea. They contained a lot of things, but significantly, archaeologists found several copies of the Old Testament. Prior to their discovery, the oldest manuscript of the Old Testament that we had was dated around 1000 AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, were dated around 200 BC. This means that they were written, sealed up, and hiding in the darkness long before Jesus and his followers were born, just waiting to be discovered in the 20th century. In many cases, these Old Testament scrolls match our Bibles very closely. In some cases, the scrolls differ. What this means (and this was not news to scholars) is that a handful of textual traditions were in circulation even at that early date. In any case, this finding confirms that our Old Testament has not been reworked wholesale since the time of Christ. (For more on the reliability of the Old Testament, stick around for Part 4).

So we can be confident that the Bible we have matches the Bible that the inspired authors wrote. But does that matter? If the original manuscripts contain errors, then we can’t trust our Bibles. I’ll address that possibility tomorrow.

 

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