Common Objections to Christianity

Does It Matter If the Bible Is Historically Accurate?

Teaching t06077b

Introduction

Repeat two goals of this series. OBJECTION #2: This is a valid question. Christianity asks people to stake their lives on the truth claims of Jesus Christ, which are found in the Bible. Certainly, it is appropriate to want some evidence that the record of these claims is reliable.

The prevailing view in our culture today is that the Bible has been discredited as such a record, and that therefore educated, thinking people cannot trust its claims because this involves resorting to "blind faith." How has this view developed? There are two main answers:

Non-Christian professors commonly declare this as dogma and/or imply it by their comments about the Bible being primitive, full of contradictions and errors, etc. Since most people form their beliefs by osmosis from sources they respect, students usually emerge from secular universities with this view.

Unfortunately, Christians often respond to this objection in ways that are unhelpful, so that this objection is confirmed rather than overcome.

"The Bible must be reliable because it claims to be God's Word." This is circular reasoning: the conclusion is stated as a premise. Also, what about other scriptures which make the same claim, but which contradict the truth-claims of the Bible?

"The Bible's claims about Jesus are true in spite of the fact that it is full of errors in other matters." (NEO-ORTHODOXY; NEO-EVANGELICAL PARTIAL INERRANCY) If the Bible doesn't speak reliably in the areas in which it can be tested, why should we believe it in the areas in which it can't be tested?

"The Bible is God's Word because it makes me feel close to God, it helps my life, etc." This is something, but it can't be adequate by itself, because similar reports and conclusions are drawn about scriptures which contradict the Bible.

I propose to respond to this objection by breaking it down into three sub-questions about the Bible's reliability . . . 

Has the Bible been transmitted accurately?

WHY IMPORTANT: How can it possibly be a reliable source of spiritual truth if we are unable to determine what it said?

MISCONCEPTION: Its contents have been so distorted by oral transmission and sloppy copyists through the centuries that we can have no assurance that what we now possess even approximates what was originally written (2ND GRADE TEACHER TELLING STORY AROUND CIRCLE).

RESPONSE: The evidence shows that the Bible has been transmitted accurately in a way far surpassing any other ancient work.

OLD TESTAMENT (composed 1400-400 BC)

There are a fairly small number of extant Hebrew manuscripts because the Jewish scribes ceremonially buried imperfect and worn manuscripts, because many manuscripts were destroyed through their turbulent history, and because after the text was standardized (Massoretic) by 6th cent. AD, all manuscripts which deviated from it were eliminated. However:

Other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) writings evidence a painstaking care in copying any important documents. K. A. Kitchen cites an Egyptian funerary papyrus of about 1400 BC states: "(The book) is completed from its beginning to its end, having been copied, revised, compared and verified sign by sign."[1]

Because of their reverence for scripture, Jewish scribes exercised extreme care in making new copies of the Old Testament. The number of letters, words and lines were counted, and the middle letters of the Pentateuch and whole Old Testaments were determined. If a single mistake was discovered, the entire manuscript was destroyed. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the 1st century AD, said: "We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable."[2]

Striking evidence of this accuracy of transmission is found by the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947). Prior to their discovery, our earliest copies and fragments dated to around 1000 AD - fully 1400 to 2400 years after they were written. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain copies of virtually the whole Old Testament which can be dated to 400 B.C. to 70 A.D. Opponents predicted significant discrepansies between the DSS Old Testament and the Massoretic text. But when the DSS were compared to these documents, they were found to be virtually identical. This demonstrates the accuracy of transmission between c. 200 BC and 1200 AD.

World-renowned Old Testament scholar W. F. Albright, says: "We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature."[3]

NEW TESTAMENT

The evidence for its accurate transmission is exceptional. We have full copies dated to 325-350 AD, and fragments dated to within 120 AD. The number of ancient copies available, the quality of those copies, and the time span between them and the original documents is unsurpassed among ancient documents. (SEE CHART)

F. F. Bruce: "The evidence for (the accurate transmission of) our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt."[4]

John Warwick Montgomery: "To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament."[5]

Sir Frederick Kenyon, former director and principal librarian of the British Museum and one of the foremost experts on ancient manuscripts: "The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the (New Testament has) come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established."[6]

Does the Bible speak accurately in the areas in which it can be tested?

WHY IMPORTANT: Many of the central issues of spiritual truth lie beyond direct verification (NATURE OF GOD; AFTERLIFE; WAY OF SALVATION). This is why it is so important that these truth claims be connected to something which can be tested (JESUS "SIGNS").

MISCONCEPTION: The spiritual truth claims of the Bible are unreliable because it has been proven to be full of historical inaccuracies.

RESPONSE: Many of the best minds of history, recognizing the Bible's vulnerability at this point have attempted to destroy its credibility by demonstrating its historical inaccuracy. Although it was once confidently assumed that archeology would prove the historical inaccuracy of the Bible, this is far from the case. While we cannot say that archeology proves the authority of the Bible, it is fair to say that archeological evidence has provided external confirmation of hundreds of biblical statements.

OLD TESTAMENT

Scholars considered the Genesis account of Abraham (including Sodom and Gemorrah) to be mythological or ahistorical. Ur was excavated and shown to be a flourishing city around 2000 BC. The Ebla Tablets include some of the kings mentioned in Gen. 14. Tell Mardikh tablets mention Sodom and Gemorrah.

Scholars said Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because the art of writing was virtually unknown in Israel prior to David's time (1000 BC). The Ras Shamra Tablets date from 1400 BC. Ebla takes this back to Abraham's time (2100 BC). Both show that writing was well-advanced by this time.

Scholars said the Law of Moses could not have been developed earlier than 5th century BC. But Hittite Suzerainty treaties (15th century BC) bear remarkable similarity to the form of Mosaic Covenant. Also, Hammurabi (1700 BC), Lipit-Ishtar (1860 BC), Eshnunna (1950 BC) refute this claim.[7]

Nelson Glueck, renowned Jewish archeologist: "It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical passage."[8]

NEW TESTAMENT

Most of the geographical details associated with the life of Jesus have been substantiated. This includes places such as the Pool of Siloam, the Pool of Bethesda, Jacob's Well, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Cana, Chorazin, the residence of Pilate in Jerusalem, and the "Pavement" (gabbatha) of Jn. 19:13.[9]

19th century critics claimed that Luke was a terrible historian. They scoffed at his references to Lysanius as tetrarch of Abilene (Lk. 3:1) and Sergius Paulus as proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7). But excavations have proven both of these claims to be true. Sir William Ramsay, who began his excavations to prove Luke to be untrustworthy, concluded after years of study that "Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness . . ."[10] and "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians."[11]

John W. Montgomery: “Careful comparison of the New Testament with inscriptions & other early independent evidence has confirmed their primary claims . . . Competent historical scholarship must regard the New Testament documents as coming from the first century & as reflecting primary-source testimony about the person & claims of Jesus.”[12]

Does the Bible provide a unique means of authenticating its claim to be God's Word?

WHY IMPORTANT: Since the Bible makes such a claim for itself (DIVINE INSPIRATION), might we not expect it to produce some unique way of authenticating its claim ("CREDENTIALS" STORY)?

RESPONSE: The Bible actually anticipates our need for such unique authentication and provides its own means of authentication via fulfilled prophecy. Consider these passages, which were written in a religiously pluralistic, competitive environment.

Read Isa. 41:22-24; 44:6-8; 48:4,5. Such detailed knowledge of the future would require either sovereignty over history or freedom from constraints of time (or both)--i.e., deity.

Read Deut. 18:20-22. Old Testament prophets were required to give verifiable (short-term, detailed) predictions--and they were to be executed if they were wrong!

It was this kind of evidence to which the apostles referred when they proclaimed that Jesus' death and resurrection was "according to the scriptures" (Lk. 24:44-48; Acts 3:18,24; 17:2,3; 1 Cor. 15:3-5). Because Jesus had no control over most of these events, purposeful fulfillment was impossible. EXAMPLES:

Time (Dan. 9:24,25) - Over 500 years earlier, his death was predicted to the year.

Birthplace (Micah 5:2) - Of course, Jesus had no control over this.

Response of Jews (Isa. 53) - So detailed that prior to DSS, many though it was a Christian forgery.

Mode of Execution (Ps. 22:1-18) - This was predicted several centuries before crucifixion was invented.

Of all the "scriptures" of major religions, only the Bible provides an objective means of authentication. Except for the Quran, they don't claim to be revelation. The Quran is mere assertion.

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE: There is unsurpassed evidence that the Bible is a reliable source of religious truth!! After answering such questions, you must personalize the issue.

God doesn't give you this information for your entertainment, or to stimulate your curiosity (though many start here).

God isn't satisfied with you only coming to the conclusion that the Bible is inspired and that theism is the correct position (Satan shares this conviction).

God wants you to listen to him and respond to him in the way described in Isa. 55:2-3, 6-7.

Footnotes

[1]K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient & the Old Testament (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 140.

[2]Against Apion (Kregel, 1960), pp. 179,180.

[3]Cited in Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 65.

[4]F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 15.

[5]John W. Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 29

[6]Sir Frederick Kenyon, The Bible and Archeology (New York: Harper, 1940), pp. 288,289.

[7]Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), pp. 165-176.

[8]Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society, 1969), p. 31

[9]Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody, I'm Glad You Asked (Wheaton, Victor Books, 1982), p. 82.

[10]Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953), p. 222.

[11]Sir William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962), p. 81.

[12]John W. Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), pp. 31,34.

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