The Scripture Problem
Is the Bible the Word of God? For skeptics, the answer is simply no – us crazy humans wrote it, and Christianity is patently false. On the side of faith the answer is yes, the Bible is the owner’s manual for living – those who choose to ignore it will end up shipwrecked in life. For atheists and fundamentalists alike, these seem to be the only two options. I find both options troubling.
The skeptical answer seems to deny every encounter I’ve ever had with God through the scriptures. God transformed my life, and He has done the same for literally billions of others. This is one reason why I don’t think the atheist position has much to commend it and why I don’t find the atheist-theist debate to be anything more than mildly interesting.
My problem with the fundamentalist option is that I just can’t find any good reason to accept it. The various defenses generally focus on refuting claims that the Bible is unreliable or contradictory. But once you have done that, you have still not proven that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, just that it is reliable and not contradictory. As far as I know, there are only three options for defending the “Owner’s manual” view of the Bible:
- Fulfilled prophecy – “One of the unique and fascinating aspects of the Bible is that in no other religious literature do we find the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy” (Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense, 56). My difficulty is that the fulfilled prophecies are not that cut-and-dry. Matthew 2.15 fulfills Hosea 11.1, “Out of Egypt I called my Son” – except that in its context in Hosea there is nothing that sets this passage apart as a Messianic prophecy, or even as a prophecy at all. Matthew 27.35, “And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots,” seems to fulfill Psalm 22.18, but the skeptic’s answer seems at least equally plausible: that Matthew invented this little bit in order add credibility to his story. Daniel seems to prophesy the rise and fall of kingdoms (Daniel 11), but there is significant evidence that the book was written during the Maccabean period, long after the prophesied events had already occurred. Of course there are answers to all of these, but one’s acceptance of them seems to depend on an a priori belief in the inerrancy of scripture, the very thing this argument is attempting to prove.
- Best option – The argument is that it is reasonable to believe that God has given us some divinely inspired writings and the Bible is the best candidate. The trouble here is that it merely shifts the problem from why we should believe the Bible to why we should assume that God would give us any divinely inspired writings. It is certainly not intuitive that God would give choose to give us a book. Why not speak directly to us? Why not write a message in the sky or light up a message on the board in a baseball stadium? Moreover, this argument has the added problem of now having to prove that the Bible is the best option, a proposition which is typically defended by creating straw men of those who defend other religious traditions. On the whole this argument seems to fail.
- Jesus’ authority – It is reasonable to believe in the deity of Jesus on the weight of the historical evidence alone, and Jesus authenticated the scriptures. The argument is weakest in affirming the books of the New Testament, all of which were written after Jesus had made any of these statements. The classic passage used to defend the New Testament comes from John 14.26, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” This leads us to all sorts of difficulties related to canon: How do we know we got the right books? Why should we accept Hebrews or 2 and 3 John, which offer no textual support for being written by apostles? Why should we accept Mark, Luke, and Jude which do not even claim to be written by apostles? Why should we accept any of Paul’s writings, who had never even met Jesus during his earthly ministry, providing absolutely no way for the Holy Spirit to “bring to [his] remembrance all that [Jesus] spoke to [him]”? Even the strongest part of this argument, Jesus’ affirmation of the Old Testament, comes from a single passage, John 10.35, where Jesus asserts that “the scriptures cannot be broken.” Most critical scholars would deny that the book of John is historically reliable at all. Of course we might want to reject that consensus, but our primary reason for doing so, as above, rests on a view of inerrancy that we are trying to prove.
How can a Christian affirm the scriptures? Before I offer my solution, I am curious how you, the reader, might answer the question. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.