The opening story in this chapter depicts what appears to be a conflicting account of a tragic accident. This is ultimately resolved to show how both parts of the story were correct and sets the stage for improving our understanding of how the gospel accounts are told from different perspectives and how this actually gives us more understanding, not less.
Seven examples are provided, each with some insight that helps us understand how we can be confident in the validity of Scripture. Here are a few key ideas:
- We should begin by realizing that we’re only getting limited perspectives on the story—with an incomplete listing of the details from eyewitnesses
- Suspend judgment, live with the tension of differing accounts, trust the integrity of both people and seek to discover more information
- Key point: During the centuries before the printing presses, scribes could—BUT DID NOT—artificially harmonize variations in the Gospels.
- Published Resources: The Big Book of Bible Difficulties (Baker Books, 2008) and New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, 2001).
Often people who raise issues are repeating rumors, but don’t know any specifics, just “sound bites” from news or social media. This approach is used to avoid actually learning the truth (which takes time and effort). Study the facts and get the whole story.
We can take a positive approach by showing that
- The New Testament is a reliable historical document
- The historical record presents Jesus as the unique Son of God
- Jesus, the Son of God and therefore the One with real authority, taught that the whole Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Real Questions or Spiritual Smoke Screens?
- Quite often people are just blowing smoke. Considering asking, “I’m curious, which ones bother you the most? What mistakes and contradictions have you found?”
- Gently ask them if there may be some reason they’re hoping that the Bible isn’t true. “Is there something in your life you’re afraid you’d have to change or give up in the Bible turns out the be what it claims—the Word of God?”
Myths About Bible Myths
There is growing skepticism in our culture as news reports on moral failures, scams, etc. This actually creates misinformation and people don’t often take time to investigate the issues for themselves.
Objection #1: The Bible is very old and was written by gullible, illiterate people; therefore, we can’t trust it.
Discerning the Truth. The truth is that societies in any age have both gullible as well as discerning people.
Telling the Truth. Many people lost their lives because of their associations with Christianity. Who dies for something they know is false? Nobody.
Objection #2: The Bible was written too far after the events actually happened to be considered reliable.
Early Creed. Matthew and John were written by two of the original twelve disciples; Mark by the “secretary” of Peter. Luke was a companion of Paul, a kind of first century “investigative reporter.” Like the others, he wrote his account well within the life span of the companions of Jesus.
Not Just “The Bible Tells Me So” There are non-biblical sources that corroborate events of the early Christians.
Objection #3: Even if it was accurate at first, the Bible was copied and translated so many times that it surely has been corrupted.
The Facts About Translation. Most people don’t really think about why they have this objection. Today’s modern translations come directly from the ancient texts, not intermediary translations.
Communication in the Ancient World. In an oral culture, people knew how to accurately retell stories; that’s how they communicated. The New Testament has some 20,000 lines of text, and of those, only about 40 lines are in question—none of which affect doctrinal issues.
Objection #4: The Bible has stories that sound like myths; maybe there is truth in there somewhere, like in Aesop’s fables, but you certainly can’t call it true in a historic sense.
Oddly enough, many who object to the Bible would support the idea of the Big Bang theory…that sounds pretty open minded! (Genesis would support this theory as well.)
Those in Jesus day didn’t argue that he performed miracles, they objected to him doing them on the Sabbath.
Objection #5: The New Testament consists of carefully chosen books, banning others that shed light on the real Jesus of history.
The simple truth is this: all those so-called gospels are much, much later than the Gospels in the New Testament. By contrast, the New Testament was completed by the apostles (or those they approved).
Objection #6: How can one religious book be right and all the others wrong? Isn’t it more likely all contain some truth, and all contain some error?
The Bible goes far beyond giving good advice: It teaches us about a Savior, about the need to rely on his righteousness instead of our own.
The Bible has predictive prophecy, which was later fulfilled—to the letter.
Jesus’ crucifixion was described in detail before Roman crucifixion was even invented.
Objection #7: Since ancient mystery religions taught tales of dying and rising gods, isn’t it likely Christians borrowed those ideas and invented a Jesus who claimed to do similar things?
Another reference to the fictional work, The Da Vinci Code, suggests that these ideas were projected into the Gospels. However, these ideas we refuted long before Dan Brown wrote his book. See: The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?
Objection #8: Since you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say, why should we give it any special credence? Doesn’t it all come down to subjective opinion, anyway?
This objection points to a real danger—our subjective opinions.
On a daily basis, people reinterpret the law to make it say what they want it to say (e.g., taxes and traffic tickets).
We cannot alter Scripture to suit ourselves. Instead, we need to humbly let the text alter us.
The Positive Case
- The New Testament is, at minimum, a reliable historical record
- The historical record presents Jesus as the unique Son of God
- Jesus, the Son of God, taught that the Bible is the inspired Word of God
Tips for Talking About This Issue
- When people question the Bible, don’t take it personally, don’t get defensive
- Not understanding something in the Bible means you’re in good company, even Paul is quoted by Peter saying that, “some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).
- The Bible is a big book! No one can master it all!
- Remember that people have been reading the Bible for centuries and it’s still being debated
- Suggest that they read one book (e.g., Mark or Luke) and jot down questions as they go. Agree to walk with them through the journey. Be patient.
Questions for discussion
- Have you ever been in a discussion with an unbeliever who argued against the validity of the Bible? How did you respond?
- Can you think of a time when two people recounted the same event—with two seemingly different scenarios? What is the best way to get at the real picture of what happened? How might this help you explain the so-called contradictions in the Gospel accounts?
- Have you ever seen someone use arguments against the Bible as a smoke screen to avoid the implications of its teachings in his or her life? How did you respond, or how might you in the future?
- The chapter quoted Mark Twain as saying, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” What are some examples of biblical teachings that might intimidate people?
- Why do you think books that are critical of the Bible, such as The Da Vinci Code, have such an impact on people’s opinions? How can you become better prepared to face these challenges?
- In the past, how have you faced questions you’ve had about the Bible? What has most helped you?
- Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16). How do these words affect your own commitment to learn and study Scripture?