If you talk about the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures with those who don’t confess any kind of Christianity or are only loosely affiliated, a lot of times their eyes will glaze over. A lot of people don’t necessarily actively hate the Bible, but the idea that it is inerrant and inspired and has authority over their life isn’t of any real importance. It’d be like someone trying to explain to me the importance of the various ways paint is made and the different properties of paint. All that matters to me is that it sticks to drywall. That’s how a lot of people view the Bible. It has some good qualities, but what’s the bottom line?
The questions that people are asking about the Bible in our post-truth, secular age aren’t really anything new. People have always asked versions of these questions. But we also know that there are always questions behind the questions. Sometimes we mask the real question so we get to ask it without really asking it. Or we have an agenda and we want to make a point by asking loaded questions. And then, sometimes we just ask honest questions. We sincerely want to know.
We’re going to look at three common questions that we’re all confronted with, in one form or another. These are honest questions, not questions made up to spin a yarn in favor of the Bible or to find some confirmation bias. These are honest questions we’ve all asked in one way or another.
Question 1: Isn't it best just to spiritualize the Bible since it's full of contradictions and therefore can't be true by modern standards?
What are we assuming when we ask this question? The Bible is full of errors. It's inherently untrustworthy. But it's human nature to try to spiritualize things to get out of accountability for your knowledge. It’s even a Biblical idea. In the book of James, Jesus’ cousin, he writes, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and does not to do it, to him it is sin (4:17).” We want to spiritualize everything. By spiritualizing the Bible, you're essentially dumb-ing down hundreds and hundreds of years of Holy Spirit-inspired revelation to a pop-psychology book, because the Bible claims to be Holy Spirit-inspired, not pop-psychology.
The question behind the question is, "What is true?" And the assumption is that you know what's true already and what's not. You are the self-appointed filter through which you sift everything you read in Scripture. You are the final authority. In Psalm 119, it says, “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently (v. 4).” How can I say this? Never in the history of civilization has there been such a paradox like we have now in the West, especially in America. We want total independence, but we want democracy. We want to decide what is best for ourselves, but we want it provided for us. Doesn't that make us god? We're independent because our decisions and what we believe shouldn't be impacted by anyone despite who they impact. But we're democratic, in a sense, because if something good happens to one person, it should happen to me. We've all been jealous of that person because they praise God for something that is good, and we're mad at God for not giving us one, too. We have placed ourselves firmly in the center of the judge's seat. We decide what's true, and no one else, especially God, gets to weight in.
We like to pretend we know what truth is on our own. Now that’s not to say that there isn’t a spiritual sense to the Bible. From the earliest Christian teachers of the Bible, they looked for a spiritual sense to whatever they read. But they never did so because they thought it was littered with errors.
Question 2: Isn't the Bible just another sacred book, like the Qur’an?
This is a very Western/First-World idea. The assumption behind this question is that all these books are morally equivalent. Therefore, you are obligated to respect all these books in the same way. Islam has the Qur'an. Hinduism has the Vedas and other holy texts. Buddhism has very loose definitions of what constitute holy scriptures. What this question forces you to do is to make your faith a private matter. You choose to believe one of these books or all of them. It's a matter of choice.
The question behind the question is asking, "What makes the Bible stand out?" That's a fair question, and Scripture addresses this very issue. In Romans 10, Paul is talking about how through Jesus, salvation is offered to all people in every nation. In doing so, he quotes some OT passages from the book of Isaiah. What he quotes is a question, asking, "Lord, who has believed our message? (Rm. 10:16)" He's saying that the gospel message will go out to all the world. He goes on and from Isaiah's question, Paul deduces that, "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Rm. 10:17)"
So what makes the Bible stand out? Only these texts have the words of Christ, who is God. Nowhere else does any text even claim to have the words of Christ. It's a very simple idea, but it's one that's often overlooked. It's often assumed that all religions point to the same god. And some religions even teach that. But only Christianity teaches that salvation comes from hearing and hearing the words of Christ alone.
The biblical authors, every one of them, was adamant that the entire Bible contained signposts pointing to Christ. Basically, the idea is that Christ did not suddenly appear in the New Testament. Christ was at the creation of the universe and he'll be there when it's all made new. In 1 Corinthians, Paul even places Christ in places we may not have noticed him in the Old Testament. He says in chapter 10, that the Israelites drank from the spiritual rock, and that rock was Christ. If you read the text he's quoting, you may not read Jesus in there, but Paul reassures us that Christ is found in every word of the Bible.
Question 3: Doesn't the Bible teach a lot of things that we wouldn't stand for today and therefore is barbaric?
This is how a lot of us get away with simply dismissing the Bible completely. Many read the Old Testament especially and see all the patriarchs with multiple wives, having slaves, and playing favorites with their children. Their conclusion is that the Bible condones such behaviors. This is a superficial reading that is on par with believing Mark Twain condoned overt racism because he wrote Huckleberry Finn. No one believes that because they've read the story with an eye toward the context.
When you read about Solomon having concubines, God "giving" King David several wives, and Abraham having slaves, you also read about the terrible wrath they endured for their behavior. The Bible constantly upsets the cultural defaults. The cultural default of the day was to have many wives, own slaves, and favor the eldest child. God, manifesting his power through the Bible, upsets man's wisdom. To read those stories and come to the conclusion that the Bible is an outdated manual for barbarism is to come to the text with an agenda and not let the Bible speak for itself. In a word, it’s lazy.
It's true that there have always been groups of people who used the Bible for their own glory and not God's. People have used texts out of their context to condone racial slavery, even in America's history. But when people point that out and use it to show how the Bible shouldn't be applied to our enlightened, postmodern lives, they ignore the cold hard facts that a vast majority of people have never used the Bible to do that. In fact, before the Civil War, bishops and pastors in Britain were writing to pastors in America in support of their efforts to abolish slavery.
One of the things that often hangs people up is the notion that God commanded genocide of thousands of people at various points in the Old Testament. A lot of this stems from cherry-picking a few verses here and there to make a point. Even early in the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis we’re told that God wanted the Israelites to “drive out” the Canaanites from the Promised Land. It’s well-accepted by many scholars of the ancient Near East today that the Canaanites practiced what we don’t allow even today—things like infant sacrifice, bestiality, incest, and stealing a person’s humanity by forcing ritual prostitution (or do we?). One of the traits that stems from God’s love and justice is that he limits evil. A careful reading of the text shows that it’s not just that God is going to give the Israelites the Promised Land. He doesn’t allow evil to run rampant. Also, God waited 400 years before he commanded Israel to drive them out.
Sometimes language trips us up. We are told that God wants Israel to utterly destroy and leave nothing alive when they drive the Canaanites out. We know from other ancient Near Eastern war texts that this was common hyperbole—not that different from us wanting the Colts to destroy their opponent. We’re even told later by Joshua that there were remnants of the Canaanites still there, and he warns the people about marrying them and getting involved in idol worship again.
You don’t need to be a scholar to find all of this out. All of this is right there in the Biblical text itself. Of course, there are parts that need a good level of interpretation, but a basic tenant of Bible study is that “it was meant to be understood.” All too often, we come to the Bible without acknowledging our confirmation bias. We already know that God is a monster who killed thousands of people, and then we read what the text actually says and make it fit. Then we’re left to either make the Bible subject to our own ideas, or we’re left to swallow our pride and allow the text to speak for itself.
There are a thousand different questions people have about the Bible. These are a small selection. If the Bible can’t stand up to scrutiny, then it’s really not worth believing in. At the end of the day, the inescapable truth is that the answer the Bible gives about why it exists is to point you to Christ. In this way, like Paul tells Timothy, we are made complete. There is room to question it, there is room to study it, but there is no room to deny it.