The Bible: Can We Trust It?

The Bible: Can We Trust It? November 18, 2013

The-Bible-Andy-Gill-1

Have you ever taken a step back and asked the question, “Why do I believe what I believe?”

Many of us when asked this question, reply immediately, “Because of the bible.”

Growing up in Churches this is just what we’ve been taught in Sunday school and youth group, from child hood on, singing aloud without thinking: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so…”

We find ourselves believing and dedicating the entirety of our lives, the basis of our morals, the foundation of our hope, the very essence of our faith off “the fact” that the bible tells us so…

… But does it? And if it does, why should we trust it?

You see, we have somewhere around 5,360 manuscripts in the Greek that are all or part of what now makes up the New Testament. None of these manuscripts are originals. With the exception of small fragments, there is not a single manuscript that is the same as another. Within these fragments there are more variants than there are words. Yes, majority of which are minor, but does not the smallest of changes in a sentence at times alter it’s entire meaning?

Kamilon-Andy-Gill-Patheos

Though this is a “smaller” change that does not alter the meaning of a text, we have to question, the credibility of the text. With the knowledge that there are not only thousands of other variances but there are now complete omissions of entire verses and debates about which books should or should not be included…

It’s arguable that the bible was never fully canonized and that it’s an ever-changing document being tweaked, corrected, and translated still to this day. Men over the course of centuries have added and deleted verses, and entire books. Fueling the debates in regards to whether or not the bible is inerrant or if it’s infallible.

You ever find it weird how it seems some people use not only the same bible but the same verses to justify their contrasting views?

“The reason the bible matters, is because it can mean whatever you want it to mean.”

So it’s more than a valid question it’s a necessary question to ask, “Who is deciding what makes up, ‘The Word of God’s’ and what makes their authority higher than any other authority?” (Martin Luther vs. The Papal authority **cough cough**)

Now many throw both of those options to floor and question if the bible is even credible.

This poses many tough questions for the church at large. The worst part is, this isn’t even the beginning of it. What about the manuscripts in which we’ve found recently? Or why did not Jesus write anything down? Were there certain agendas the authors, scribes, and councils had when piecing together these books and letters that now make up the bible?

It seems like this is more than a poorly kept secret, but it’s become one of the many elephants in the room that the church is beginning to face. We’re no longer able to brush these issues to the side with books such as “The Case For Christ” which might be suitable for a high school lead small group discussion, but for both Christian and secular academics is seems to be laughable and biased-ly slanted.

What’re your thoughts? Is the text credible? Why or why not?

 

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  • Jerry

    I’m no scholar but what about old manuscripts that are found. Do they confirm newer ones? Also what about the idea that there is more proof that the Bible is true than some other old or ancient books that we accept without argument.

  • Good questions – In regards to the latter, I think the difference between considering other ancient materials or knowledge we have and the bible is that we’re not basing our lives off of those other documents. Meaning we must take a much closer look at these documents that make up our bible, step back, and ask is this something in which I find to be credible enough to base my life off of? If the answer is no, then I think a “re-framing” of one’s set of beliefs might have to take place as opposed to a loss of one’s faith.

  • Tyler

    To be honest it seems like this is more a struggle with fundamentalist understandings of scripture. Scripture isn’t supposed to be what we make it.

    This seems to be what a lot of people are struggling with that were raised/taught to understand scripture through a fundamental lens. The changes in the world today simply won’t allow us to understand scripture in such a way any longer. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is not a trump all card. We don’t throw it down to back our interpretations (E.g. Genesis can only be interpreted as 7 day creation story). It is supposed to be a theological presupposition to say that God really is guiding what is going on here. He is guiding the authors to reveal himself to mankind. It’s not an issue of exactness, its an issue of representation.

    My understanding is this:
    I base my life around the person of Christ who is the fullest revelation of God that intersected heavenly with earthly, supernatural with natural. If accepted, that we are to bear the image of God, then Christ is the Telos, or end to which we are aiming. Scripture merely is some people giving me the clearest picture of Jesus that they can, and in so doing they give me a clear picture of who God was (which causes me to reinterpret the OT, which is what Paul and his contemporaries were doing) and a clear picture of his work and plan.

    If I had to sum up how we are to understand the NT:
    Gospels: Pictures of Jesus
    Acts: Picture of what God is doing through his new covenant people
    Epistles: Picture and a instruction of what it means to conform to Jesus in light of what God has done through Christ, and in light of God is bringing to a close.

    The authority of scripture comes from the one behind it, that is God. It’s not meant to be a law book (aside from the Torah, but that’s another discussion). So our understanding of scripture has to be a lot more refined and have more depth to it than the simple and rather weak question of “Inerrant” or “Errant”. Precision simply wasn’t the biggest issue that the Writers of scripture were concerned about. They were concerned about portraying God as he truly is, and his work as it is. They are portraying his person and work in the old covenant with the History of the patriarchs, Israel and the prophets, and in Christ now.

    Also, as an aside, to have any qualms with what is presented in the NT is problematic. Because the NT authors are merely laying Christ in front of us, and his work. As they do this, they are not brow beating us into conforming, they are showing the work that was done for us, and that because of the Holy Spirit we can actually become the same kind of people.

    It’s empowerment via the H.S. not law giving. Christ is the Telos (end, completion) of the law. Sacrifice is complete in him, punishment is complete in him, and we are now able to live up to the law which always hung on the two greatest (Love the Lord your God, Love your neighbor).

    In regards to textual variations. All biblical scholars (such as Craig A. Evans) who study actual manuscripts that we have through history all agree on one thing. The amount of manuscripts we have only confirm and solidify the message in each document, they don’t make it more cloudy.

    Analogy:
    If we have 1 key that is said to be a copy of an original key, then we only have word to trust that it is the same as the original. But if we have thousands of keys, even some with small variations, we can construct what the original key actually was like.

    Aside from that, by the sheer number of copies and transcripts that we have, makes the corpus of the Bible the most trusted historical document (trusted not in account but in content).

  • Love your thoughts Tyler! You’re definitely right in thinking that this is written towards those who struggle with more of a fundamentalist understanding of the text, as that is a large portion of my demographic/readership. I’ll probably write a post on my views of scripture later in the week.

    I do want to clarify something, its simply not true that “all” biblical scholars who study actual manuscripts agree that the message is confirmed in each document… there are many biblical scholars that actually use this as an argument to show that these manuscripts are not just unreliable but incoherent and contradicting (i.e. Bart Ehrman, Princeton Alum).

    But just as a question(s): I think the last sentence confuses me, do not account and content go hand in hand? especially in the instance of the bible? How can something be considered a “trusted historical” document but not in “account”? For example, if Jesus never resurrected and this “account” is wrong or “not trusted” that’s a REALLY big deal. So to say that this is still yet great content is to simply say, it’s a great story that might have never happened. So, it doesn’t make sense to say it’s not trusted in account but yet some how in content it is? It’s saying, “The account of Jesus saying these things can’t be trusted, but what He said in these accounts that can’t be trust can be trusted…”

    [I think it was be good to add in – I am a Christian, I have a high view of the text. This blog post is NOT at all meant to be me saying that the bible is NOT credible. This is a post that is simply want to present a fair assessment of the text, to shine light on things in which the Church doesn’t, that simply presents a very biased one sided perspective and as seen in your comment, facts that just are not true, which in the end with both Christian and non-Christian’s does more harm than it does good.]

  • This post reminded me of a class I took last year. My professor was fascinated by the process of canonization, and was somewhat an authority figure on the topic.

    In regards to me personally, I have complete confidence in scripture. It can be manipulated, of course. It’s teachings can be taken out of context, twisted and bent, and everything else in between, but I choose to believe in scripture as the Living Word, guided by the Holy Spirit.

    It has power that far outreaches any pen or printing press. There’s truth there that cannot be altered. It just takes a discernible mind and an open-heart sometimes to see it.

  • Good words Scott, who was your prof if you don’t mind me asking?

    I wonder at times if there is a scripture, or rather, an interpretation of scripture that is not manipulated? I went to the Veritas Forum last night, and they brought in N.T. Wright to field questions from students (most of which were not Christian, and very skeptical), I loved how Wright, not only received Criticism but he responded so graciously to the questions in admitting the holes we find in the historicity of the text, that might ding it’s credibility, while still holding true to his belief.

    I think that’s my goal in just allowing us to be open to this critiques, that we don’t know 100% for sure that the text is credible, or that it’s true, but with the information and documents/MSS we have we believe _____ (fill in blank).

    love you comment, love your heart.

  • Jacob Hook

    Hello Andy, I was wanting to ask for your opinion about what books I should read for biblical scholarship. As an Episcopalian Christian, the bible is very important piece of literature for me. I want to be further educated the scholarship and credibility of the bible–seeing both sides of the argument and if there can be an understanding that although the bible may have errors, it is still inspired. Also, I was wondering if you have any good requests for books on theology. I am a progressive Christian–I know you don’t like that label, just because its a label–but I call myself that because I feel more at home with progressive Christianity than with conservative Christianity. No offense if any of you are conservative Christians, but I find conservative Christianity to be anti-intellectual and irrelevant to culture. Any way, I digress. Thank you for reading my response.

  • Jacob Hook

    Hello Andy, I was wanting to ask for your opinion about what books I should read for biblical scholarship. As an Episcopalian Christian, the bible is very important piece of literature for me. I want to be further educated the scholarship and credibility of the bible–seeing both sides of the argument and if there can be an understanding that although the bible may have errors, it is still inspired. Also, I was wondering if you have any good requests for books on theology. I am a progressive Christian–I know you don’t like that label, just because its a label–but I call myself that because I feel more at home with progressive Christianity than with conservative Christianity. No offense if any of you are conservative Christians, but I find conservative Christianity to be anti-intellectual and irrelevant to culture. Any way, I digress. Thank you for reading my response.

  • Jacob Hook

    Hey Andy, I really like your articles! I think you have a great mind and you seem very thoughtful and intuitive. I have a question for you. I was wondering if know any good books I can read on biblical scholarship. I am a Episcopalian Christian who has a deep love for scripture. I need information on how credible is the bible. How much of it is trustworthy? You know what I am saying? Personally, I don’t believe in inerrancy, but I do believe that the bible is inspired. I need information on both sides of the argument to edify my understanding on the topic. I was also wondering if you know any good theological books and books on Christian politics. I am progressive Christian–I know you don’t like that label, just because it is a label–but I call myself that because I feel more at home with progressive Christianity than with conservative Christianity. Any way, thanks for reading my response. God bless and have a wonderful day :)

  • Jacob Hook

    Hey Andy, I really like your articles! I think you have a great mind and you seem very thoughtful and intuitive. I have a question for you. I was wondering if know any good books I can read on biblical scholarship. I am a Episcopalian Christian who has a deep love for scripture. I need information on how credible is the bible. How much of it is trustworthy? You know what I am saying? Personally, I don’t believe in inerrancy, but I do believe that the bible is inspired. I need information on both sides of the argument to edify my understanding on the topic. I was also wondering if you know any good theological books and books on Christian politics. I am progressive Christian–I know you don’t like that label, just because it is a label–but I call myself that because I feel more at home with progressive Christianity than with conservative Christianity. Any way, thanks for reading my response. God bless and have a wonderful day :)