Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the word of God?

"It's just a book of stories."

"It's the writings of man, not God." 

"It's been changed by man, there's no way of knowing if any of the original writings survived." 

"The Bible is full of contradictions."

"Miracles are impossible."

"Who knows?  There's no way to know for certain."

"It's  a book of myths, fables.  Just like Greek myths."

"It's been changed, by the council of Nicaea." 

The skepticism regarding the Bible is very extensive in our culture today.  The Bible has been trusted for generations, but in modern times people aren't as willing to trust the ancient document and it's statements about the world.  

The Bible does claim from within itself to be the word of God.  In conjunction with a sense of the presence of God, conscious contact with God through prayer, and the evidence of changed lives around them, many are willing to take the Bible on a sort of "blind faith."  There isn't anything wrong with that, in fact that may be the wiser path given a straight forward analysis of empirical reality.  

But some like myself prefer a more objective scientifically and historically rendered approach to the authority, inspiration, and reliability of the 66 books of the Bible document.  

However, we must understand ourselves.  As the Oracle said in the Matrix film: "Know thyself."  Why are we so skeptical?  Is it an honest skepticism?  Or do we have a vested interest in the Bible being false?  For many, it may be that they reject the Bible because if the Bible were true, it would mean they would have to change the way they live.  That is a very real possibility, especially for those who reject out of hand, without a moment of reasonable inquiry.  

Or as a great man once wrote: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” -Herbert Spencer

Once we've looked at ourselves and cleared out any prejudice, we turn to the Bible documents.  Are they real?  Are they reliable?  Even if they are both, are they really instructions from God?  

Theology is the study of the documents within the Bible.  Apologetics is the study of the information surrounding the Bible (history, science, archaeology, etc) that help determine the reliability of the document.  We will start with apologetics, then move into theology.  

Before I came to believe that God was really God, I tended to believe that the Bible was nonsense.  But why did I believe that?  I think about 99% of objectors are in this same category that I was.  I hadn't really read any scholarly articles, journals, books, or essays.  I hadn't studied much of anything.  I was too preoccupied with self indulgence and the American good life, especially the young good life: parties, jaunting about the town, drinking, some light drugs, and entertaining cute girls.  And anything that might interfere with that good life needed to go.  But I still had a mind.  I needed a little dirt on the Bible, so I could quickly dismiss it under a pretense. 

And like an anti-hero riding out to save me, there it was, the Da Vinci Code.  A scholarly, deeply researched, non-fiction piece of work... but wait, when I started reading it, it was a novel.  A fiction novel.  Well, no matter.  That one disciple in the Da Vinci painting of the last supper definitely does look a bit girly.  I'm not sure if that proves anything.  But who cares?  

Yes, yes, the Da Vinci Code.  Now I didn't really care that it was a novel.  Just shut up with that God crap, and let me party already.  Let me paint my day dream walls, and stop interrupting with your "truth" nonsense.  I want to do what I want to do.  And why are you judging me anyway?  You Christians are such backwards homophobic bigots, blah blah blah, and leave me alone I'm going to show God that I don't need him.  That's just how I roll.

So really, the apologetics wouldn't have mattered to me then.  They matter to me now.  But I didn't care.  I just wanted the quickest escape from the possibility of an objective moral code.  I didn't want to have to deal with any sort of accountability.  I didn't want an arbiter of my sex conduct.  Because 'I'm just experimenting', on my journey, and that's the ethic of today: 'Do whatever works for you.'  'Just don't hurt anyone else.'  But so often, we do hurt others, don't we?  And we sweep it under the rug.  

It turns out that upon further inquiry, the truth was staggering.  There are over 25,000 partial and full manuscripts of the 66 books of the Bible.  When compared to one another they are 99.7% accurate the discrepancies being minor word changes that in no way affect the content.  Leading archaeologists have admitted that no archaeological discoveries have ever contradicted the biblical
Fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls
documents regarding ancient history.  The Bible documents are scientifically accurate, describing the Earth as a sphere (Isaiah 40:22), stars as innumerable (Jeremiah 33:22), and that the Earth hangs in empty space (Job 26:7). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 provided further evidence for the authenticity of the biblical documents.  Within the cave of the Dead Sea Scrolls were manscripts preserved from over 2,000 years ago.  When compared with manuscripts used to translate the Bible, they matched perfectly.  The Da Vinci Code was a farce, and a lame farce at that.  The evidence is clear, the documents that we have today are the Bible of yesteryears.  

Click here to read an article that lays out an apologetic along these lines

But wasn't the Bible changed at the council of Nicaea?  The council of Nicaea was an event that took place shortly after a long period of intense persecution of the Christian faith in the ancient Roman Empire.  Many Christians were martyred for their faith during this period in history.  The survivors convened at the council of Nicaea mainly for the reason of confronting a growing heresy called Arianism.  Arianism asserted that Jesus Christ was the son of God, but was a created being made by God, not co-eternal with God.  The 66 books of the Bible were not altered or removed during the council.  Various churches at that time in history taught from the accepted books, and occasionally had to weed out forgeries and hoax books, like what have come to be called the "Gnostic gospels."  The Gnostic gospels were attempts by the inclusive mysticisms of the time period, the pagan religions, to force the exclusivist Christian faith back into the over-arching mystical framework of the time.  Those attempts failed, and the gnostic gospels were discarded as fakes.  Today the forgeries are often trotted out by college professors in an attempt to cast doubt on the biblical gospels.  Believe me, you are being mislead.  The vast majority of respected scholars are in agreement that the gnostic gospels are forgeries.  It's a historically accepted fact.  If you want an appeal to authority, or a "scholarly consensus" there it is.

The issue is that the Gnostic gospels sync well with ancient Greek philosophy.  They lend themselves to syncretism, an "all religions lead to the same place" mentality.  But that doesn't change the fact that the gnostic manuscripts tend to be internally inconsistent.  They are most certainly forgeries.  A college professor with an emphasis in the Greek philosophies might prefer them over the synoptic gospels though, given their testament to syncretism.  

Well then you say, perhaps they are the original documents.  But how do we know they aren't just the writings of man?  How can we know if they are the writings of God?  And what about all the contradictions?  What about the odd references to not eating shell fish or pork?  What about all the strange and "mean spirited" commands in the Old Testament?  

Let's look at how we can know if these are the writings of God or man.  Is there evidence to suggest that God inspired the books of the Bible?

There are several lines of reasoning to sweep down, but here is a short clipping of various tracks of argument:

1. There are numerous Old Testament prophecies (many regarding Jesus Christ) that were fulfilled later in the history of man kind (during the period of time when the New Testament was written).  If the OT was written by man, how could man predict future events?  Fulfilled prophecies suggests a divine hand in inspiring the word.

2. The testimony of empirical history, specifically how the Christian faith, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ grew from twelve disciples and a few hundred loose followers into the dominant religion of the Roman Empire is of supreme importance.  The Roman Empire when first encountering Christianity was deeply hostile, and the first three hundred years A.D. were years when Christians were hunted down and murdered for their faith.  Yet by 1200 A.D. Christianity had spread across the entire Roman empire, into the eastern part of the world, across almost all of Europe and into North Africa.  That just doesn't happen, unless a divine hand is at work.  If Jesus had really died on the cross, and never rose to life, Christianity would not have spread.  It would have died in the cradle.  But it didn't.  Today Christianity is the #1 religion in the world with 2.1 billion adherents.  The Bible is the best selling book in human history.  That is empirical fact, it can't be ignored.  It suggest strongly that God wrote the Bible. 

3. The personal testimony of millions of people who indicate that their lives have been radically changed by Jesus Christ and the word of the Bible.  I myself am one of those people.  But I'm not alone.  Hundreds of millions of people testify that God did for them what they could not do for themselves.  Are they all crazy?  All of them?  I doubt it.  Some of them are whack jobs, some are doing it for money, but many more are doing it out of sincere love for a God who is really there.

4. The testimony of the experts, some of the greatest minds across history who have embraced the Christian faith, and the Bible.  They come from every field of inquiry, every walk of life, and from every part of the world.  This is a subject I've done a lot of research on.  There are many.  And many of the greatest names in history are people who were dedicated Christians.  Just to list a few of the great names from history (with notable accomplishments):

Martin Luther King Jr. - championed the civil rights movement
William Wilberforce - ended slavery in Great Britain
Abraham Lincoln - American president, ended slavery in the USA
Isaac Newton - famed scientist
Helen Keller - inspirational writer and overcomer
John Adams - American president, orator and statesmen
George Washington - American General, first President
Denzel Washington - famous actor
C.S. Lewis - famous author
J.R.R. Tolkien - famous author, wrote Lord of the Rings series
Francis Collins - famed for mapping the human genome
Blaise Pascal - French Scientist
Simon Greenleaf - founded Harvard Law school
John Polkinghorne - renowned theoretical physicist
Malcom Muggeridge - famed journalist
G.K. Chesterton - famed philosopher
Thomas Arnold - historian and Oxford professor

Just to name a few.  For the sake of time we'll quit there.  If expert testimony is viable evidence, the experts say Christianity is real.

5. Extrabiblical testimony corroborate the biblical documents, and archaeological discoveries support the Bible's account of history. Extrabiblical testimony - Click here to read an article along those lines.
Archaeological support - Click here to read an article on this.

Those are the apologetics.  Next we turn to theology.  Does the Bible contain contradictions?  That is a common charge.  Before I became a Christian I used to make that same charge.  Yet I had never really read all the way through the Bible.  Maybe I stopped a few times, like when it talked about God being jealous and thought "jealousy is bad so this must be fake."  But is jealousy always bad?  Wouldn't it be wise for a man whose wife has gone to be with another man to be jealous for his wife?  Wouldn't it motivate him to go after his wife and try to convince her to return to the one she ought to be with?  See jealousy isn't always a bad thing.  God said "I am a jealous God" regarding how Israel, his nation, his chosen people had turned away from him and were worshiping lumps of clay they put together with their own hands.  Assuming God is real, and he really made all of us, doesn't it make sense that we should in fact be with God, and close to him as a Father is to his children?  Isn't it good that God is "jealous for his people" and desires for his people to be close for him?  Such jealousy motivates God to come after his people, and encourage them to come back to him.  It makes sense.  There are other areas of concern, I would recommend these articles: Solutions to Bible Errors organized by book.

101 Cleared Up Contradictions  Click here to view it

In conclusion, there is strong scholarly evidence to indicate that the Bible documents are reliable, internally consistent, unaltered, and even the word of a living God.  All of that together, it's still a tough decision.  But the final closing point for me was the power of the message, both in it's description of the problem, and in it's description of the solution.  Culminating in the problem and the solution is the way of life intrinsic to the Christian worldview: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And love everyone around you with a full heart, just as you love yourself.  

1. Love God.
2. Love everyone else: friends, enemies, and strangers.
3. Love yourself too.

That is the perfect way to live life.  Those are the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding what is most important in life.  Love is most important.  And the Bible says God is love.  

Jesus describes the problem, it's sin.  A word none of us like to hear.  Yet we see it everyday.  We see it in the news.  It isn't called "sin" by the pundits, but that is the theological term for it.  Sin.  Sex slavery?  It's evil.  It's sin.  Murder, theft, violence, war, disease, death...  People living in poverty and debt.  Entire nations of people going without food or clean water.  It's sin. That's the problem.

And as many charities, political efforts, and altruistic movements try to deal with the problem, it's never really dealt with.  Why?  Because the problem is not outside ourselves.  It's within all of us. 

It's sin.  It's the empty hole in our chests that cry out for something eternal, that nothing in this world can really fill.  No fun party, no marriage, no entertainment, no drug, no drink, no massive bank account, no grand victory or goal achieved can touch: That hole of emptiness and disconnection.  

And only Jesus Christ, his perfect life, his perfect death, and his perfect resurrection, his victory over death can fill us.  When we believe that Jesus Christ really is God, and really died for us, and really accept that fact, we receive the Holy Spirit.  We're reborn, plugged in, that hole is filled and we are part of a new family.   

Despite all of the evidence, which is indeed compelling, I was finally full convinced when studying the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was awesome.  He lived love, and died for his friends.  As they spat on him, called him a fake, called him evil and a monster, and nailed his hands to the cross... as he lay dying on the cross, he looked to heaven and said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."  

That is perfection my friends.  We can run from it.  We can keep trying to hide.  We can try to gorge ourselves on entertainment, self fulfillment, wealth, drugs, alcohol, sex or anything else.  But we'll always be empty, until we turn an about face, and look into the eyes of our savior and say: "God, you are truly God.  Lord Jesus Christ, you are my God.  I am through running from you.  I am through calling you a liar.  You are my Lord, and I love you, and I will serve you, so I may be with you in eternal life.  Amen." 

"Ecce Homo!" A depiction of the trial of Jesus, by Antonio Ciseri (1871)

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  3. Why is Jesus the perfect example to follow?
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  5. Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
  6. True Christianity vs. the Modern Culture
  7. The Modern Mindset & Challenges we Face as the Body of Christ
  8. Academic Paper: Biblical Authority
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  10. Academic Paper: Council of Nicaea