Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Evidence: Chapter 1

Christianity is an intellectually sound faith.

How’s that for a bold statement? I am a scientist. I majored in computer science at Grove City College and I am currently working for a company that does cutting edge research in the field of AI and knowledge-based systems. I aspire to earn a PhD, to contribute to the sum of mankind’s knowledge. I do not take information or truth claims on blind faith, I investigate them as much as my time and resources will allow. If I hold a belief that I cannot defend in an intellectually honest matter I do not try to convince others of that belief.

So how then can I claim to be a Christian? Isn’t Christianity just an old fairy tale? Isn’t Jesus Christ just a myth? Aren’t Christians supposed to live by “faith”?

If by “faith” you mean blind faith absolutely not. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:12 “..for I know whom I have believed in, and am persuaded, that he is able…” For Paul faith came from knowledge, it was not blind. Paul knew who he had faith in. Check out some of these other passages:

Jesus said: “You shall know[not ignore] the truth, and the truth shall set you free” – John 8:32

“After his [Jesus] suffering [death on the cross], he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 1:3

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

It is the responsibility of the Christian to be able to defend his faith in an intellectually sound manner. Obviously the first thing one must examine to make an intellectually honest assessment of Christianity is the Bible. To this end I recently picked up a book by Josh McDowell called “The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict”. Josh McDowell was converted when he set out to prove that the Bible was not a historically accurate or reliable text. Seeing as he was converted, I’m going to guess he failed at his original goal.

“Evidence” is a massive collection of hits notes, all of which are heavily cited (his bibliography is forty pages long!). I have only read the introduction and the first chapter so far but it has been most excellent. I love it when people take an academic approach to the Bible.

And so I would like to start a series of blog posts about the reliability of the Bible. This is a topic that every Christian should be well versed in, but sadly I’ve only heard a preacher talk about it once or twice. It is also a topic opponents of Christianity should be well versed in if they want to make an intellectually honest attack upon it. So whether you are Christian or not I hope you will join me in this field trip through “Evidence” with an open mind. That goes for everyone!

Chapter 1: The Uniqueness of the Bible

McDowell starts out by describing how the Bible is the most unique book ever written. I found all of this very interesting, though even he admits it by no way proves that the Bible is the inspired word of God. What it does prove however, is that the Bible is uniquely superior to all other books, and as such deserves careful consideration. Let’s see how.

The Bible is Unique in its continuity.

The Bible is the only book to have been written over a span of 1500 years. It was written by over forty different authors from every walk of life imaginable. Kings, shepherds, soldiers, prophets, tent-makers, fishermen, poets just to name a few. The Bible was written in many different places, from the wilderness to palaces, while on the road and in dungeons. It was written in many different times; times of peace and prosperity and times war and calamity. It was written in different moods, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. It was written on three continents: Europe, Africa and Asia. It was written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It was written in a wide variety of styles including poetry, historical narrative, prophecy, satire, law, autobiography and even romance. The Bible addresses hundreds of controversial topics. Yet from Genesis to Revelation the writers dealt with them with an amazing degree of harmony.

In spite of all its diversity, the Bible presents a single unfolding story, God’s redemption of mankind. “The ‘Paradise Lost’ of Genesis becomes the ‘Paradise Regained’ of Revelation.”[1] Most importantly, among all the people described in the Bible the central character is the one, true, living God made known through Jesus Christ.

Let’s take a look:

The OT law books --> The foundation for Christ

The OT historic books --> the preparation for Christ

The OT poetic books --> the aspiration for Christ

The OT prophesies -->the expectation of Christ

The NT gospels --> the manifestation of Christ

Acts --> the propagation of Christ

The NT Epistles --> the interpretation of Christ

Revelation --> the consummation of Christ

This of course doesn’t prove inspiration, but it should be considered seriously. Someone who laughs off the Bible has never made a serious effort to study it.

The Bible is Unique in its circulation.

For fun, let’s look at Wiki’s list of bestselling books here. Now let’s look at this. This doesn’t include Bibles distributed through other channels.

The Bible is unique in its translation.

It is unusual for books to be printed in more than three languages. The Bible however has been translated into 2,200 languages. That means that 90% of the world’s population can read a Bible in their own language. The Bible was also one of the first books translated. The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek around 250B.C. Josh McDowell speculates that the Bible could be translated into every language by 2022, becoming the first universally translated book.

The Bible is Unique in its survival.

Josh McDowell claims that the Bible has more manuscript evidence than any ten works of classical literature combined. Unfortunately he doesn’t defend this claim in detail until chapter 3, but I’ll be sure to write about it when I get there. This is one of the things I’m most excited to read about! One of the better quotes from this section:

In an article in the North American Review, a writer made some interesting comparisons between the writings of Shakespeare and the Scriptures, which show that much greater care must have been bestowed upon the biblical manuscripts than other writings, even when there was so much more opportunity of preserving the correct text by means of printed copies than when all the copies had to be made by hand. He said: “It seems strange that the text of Shakespeare, which has been in existence less than two hundred and eight years, should be far more uncertain and corrupt than that of the New Testament, now over eighteen centuries old, during nearly fifteen of which it existed only in manuscript… With perhaps a dozen or twenty exceptions, the text of every verse in the New Testament may be said to be so far settled by general consent of scholars, that any dispute as to its readings must relate rather to the interpretation of the words than to any doubts respecting the words themselves. But in every one of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays there are probably a hundred readings still in dispute, a large portion of which materially affects the meaning of the passages in which they occur.”[2]

Not only is it unique in its survival through time, but also its survival through persecution and criticism, but this entry is starting to drag on and these subjects have their own chapters so I will save it for later and move on.

The Bible is unique in its teachings.

One of the most unique things about the Bible is its prophecies. No other religious text has specific prophecies. Listen to this:

According to Deuteronomy 18, a prophet was false if he made predictions that were never fulfilled. No unconditional prophecy of the Bible about events to the present day has gone unfilled. Hundreds of predictions, some of them given hundreds of years in advance, have been literally fulfilled. The time (Dan. 9), city (Mic. 5:2), and nature (Is. 7:14) of Christ’s birth were foretold in the Old Testament, as were dozens of other things about His life, death, and resurrection (see Is. 53). Numerous other prophecies have been fulfilled, including the destruction of Edom (Obad. 1), the curse of Babylon (Is. 13), the destruction of Tyre (Ezek. 26) and Nineveh (Nah. 1-3), and the return of Israel to the Land(Is. 11:11). Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the [Hindu] Veda. But none of those books contains predictive prophecy. As a result, fulfilled prophecy is a strong indication of the unique, divine authority of the Bible. [3]

Another unique thing about the Bible’s teachings is how grounded in reality it is. It deals frankly with sin, even the sins of God’s chosen people. Much of the Old Testament does not reflect kindly on the Israelite's! For example:

- The sins of the patriarchs are mentioned (Gen. 12:11-13, 49:5-7)

- The sins of the people are denounced (Deut. 9:24)

- King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his subsequent cover-up attempt is revealed (2 Sam. 11-12)

- The Gospel Evangelists paint their own faults and those of the apostles (Matt. 8:10-26; 26:31-56; Mark 6:52; 8:18; Luke 8:24, 25; 9:40-45; John 10:6; 16:32).

- The disorder within the church is exposed (1 Cor. 1:11; 15:12; 2 Cor. 2:4)

I’m going to skip his last two points (which are the Bible is unique in its influence of literature and of western civilization) and wrap this up. This has gone way longer than I had intended, but I find this stuff interesting and I wish to share it. I think in the future I will pick only one or two points instead of going through all my notes on each chapter.

None of this is proof that the Bible is the inspired word of God of course; however it is proof that the Bible is different from all other books. As such, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Bible is worth a closer examination. I hope if you’ve never given it a close examination that you will do so. At least come back when I post my thoughts (it’s not going to be a summary next time I promise!) on the next chapter.


[1]: Geisler, Norman/Nix, William. A General Introduction to the Bible, p 28

[2]: Lea, John W. The Greatest Book in the World, p 15

[3]: Geisler, Norman/Nix, William. A General Introduction to the Bible, p 196