Why I don’t trust the Bible – Inconsistencies, discrepancies and contradictions

This is part 1 of a series (see part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5). 

I have always loved the Bible, and I do still enjoy it as literature (I probably read it more than most of my Christian friends), alas I simply cannot trust it as a divinely inspired book.

Why? The answer is long, and a little complicated, so I hope I won’t bore you, in fact, it’s because of this that I have been putting off this series of posts for a very long time. When it comes to detailed and controversial topics like this, I tend to wear out half of my audience and enrage the other.

  • Because questions like these tend to get very hostile, very fast, let me first assure you, I am not writing out of enmity, hatred, or strife, rather I write from sincerity and a deep longing to accept things that are true and reject things that are false. I likewise wish for you to do the same. I am willing to believe anything, so long as I can at least be somewhat confident that its the truth. You may not agree with my conclusions, but at least you may see that these are reached after careful and honest investigation.

It took a very unrelated event to finally force me into writing this. It all began as I was listening through an obtuse lecture series on the epistemic problem of induction (I’m not boring, I promise). Grappling with difficult questions made me recall how easy things once were, and for a second I began to wish that I could yet again just accept the Bible as a divinely inspired book which contains God’s word. Things would be so simple and easy! There is so much comfort found in such an idea: “God wrote a book” and we have it. Believing that you have “Gods book” provides you  with an epistemic foundation, an existential anchor, and reassuring solace when dealing with the unknown. In fact, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, and others who claim to have divine writings from around the world attest to this feeling every day.

This made me wonder: so why did I choose to take the difficult path? Why can’t I just take the easy way? Why can’t I just believe what I was taught and quietly live my life? What is it within me that burns and hungers for truth?

Why can’t I just believe in the “good book” like most of my friends? Why must I spend thousands of hours of my life searching for answers, critically thinking, analyzing, and questioning? It’s so much easier to just think “(my version of) God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

This question pulled me away from the lecture series, and I went and picked up my Bible, yet again, almost crossing my fingers, with the eager hope that I would see something new and wonderful. As I read a few pages I was quickly reminded: I chose the only path I could choose while remaining honest. 

  • This actually happens to me all the time. I wonder if I am crazy, and think perhaps I’ve just been deceived by the devil. I wonder if the Bible is indeed Gods inerrant word and I’m just crazy or blind. In this panic I rush to pick up my Bible, eagerly read it for 15-30 minutes, and every single time I put it down, being even more certain: The Bible, for all intents and purposes, looks nothing like a perfect book written by God, it’s utterly human and flawed.

This series of posts will explain why.

WHAT OPTIONS DO WE HAVE?

When we approach the Bible, we generally have two options, either

  1. It was divinely inspired or influenced by God (at least at some level), or
  2. It was composed only by human means without any divine involvement

I contend that when one honestly examines the evidence, its undeniable that #2 is the only honest answer.

THE BIBLE CONTAINS MANY VOICES THAT DISAGREE AND CONTRADICT

The most dishonest words I ever uttered from the pulpit are these: “As proof that the Bible is real, consider that it is perfectly consistent, even though it’s written by 40 authors over 1,500 years. It tells one cohesive story with one consistent theme!” This is a Christian meme, a viral transmitted idea, that dominates Protestant culture. The more fundamentalist one is, the more likely she is to hear this, believe it, and re-transmit this meme to others. And yet, scholars of the Bible tell a vastly different story. (And here, allow me to cite the scholars, because one can try to argue that I am wrong, but the true experts don’t think like me.)

Michael Carasik, a Jewish scholar of the Bible writes:

  • “The different parts of the Bible were written at different times, in different styles, by different people with differing perspectives. That world, like our own, was on in which people disagreed, often loudly, about politics and about religion. These disagreements, along with other compositions that can sometimes be very personal are all found today lumped together in what we call “the bible.” (1)

Jacques Berlinerblau, another scholar of ancient Hebrew literature says:

  • “One of the greatest challenges that a college professor of Bible faces is getting his or her bewildered charges to not think of the Bible as they would a modern book. The Bible is an anthology. It is a collection of discrete documents written by different people, with different perspectives, living at different times, and beholden to completely different worldviews… This would account, in part, for that jarring inconsistencies, puzzling contradictions, and thematic tensions found in the finished product.”  (2)

This is a also attested to by the prestigious Oxford Companion to the Bible, which includes among it’s editors some of the most prestigious Christian scholars of our era, including Bruce Metzger (3)

bible contradictions

This same idea is echoed by most textbooks on the Bible, including those used in Christian seminaries, see for example Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin’s seminary textbook, titled “An Introduction to the Bible”

  • “Readers of the Pentateuch, Genesis though Deuteronomy have long observed the presence of double version of narratives, contradictions of fact, and variations of vocabulary and styles.” (4)

Yoram Hazony, in his award award winning book “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture” declares that;

  • The biblical authors disagree among themselves time and time again, even over what might seem to be issues of the greatest importance. No one can harmonize Isaiah’s claim that in the time of the king-to-come all the earth will have one God with the prophet Micha’s vision, in which each nation will walk with its own god, and Israel will walk with theirs. Similarly, Isaiah sees mankind beating their swords into plowshares and coming to be judged at Jerusalem. But the vision of Joel is different, and he writes that when the nations come to Jerusalem to be judged, they will beat their plowshares into swords – for judgment will come on the battlefield. To understand the Hebrew Bible, then, is first to recognize it as an artful compendium, whose purpose is not – and never was – to present a single viewpoint.”   (5)

Yet if you go into a Christian bookstore, you will find dozens of books by popular fundamentalist leaders that claim to resolve all of the “alleged contradiction,” though most of these are written by authors who are not biblical scholars. For example, Ken Ham (who is an anti-evolutionist minister), Norman Giesler (a minister and philosopher), Josh McDowell (a minister and apologist), Henry Morris (a minister and engineer), though there are a few cases where real biblical scholars publish this as well, like the Harvard trained Gleason Leonard Archer, Jr (pastor, theologian, and biblical scholar). Because there are thousands of biblical scholars, one can always find some ultra conservative theologians that have a commitment to biblical inerrancy, but this position is in the minority among Jews/Christians in biblical studies, and completely absent among scholars of all other backgrounds. 

In fact, many believers are comfortable with admitting these discrepancies as part of their theology. This is what a Marc Zvi Brettler, a Hebrew scholar and a practicing Jew writes:

  • According to my view of biblical authority, it is within my rights to “select” particular biblical texts as more important than others. I perform this selection out of an awareness that the Bible is a contradictory anthology, and thus speaks in many voices… I must decide which voice is authoritative… I must decide if I should “hold the feast of Booths for seven days” (Deut. 16:13) or if I should append it to “a complete rest on the eight day” (Lev 23:39. Similarly, I would have to decide whether the prohibition against eating nonslaughtered meat applies to me (Deut 14:21) or only to priests, and whether as a nonpriest I may eat a cow found dead by the side of the road (see Lev 17:15). These texts are to my mind irreconcilable, and along with many other examples, offer clear proof of the validity of the documentary hypothesis, the theory that the Torah is a composite document, written by different authors at different times and reflecting different interests.” Engaging Biblical Authority: Perspectives on the Bible as Scripture edited by William P. Brown, Marc Zvi Brettler  (link)

Or the Christians Seminary professors Ronald J. Allen, Joseph R. Jeter, in their textbook “One Gospel Many Ears”:

  • “Some biblical writers disagree with one another. The Deuteronomist, for instance, assumes that obedience begets prosperity while disobedience calls forth a curse, but the book of Job says, “not necessarily.” Readers are advised in 1 Peter to be obedient to the emperor since the emperor is Gods agent, but the book of Revelation regards the Roman empire as an instrument of Satan. The Bible is not a rigid anvil… [there are] many forms of pluralism in the Bible.” (6)

And as previously mentioned, Bruce Metzger a leading biblical scholar and who was himself a deeply devout Christian, wrote that:

  • “The Bible thus speaks with many voices, and, from the time of its emergence as an authoritative sacred text, readers and interpreters have noted its many repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions.” (7)

WHAT TYPES OF BIBLICAL DISCREPANCIES ARE THERE?

There are hundreds of instances where different biblical authors narrate the same sequence of events or doctrines with significant and irreconcilable differences. There are many lists and examples of this, for examples, visit BibleViz. Generally speaking, biblical discrepancies occur because of two issues, (a) when some historical event did indeed occur but due to the unreliability of human memory and oral tradition, this is retold quite differently by various authors, and (b) because of the fact that the Bible was written over such a wide range of cultures, political views, and time periods, that in many cases historical (or mythical) events, and doctrines/teachings, were reinterpreted by different authors in their own context.

A chart showing some of the self-contradictions of the Bible

 

1. Historical discrepancies

As an example, there are two stories regarding the death of Judas, with radically different storylines, locations, and events portrayed. In one story Judas returns the money to the temple and hangs himself, in another story, he keeps the money –using it to purchase some property, but falls headfirst and is killed by the fall. While some creative attempts by conservative Christians have been employed to try to explain how one can both hang himself, and die by falling headfirst, these always fail to account the many other differences (i.e. Did he return/keep the money? Did he purchase the field or did the Pharisees purchase it? Why was it bought and named?). Some other examples include the discrepancy as to when Jesus was seized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the two different times during which Jesus died, the differing dates of the Nativity, as well as the radically different Nativity stories as a whole

Both of these are historical discrepancies. The event that the stories are based on likely did happen, in some form, however, because humans are prone to misremembering, embellishing a story, theologizing, and retelling it incorrectly, we see very different versions of the story.

2.Theological inconsistencies

As an example, the earlier writings of the Torah contain many instances where the text depicts Yahweh giving the Hebrews ceremonial laws regarding burnt offerings (Ex 20:24, 29:10-42, Lev 1:1-7:38, Num 28:1-29:40). Yet, during a different period in Hebrew culture, we see another set of authors claim otherwise, the book of Jeremiah depicts God saying “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God.” (Jer 7:22-23). It’s patently obvious there are two very different views on what God actually said, this cannot be denied without resorting to blatant dishonesty. In this case, its clear that we are seeing two sets of biblical authors in a debate over what Yahweh actually said in the past.

There are many even bigger theological discrepancies, for example, should a follower of Yahweh kill ones enemy, murder their children, and take their girls into slavery (Exodus 32:27–29, Ezekiel 9:4-6, Numbers 31:17–18 , 1 Samuel 15:2-3) or should a follower of Yahweh love their enemy, turn the other cheek, and give prayer and wealth to ones enemies? (Matthew 5:38-47). Other theological disagreements are centered on the questions like whether God can deceive people or not, and whether the Gospels teach salvation by faith or salvation by works. These kinds of theological discrepancies, in my opinion, are far worse than narrative or historical discrepancies.

WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL?

In the beginning of this post I laid out two possibilities (and these may represent a range of positions, not so much a black/white dichotomy).

1.The Bible was divinely inspired or influenced

2.The Bible was composed only by human means (no divine influence)

In the end it is the goal of any intellectually honest individual to survey the Bible and to see what theory the evidence fits better.

Here is an undeniable fact:

  • The Bible has discrepancies and contradictions. Or at the very least, it’s written in such a way that there are hundreds of verses that seem to be contradictions (even though for some unknown reason are not) which has led almost all biblical scholars and countless readers to become convinced the bible has contradictions. This surely could have been avoided by a divine author seeking to clearly convey the truth in a way that avoids confusion. Surely if God were the author he would have known the two stories of Judas’ death seem to be impossible to reconcile, and would have written them more clearly? 

Ask yourself, which theory does this fact fit better? The first or the second? Are historical discrepancies and theological inconsistencies a better fit for the “divine hypothesis” or the “human hypothesis”? I strongly believe that if we are to be fair, we must admit the inability of the Bible to present a cohesive and consistent voice is very strong evidence that it lacks divine inspiration. Humans make historical mistakes, are highly inaccurate, change their mind regarding theology; God does not.

(To be continued)

16 responses

  1. Have you ever considered the possibility that truth doesn’t necessarily depend on a dualistic conceptual framework based on the lingual reasoning? I mean, if we’re challenging our presuppositions here, why not go as far as possible? Why must something be either-or? Are the only two options really True/Not True?

    It sounds like nonsense, sure. But that only attests to how deeply ingrained is the dualism of our rational mind!

    I respect your mission and your desire to be intellectually honest. But wouldn’t true intellectual honesty start with absolutely NO concepts? Consider it. What do you think?

    • I agree, truth is not necessarily binary. I did mention that the two options are probably more of a scale. That said, Christianity defines itself on a binary true/false scale, so it’s seems prudent to analyze it using that criteria.

      • Hi,
        Yuriy, I’m a Christian and I may have doubts about the Bible too but
        lately, my Christian friend talked about “spirits” helping magicians to
        do so many illusions so realistic, in front of life audiences, or
        American’s Got Talent show, etc that it looks really there’s devils
        helping the magician to perform the impossible. I studied a few simple
        magic tricks before so I know those need ways to cover or hide
        something, but these tricks, no way to hide! Can I think it’s still not
        real? Hard to see any magic tricks involved when in front of real life
        audiences, or America’s Got Talent show, not staged. Does it not involve
        the devil’s power? I’m confused whether to believe there’s really
        spiritual devils and Satan from the Christianity doing such magics, like
        during Moses time.

  2. Yuriy,

    I really enjoy that you are interested in generating dialogue rather than writing a polemic argument. That said, I may try to dialogue with some of your idea from my own blog post. The one question I have, though, is to whom you write regarding the Hebrew Bible. Clearly you are oriented to Christianity, especially protestant Christianity. But to what extent is your writing oriented towards Judaism?

    Many thanks! I look forward to possibly respond to you with my own blog post. Though, I do have a few important reviews, so it may be a while.

    With regard,

    William Brown

  3. My viewpoint is in line with your second alternative, that the Bible was written entirely by men, and gives us their belief of how the world came into being and their view of God. Since they lacked our knowledge, gained over the intermediate centuries, their understanding was poor. Although ours is not yet perfect, we have a better understanding of the power of God, who brought the universe into existence in an instant, and who was capable of producing the structure of DNA, which is capable of bringing forth an almost infinite number of different lifeforms. It can be argued that the existence of DNA is the best evidence that we have of the existence of God. It is impossible to believe that this substance could have arisen purely by chance.

    For me, this understanding has not changed my belief that we were separated Spiritually from God at the beginning, and that belief that Jesus was the Son of God then brings us from that separation into the Presence of God, where we have a relationship with Him. (What is usually understood as the action of the Holy Spirit in the Bible). What has changed for me is that I no longer believe that Jesus was the Anointed One (a myth of the Hebrew scriptures), neither do I believe that Jesus was resurrected. This seems to have been invented by men who could not understand that God could allow our self-awareness to continue to exist in His Presence when we die.

  4. I wanted to thank you for this series.

    I used to call myself a Christian and indeed have studied the Bible at seminary level. It was this study that damaged my faith as it kept raising the sort of issues you mention.

    One day I dared to ask myself the question, ‘what if all this is false’, that was the end of my faith.

    Like you I really just wanted to know the truth. I pondered whether your option 1 could apply, but option 2 always seems the most plausible.

    When I still believed I purchased Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. But I found it was not that helpful, for three basic reasons:
    1. It just highlighted how many issues there were:
    2. It did not cover many of the issues I had noted myself;
    3. The explanations of difficulties often seemed strained and not persuasive.

    I have found little help from Christians in discussing issues with the Bible because I find they tend to start with the conclusion and view the evidence through the prism of that conclusion. Thus they are unwilling to answer my question, ‘how do you know the Bible is a divine book?’

    So once again thanks for this series, it has helped to reinforce the view I had already reached. But I really appreciate reinforcement as I am still plagued by the fear, ‘what if I am wrong?’

  5. Hi Yuriy,

    Bible contradictions always fascinated me but the usual explanations to try and resolve them did not. I mean, some were probably legitimate answers like the one where it says 24000 people died and at another place 23000 died but in the latter the words “in one day” occur, so I suppose that could be argued as why the difference. But it’s like something was missing in that answer. So I can understand why you didn’t finish Norman Giesler’s book because the answers probably didn’t feel like real answers. It leaves you empty.

    What puzzled me about contradictions & inconsistencies, is that once you actually sit yourself down and honestly look at them and see them, you ask yourself the question “Why”? Once you see them they’re very obvious and blatant, yet through all these years nobody tried to “correct” them. I have seen attempts in translations though but it’s like the main texts were mostly kept in tact to leave them as they are. There were peculiar differences in these contradictions. One verse in Proverbs will say something and the very next verse will say the exact opposite. Why? Or Christ will physically read from Isaiah but if you go and read Isaiah you’ll notice he swapped lamb and sheep. Why? And how do you get the Crucifixion day wrong? Why? And forget for a second the disharmony of the Gospels, what about the disharmony between Paul and the Apostles? Paul even accused them of preaching a different Gospel. Why?

    And the analogy of different perspectives for a car accident didn’t quite cut it for me or that the writers’ memory was to blame because I mean, how could the Gospel writers write about the same events and then all of a sudden Luke forgets about Christ walking on water? I mean, you forget something like stopping at the shop to buy toilet paper, not forgetting seeing a person fly. Why? How can you quote the sign at the Cross in four different ways? Why?

    Years ago I found a writer whose answers sat right with me. The contradictions, inconsistencies, strange events, duplicate stories, et cetera are all intentional, they all have meaning, and not only that, everything is linked. I know that’s a very bold claim but what I liked about his explanation was that he first presents the “key” to understanding them, and then follows through by applying this key with example after example after example. You can basically say that he presents empirical evidence on how you solve the contradictions in a consistent way, so much so that I couldn’t believe no one has ever noticed it before. Once you see it, it’s so obvious and undeniable and the simplicity of it is astounding.

    If you don’t read these first two links, you will not understand any of this writers’ work on his site. The first link is a few pages on “the keys to understanding” and the next link is the first example of applying this understanding to an irreconcilable contradiction between the Gospel accounts. What is your thoughts on this writer’s solution? It’s not an explanation you’re used to and after all, it’s only two links of reading. There is doctrine in between but I’m sure with your experience you can read something and only focus on the matter at hand. Enjoy.

    http://www.remnantbride.com/Key_to_Contradictions/Keytocontradictions.1.html

    http://www.remnantbride.com/Sandals_and_Staff/Sandalsandstaff.1.html

    Kind regards
    Carl

  6. Yuriy,
    The phrase “throwing the baby out with the bath water” comes to mind. If you remove the two strict options 1) inerrant from God 2) purely human, and instead accept a moderate middle ground, you will find something far more tenable. For some reason you are avoiding this option in your posts. Reason?

    Josh

    • Hi Josh, I’m not in fact comparing inerrancy with purely human writings, if you actually read the blog, the choices presented were:

      “It was divinely inspired or influenced by God (at least at some level), or”
      “It was composed only by human means without any divine involvement”

      Please note the “inspired or influenced by God (at least at some level)” includes both innerant and non-inerrant forms of inspiration.

      I never understand why Christians think that if God chose to inspire humans to write the most important story in the history of the universe, and this story was partially divine it would include such serious errors, discrepancies, and contradictions.

      Humans often write stories and histories without making these mistakes, there are plenty of fan fiction series written by hundreds of different authors that have no contradictions or discrepancies and they write without divine guidance, so why should divine guidance make things immensely worse?

      • Yuriy,
        You had that one sentence that might allow a moderate view but every other nit picky piece about very specific passages was very much pushing an anti inerrancy agenda. Including quote “I wonder if I am crazy, and think perhaps I’ve just been deceived by the devil. I wonder if the Bible is indeed Gods inerrant word and I’m just crazy or blind. In this panic I rush to pick up my Bible, eagerly read it for 15-30 minutes, and every single time I put it down, being even more certain: The Bible, for all intents and purposes, looks nothing like a perfect book written by God, it’s utterly human and flawed.”. Please please give up on inerrancy, its a product of the 1900’s. The 2000 years of Jewish and Christian history imposed no such requirement. The extreme sides of politics and religion are attractive to many because they are easy to hold. (Example: You should ALWAYS pay less taxes, or government should ALWAYS have more influence). However, the thinking individual will realize the precious middle and golden mean is more important than extremes. It is also crucial in religion, and God wants you to use the mind he gave you. The powerful meta-narrative of the Biblical story requires engagement with your imagination and subjectivity, but will be destroyed by your ultra rationalism. Why did God set it up this way? The topic for the next post.

      • Morning Yuriy,

        [quote]I never understand why Christians think that if God chose to inspire humans to write the most important story in the history of the universe, and this story was partially divine it would include such serious errors, discrepancies, and contradictions.

        Humans often write stories and histories without making these mistakes, there are plenty of fan fiction series written by hundreds of different authors that have no contradictions or discrepancies and they write without divine guidance, so why should divine guidance make things immensely worse?[/quote]

        Like my post above, unless these “serious errors, discrepancies, and contradictions” are intentional and we have been looking at it from a completely wrong perspective.

        Like you say about fan fiction where hundreds of different authors write about the same thing and not make mistakes, is because those authors knew what the framework, or internal consistensies, of the story was.

        Check out this Youtube clip regarding “World Building” in fictional stories; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA6MQHNM2yE. It talks about the worlds being “internally consistent”. Unless you know what makes a story internally consistent, you will see it as internally inconsistent.

        The writer in the links I provided in my previous post proves this over and over that there is an internal consistency in the Bible’s “serious errors, discrepancies, and contradictions”. So much so that if you decide to actually change what looks like a contradiction to you, to say what you think it must say, THEN you will actually break the internal consistency and it becomes a real contradiction.

        What is your opinion?

        Regards
        Carl

  7. I was looking at the of Chris Harrison’s giaphrc, and it turns out that National Geographic News noted it among the best science images of 2008 fair enough!Have you seen some of his ? Amazing stuff.

  8. Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    -meaning children do not question, they just accept. Do not be deceived!

    God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise!

    1 Corinthians 1:18-21

    Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

    18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]
    20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

    26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[d]

  9. Interesting post yuriy.

    In articles about Biblical contradictions people often focus on the ‘micro’ discrepancies e.g different accounts of Judas’ death while ignoring the larger discrepancy which is that the biblical authors worldviews changed radically over time.

    E.g Genesis, exodus and leviticus is all about the here and now – blessings/ curses in this life. Death is the end (or death is a shady existence in sheol). By the time of the new testament there is the belief in resurrection and immortality with eternal rewards or punishments.

    I used to affirm that the Bible was consistent and these changes were the result of God’s progressive revelation. But that doesn’t change the fact that these views are not consistent.

  10. Yuriy:

    Just came across your website as I was doing research on a book I started writing, “The Bible–Fact or Fable?” I glanced at some of your pre-de-conversion posts, and it is amazing how far removed you now seem to be from your beliefs just a few years ago. You are obviously a very bright guy, who tries to be fair, and is well-read.

    Regarding inerrancy of the Bible, my wife asked me recently whether I plan to address the issue in my book. My approach to whether or not the Bible is reliable is not connected to the question of inerrancy. The questions I am addressing include whether the New Testament was written close enough to the events to reasonably conclude the recollections are accurate, whether the writers were either eyewitnesses or had access to the eyewitnesses, whether there are earmarks of either honesty or bias, and whether our text can reasonably be determined to reflect what was originally written.

    From the foregoing, it is apparent that I will avoid some of the “in-house” discussions on the age of the earth, whether the Flood was local or worldwide, why the Canaanites and their animals were to be killed, etc. Why? Because despite these having historical and theological significance, Christianity stands or falls with the death and resurrection of Jesus, not inerrancy or reconciling seemingly divergent accounts. Thus, my focus is on the reliability of the documents that address these central issues. If the New Testament’s reliability vis a vis the resurrection can be adduced through competent evidence, then Christianity is demonstrably plausible.

    What of the inconsistencies and contradictions you raise? Just because Diodorus and Arrian cannot agree on when Alexander the Great crossed the Granicus River to attack the Persians does not mean Alexander never lived or never attacked the Persians. Just because Josephus may have mis-recollected or embellished his role in the Jewish wars does not mean Jerusalem was not destroyed in A.D. 70. The conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth appeared alive after His crucifixion is supported by probative evidence, and the view that the disciples had experiences with the resurrected Jesus is even held by atheist New Testament scholars such as Gerd Ludemann.

    As a lawyer, I look for competent evidence to “make a case.” Discrepancies among eyewitnesses regarding an accident does not suggest there was no accident. Trial lawyers do not spend time in the minutiae of the details when the issues are whether there was an accident and who was at fault. When I “cut to the chase,” the evidence appears to support that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection were written during the lifetimes of eyewitnesses, including Paul’s use of an early creed concerning the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. In fact, the top “Jesus Scholars” date the creed Paul records as orginating within six months to a year of Jesus’ crucifixion. Further, early church testimony supports the traditional authorship of the Gospels, despite reservations about the accuracy of Papias’ statements as recorded by Eusebius.

    The issue of whether the New Testament writers were dishonest or biased, and therefore unreliable, is one often raised by skeptics. I recently saw a post that mocked what is often called the “principle of embarrassment.” In short, this argument says that if the New Testament writers were making up the details, they would not have made up so many embarrassing details, such as misunderstanding Jesus, being told they had “little faith,” etc. Interestingly, I believe it was liberal theologian Robert Funk, a co-founder of the “Jesus Seminar,” that first identified the criterion of embarrassment as positive evidence for a statement’s authenticity. In law this is similar to a “declaration against interest,” which is deemed reliable. Anyone is free to disregard the principle of embarrassment, but don’t blame its development on evangelicals, since Robert Funk was anything but evangelical.

    Finally, so as not to re-write my book here, one last issue–is our New Testament text the same as when originally written? Not having the originals to examine, some might say this is a retreat to a tower that can neither be attacked nor defended. Bart Ehrman has done a good job popularizing the number of variant readings in the New Testament Greek manuscripts, leaving the impression that the number of variants defeats any notion that our current text can be trusted. However, Ehrman admits, but relegates to a footnote, that no doctrines of Christianity rest on disputed readings. Ehrman, along with my former textual criticism classmate Dan Wallace, acknowledge that no works of antiquity come close to the New Testament with respect to how close our oldest copies are compared to the date of writing and the number of manuscripts extant. Thus, to disregard the New Testament text’s reliability is to reject all of classic antiquity unless one is asking for a special pleading that holds the New Testament to a higher textual standard. In fact, the text of Shakespeare, barely 400 years old, is far less certain that the text of the New Testament. The originals of Shakespeare are not extant, and all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays have lacunae in the manuscripts. For the New Testament, there is an embarrassing wealth of evidence, with no significant evidence that any of the text is missing, with the possible exception of the ending to Mark’s Gospel.

    To conclude, there are many valid arguments that lend support to the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning Jesus’ resurrection. I am not a Christian because someone has made a compelling argument for the inerrancy of the Bible. I am a Christian because there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

    Regards,

    John

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