Douglas Jacoby on Answering Skeptics: Bible Changed? Featured

Wednesday, 13 May 2015 10:37

Douglas JacobyToday we continue our series Answering Skeptics, moving on to what to say when people make various criticisms of the Bible, particularly why we should not trust it. Before we begin, however, a recap is in order.

In the previous installment we considered how to respond when someone shows disgust in organized religion, with the objection "There are so many hypocrites." Here are the main points from last time:

  • You're right. Sadly, there are a lot of hypocrites. The Bible agrees with your criticism, and assures us that the Lord will deal severely with them. This response is affirming and disarming.

  • Let's not confuse the messenger with the message. Someone may be a poor representative of a good product. We must distinguish the two. A poor representative of Christianity hardly disproves the teachings of Christ. Insist on this: hypocrisy may discredit, but it does not disprove.

  • There's always room for one more! No one has cornered the market on hypocrisy. (And the one without sin should cast the first stone.) Call your friend to be real, to get off his high horse.

The Bible's been changed

Allegations have been made about the translation, interpretation, and relevance of the Bible. One set of criticisms claims the Bible's message has been lost in translation, tampered with, or rewritten in accord with the church's agenda. How seriously ought we to take such a claim?

First off, the Bible isn’t the kind of story people would make up if they were just inventing a religion. If this were a merely human work, we’d expect the embarrassing and apparently contradictory parts to have been cut out, not left in. Yet we read -- without censorship -- of David's adultery and murder, Abraham's deceit and cowardice, Sarah's faithless and meanness, and Peter's impulsiveness and compromise. Of course there is one exception to this (and only one), Jesus Christ (John 8:46). The candor of the scriptures, especially with respect to its principal characters, gives strong reason to accept their overall veracity.

Another response that should be made is that translators work from the best available copies, and there is compelling evidence to believe the scriptures we read today match those of millennia ago. The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate the fidelity of the Old Testament copyists over a 1000-year period. The 5500 Greek manuscripts (partial and complete) before the printing press suggest (1440) that the New Testament too has been well preserved. Further, the claim that the Bible has been "copied so many times" is demonstrably false. Many people have in mind the original Greek being rendered into Latin (before the Greek is lost), then the Latin into Old English, the Old English into Middle and Modern English, etc. Yet this isn't the way it works. All translations work from the oldest available manuscripts (Greek for the N.T., Hebrew and Aramaic for the O.T.), and these parchments and papyri are ancient -- up to 2200 years old (O.T.), or 1800 years old (N.T.).

The text of the Bible has been preserved adequately. Not perfectly -- be careful not to over-commit yourself by claiming the manuscripts are error-free. (This is unnecessary for a claim of divine inspiration.) Yet sometimes critics claim that anyerror would require us to dismiss the entire Bible. But that's not the way history works. No ancient manuscript is perfectly preserved. Minor copying errors don't necessarily negate or “change” the document, any more than a typo invalidates a legal contract. The important thing is that the message has remained unchanged.

Next week we'll look at things people to say to minimize the biblical message, and what sorts of responses might be effective.

Back for more!

This past week I launched my summer intensive course (online) at Lincoln Christian University. The 2015 class: World Religions and Christian Theology, part of a master's program. Students come from several denominations, predominantly in the Churches of Christ and Christian Churches. Some students I remember from previous courses -- they came back for more!

We never "arrive." There's always more to learn. The principles of God's word are nourishing and strengthening. Hopefully everyone reading this newsletter will keep up his or her appetite for God and his Word -- and keep coming back for more.

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