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Christian Talking Points: Truth

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A friend of mine recently gave me what I suppose was intended as a ‘gag gift’ but which only partially met the ‘funny’ criteria.

My friend gave me two books from a used bookstore. The first was a 1965 printing of the 1949 edition of “Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the King James and Revised Standard Versions of the Bible.” I suspect that my friend thought any book about the Bible would be a funny gift for me, but the Concordance may be of value since it lists the occurrence of words or phrases in the Bible text. For example, the word ‘messiah’ occurs four times, twice in the book of Daniel and twice in the Gospel of John. On the other hand, the word ‘sin’ fills two and a half columns of fine print and is further broken down into phrases such as ‘great sin’, ‘his sin’, ‘my sin’, ‘our sin’, ‘their sin’, ‘thy sin’, and ‘your sin’ filling over a full column.

I think this book will be useful as a reference. For example, if I want to write about ‘hell’, I can look up any of 44 referenced verses.

The other book was the 1998 first printing of “Bruce & Stan’s Guide to the Bible,” by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz. It has the familiar format of the “Dummies” books: “Investing for Dummies”, “Windows 8 for Dummies”, “Guitar for Dummies” and so on. It has the cute icons to identify the type of information: [Big idea], [Learn the lingo], [It’s a mystery], [Glad you asked], [Dig deeper], and others.

On the cover it claims to be a user-friendly approach, and is sub-titled “Understanding God’s All-Time Bestseller”

I think the sub-title spells our Bruce and Stan’s position on the Bible, but just in case, under the sub-title are provocative questions starting with, “How do we know it’s true?”

That is the question that caught my attention. I had to do some searching to find where the book addressed that question, but it showed up on page 23 as “How do we know the Bible is the word of God?”

I know many Christians confuse these two questions and others use one to answer the other:

-How do we know the Bible is true?

-Because it was written by God.

-How do we know God wrote the Bible?

-Because the Bible says so and the Bible is true.

Leaving aside that bit of circular logic, I read Bruce and Stan’s answers to the question of the Bible being the word of God. They quoted Josh McDowell, who made four points,

Only God could have created a book which:

Has been translated accurately from the time was originally written,

•Is correct when it deals with historical people and events

•Contains no ”scientific absurdities”, and

•Remains true and relevant to all people for all time.

I am sure that Christians reading Bruce and Stan’s book will simply nod in agreement at this point since they have heard these statements from their preachers for years. I doubt that most Christian would not question or dispute these points, since to question them would call the ‘truth’ of the Bible into doubt.

Let’s consider each point.

Has the Bible been accurately translated? In general, no, it has not. Prior to the invention of the printing press using moveable type in the west about 1450, books were hand copied, one word at a time, by scribes. Over time, errors crept in and the scribes made some intentional changes. It has been estimated that there are more variations (read mistranslations) in the known Bible texts than there are words in the Bible.

Is the Bible correct when it deals with historical people and events? One of the big events is the census that occurred just before the birth of Jesus. If everyone in the Roman Empire were required to go to the city where they were born, or where some ancestor had been born, this would have disrupted the entire empire for months. Yet, there is no mention of any disruption or of any such census in all of the Roman records we have, and we have many texts dating from that time. There are many other errors including three hours of darkness at midday, earthquakes and the dead rising from their graves that are in the Bible but are not in any Roman texts.

Does the Bible contain any scientific absurdities?

The worldview of the Bronze Age Hebrew nomads was that the world was flat and that pillars held up the sky. They also believed that that the Sun, Moon, and stars revolved around the Earth, and that the Sun could be stopped in the sky. They believed that bats were birds. Even Jesus makes a false scientific statement when he says that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. There are plants with smaller seeds, which Jesus, as God, should have known.

Does the Bible remain true and relevant to all people for all time?

It is hard to imagine this being true. The Bible is only relevant to Christians, about one third of the world’s population. Muslims, about a quarter of the world, say Jesus was a prophet but deny his divinity. They also have variations on many Biblical stories. Even if we add these groups together, we have a little more than half of the world even conditionally accepting the Bible.

So, all four points made to support the Bible being true, or being the word of God, or both, are, in fact, false. Does this mean that God did not write the Bible, or that the Bible is false? No, what is means is that Bruce and Stan chose four points that can be proven false as their basis for saying the Bible is true or is the word of God. They tried to do the same hand waving as the preachers and it only works with those who already believe. They will need to do more to convince the half of the world.

On page 28, Bruce and Stan address the issue of infallibility and inerrancy:

When we say that the Bible is infallible or inerrant, we mean that it is completely true. This is because God, who is the Author, is incapable of error. Dr. Sproul says, ”This does not mean that the Bible translations we have today are without error, but that the original manuscripts were absolutely correct.”

What does this mean? Even if some original manuscript written by Mark or John was absolutely correct, we do not have that manuscript but, instead, we have a probably flawed copy. I say probably because of all the variations that exist between the manuscripts that we do have. We have no way of knowing what is original true text and what is erroneously copied text.

This raises an interesting but probably unanswerable question. If God wrote or inspired a human to write a text that was absolutely correct, why would God allow that text to be corrupted by sloppy copyists or worse intentionally changed away from God’s absolutely correct text?

Even if there was, at some point in time, an original manuscript that was the true word of God, we don’t know what it said as we have only approximations of that text.

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A new monk is assigned to help the others in copying old texts by hand. He notices that they are copying copies, and not the original books.

He goes to the head monk to ask about this. He points out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies.

The head monk agrees and goes down into the cellar to check a copy against the original.

Hours later, one of the monks goes to look for him. He hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what's wrong.

"The word is celebrate not celibate," says the old monk with tears in his eyes.

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Even if that mythical perfect original existed at one time, it does not exist now. Even if that copy were perfect and true, the copies we have are flawed. How can anyone decide what God intended based on copies filled with errors?

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