This morning, we’re continuing our message series to answer some of the common objections that people have to Christianity. Last week we talked about why this series is important: knowing answers to these objections can strengthen your own faith, it can protect you from being deceived by lies, and it can enable you to respond to the honest questions that people have.
We talked about how there’s a difference between a skeptic and a cynic. A skeptic will ask honest questions; a cynic won’t accept honest answers. It’s okay to be a skeptic, as long as you are seeking the answers and are willing to accept them when you find them. A cynic, on the other hand, is closed-minded and is only looking for an argument. They only want to complain. There’s really no point in wasting your time in trying to respond to cynics, because it’s not going to do any good. But it is important that we know how to respond to skeptics who have honest questions.
Here’s our key verse for this series… read it with me…
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
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…
I want you to notice two important things in that verse… first, it’s important to be able to respond to the questions. You’ve got to be prepared. That’s why we’re going through this series. But secondly, when you do respond, you do it with gentleness and respect. You have the confidence and boldness that comes with being prepared and have good, reasonable answers. But you don’t try to overwhelm the person asking the question. You don’t try to run them over with your great logic and beat them down until they have to agree with you. No, you respond with gentleness and with respect. There’s a humility about it. We’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come.
We’ll also talk about specific objections people have, like how an all-powerful good God could allow evil and suffering. Or how a loving God could send anyone to Hell. We’ll look at the claims that religion has been a source for great evil and injustice… about beliefs in Jesus coming from paganism… and about the very existence of God. We’ll talk about those in the weeks to come.
Today, we’re going to talk about “The Book.” Somebody asked the author G.K. Chesterton (the great English author and Christian from about a century ago, “If you were marooned on a desert island and you could only have one book with you, what book would you choose?” G.K. Chesterton responded, “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”
Okay, maybe not the answer you were expecting. But makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Because when you’re in a desperate situation, what kind of book would you want? Would you want one that would just entertain or even educate you? No, you would want one that would help you. You’d want one that would get you home. You want one with the answer to your predicament. You want to know how to be saved or rescued.
And that’s really what the Christian view of the Bible is. It explains our predicament and how God has intervened in human history to rescue us. It’s God’s revelation of Himself to humanity and a roadmap to get home.
You know, first the ancient Israelites and then the early Christians were known as “People of the Book.” That’s how others would refer to us… “People of the Book”… because that’s how important Christians view the Bible. We even call it Scripture, or “the Word of God.” Take a look at these verses…
2 Timothy 3:15-17 (The Message)
There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
Now, for Christ-followers, that’s a very important realization. All of Scripture is God-breathed. What does that mean? It means that it’s inspired. It does not mean that God literally wrote it or even dictated it to others, but that He guided the writers.
So while Elijah may have written one of the books of prophecy in the Old Testament, it was God empowering him and enabling him to know what to write. While Paul may have written many of the letters included in our New Testament, God was kind of the proof-reader or editor to make sure Paul was giving good advice and that he wasn’t spouting off some messed-up theology.
What does this mean for you and me? It means we can have faith in “The Book.” We can trust it. We can read it and study it and memorize it and talk about it, and we can take it seriously. Because it’s not just a book; it’s a useful Book. It’s useful for… what? Read it with me…
[HIGHLIGHTED IN POWERPOINT]
“showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way.”
However, not everyone would agree with all that. There are those who question the validity of the Bible, who question its relevance for today, who believe the Bible condones practices that we would consider abhorrent today, who think that science and archaeology have disproved the Bible. They don’t think that this book written millennia ago should be taken seriously by anyone today. They have problems with some of the things the Bible ways.
So let me ask you: have you ever read anything in the Bible that made you wonder? Anything that confused you? Anything that troubled you? Anything that you questioned? If not, then I doubt you’ve actually read it. I’m a pastor, I’ve gone to Bible College, I’ve been reading the Bible for most of my life, and I still don’t understand it all. I’m not speaking as someone who has it all figured out; I’m speaking as someone who has questions myself.
But I’m convinced of the reliability of the Bible, it’s proven itself to me to be true over and over again, and I’ve found enough answers to the questions I may have had... to the point that now when I read something that makes me wonder… that makes me question… it’s not so troubling anymore. Because the Bible has such a track record of providing answers to the questions I’ve had in the past that I know there are answers to the questions I might have now; I just may not have found them yet.
And understand… that’s not about turning a blind eye to the questions. It’s just accepting that there’s still more to learn and discover. Science can’t explain why light possesses characteristics of both wave and particle motion, but that doesn’t mean that light doesn’t exist or that current theories are wrong. It just means that there’s more to be discovered.
What I’m saying is, a simple question here or there does not need to undermine your entire faith. It’s not like everything comes crashing down just because there’s something you don’t understand. What it does mean is that you might need to give it some time and do some research and take part in some discussions and see what you can discover.
And listen… if you have questions about some of what you read in the Bible (as I have questions myself), then relax. You’re in good company. Even Peter wrote about how some of the writings that are included in our Bible can be confusing. This is remarkable… listen to this…
2 Peter 3:16-18 (The Message)
Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don't know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the Scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it.
But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose your footing and get swept off your feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers. Grow in grace and understanding of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What’s he saying? He’s saying that there just might be something you don’t understand. But instead of throwing the whole thing out and instead of jumping to conclusions and reaching the wrong conclusions, what you need to do is grow some more. You need to learn some more. You need to understand some more.
Now, as I was preparing for this message, it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to talk about everything I want to talk about this morning. In fact, I’m only going to talk about one objection to the Bible this morning. Next week, we’ll talk about the claims of contradictions in the Bible, about the Bible endorsing things like extreme violence and slavery, about the Bible being written/revised/manipulated in the fourth century, and the claim that the Bible we have today has been corrupted and distorted through the years to the point that what we have now bears no resemblance to what was originally written.
So let’s get to the objection we’re talking about this morning. It’s the claim that…
Objection #1: The Bible is a work of fiction that might be useful as a book of morality, but it shouldn’t be taken as anything more.
Well, it’s true that the Bible has a lot to say about morality—although there are also some that would dispute that. We’ll get to that in a few minutes. But what about this idea of the Bible being just a work of fiction?
The people making this claim are typically basing it on a couple of assumptions. First is that the Bible is just like many other religious books or writings that tend to focus mainly on specific teachings and not so much on facts. But the truth is, the books of the Bible are set in a historical context. In fact, large sections of the Bible aren’t talking about morality at all; they’re just telling what happened. Let me show you one example… this is from the Gospel of Luke where Luke is writing about the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (or John the Baptizer)…
Luke 3:1-3 (NLT)
It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River…
Does it sound like Luke was just writing some fictional account or was he writing about a real time and place? He didn’t start off by saying, “Once upon a time” or, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” No, he was documenting what was happening in a specific time and place. Ancient books of fiction—religious or otherwise—do contain that kind of historic element.
And catch this… Luke said in the first chapter that he was writing for someone that he referred to as “most honorable Theophilus.” Well, from A.D. 37 through A.D. 41 the High Priest at the temple in Jerusalem was Theophilus ben Ananas. If that’s who Luke was writing to, then he was writing within 10-15 years of this actual event. If not, then it was another Theophilus within the next couple decades. So Luke wasn’t writing about something that might have happened in some far off land; he was writing among the very people who would have been witnesses to the events. Now, you may choose to believe that Luke was making the whole thing up, but it’s clear that Luke meant for his readers to believe that what he was writing about really happened.
Which brings us to the other assumption… that modern archaeology has disproved the historical accounts of the Bible. That’s a popular claim, but the people who make it haven’t done their research. Because new archaeological discoveries consistently verify the historical claims of the Bible.
Take another look at these verses… Luke mentions someone named Lysanias. For years, people used that reference as an attack on the accuracy and validity of Luke’s writing. Because Lysanias was known to have lived 50-60 years earlier and had been executed in 36 B.C. by Mark Antony—three decades before John the Baptist was even born! But then during the 20th century archaeology uncovered an inscription dating from between A.D. 14 and A.D. 29 that referenced another Lysanias who ruled over Abila during the reign of Tiberius. Problem solved.
Another example. The Old Testament book of Daniel refers to a king named Belshazzar. For centuries, there was absolutely no evidence that such a person ever existed, so many took that to mean that the writings of Daniel were not reliable. [PowerPoint] Until this Nabonidus Cylinder was discovered which verified the existence of Belshazzar.
Or Acts 18. In that verse we read about the proconsul of Achaia by the name of Gallio. Well, in 1905 an inscription is discovered in Delphi that tells us that at that time the proconsul in Achaia was someone named Gallio.
Romans 16. Paul refers to Erastus, the treasurer of the city of Corinth. People used to dispute this because they figured that all the early Christians were from the lower class. But in 1929, this stone was unearthed… [PowerPoint] Go ahead and read it…
Don’t worry about it; I can’t read it either. But from what I understand, that inscription identifies Erastus with the title of someone who oversaw the financial affairs of a city, thus verifying what Paul wrote in Romans and in 2nd Timothy as well as what Luke wrote about Erastus in Acts 19.
One more. In Acts 18, Luke writes about a specific event… when the Emperor Claudius ordered all the Jews to leave the city of Rome. Did that really happen? Well, a first and second century Roman historian named Suetonius wrote a biography called “The Life of Claudius” which included this statement… (Do you want to give this one a go?)
“Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit.”
~ Suetonius (c. AD 70 – AD 130, in “Life of Claudius 25.4”
According to Suetonius, Claudius kicked all the Jews out of Rome since they were causing disturbances because of Chresto—probably a variation of Christ.
Okay, so archaeology in many ways verifies what the Bible says about historical people, places and events. So at least in terms of historical accuracy, the Bible is dependable.
Now, it’s true that there are still claims of the Bible where archaeology is silent… where there haven’t been any discoveries to back up the historical claims. That’s especially true for the earliest writings of the Old Testament. But you understand, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because the proof hasn’t been discovered yet doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or that the claims are mistaken. It just means we don’t have any extra-Biblical proof yet.
You’ll notice even from the examples I gave you that the problem wasn’t with contradictory evidence; it was with undiscovered evidence. And once the evidence was discovered, the problem was solved.
Yet there’s still this widely held belief—as baseless as it might be—that the Bible is just a book of fiction with no historical merit. Look to this… one scholar wrote…
“…The major result of the many unrelenting scholarly attacks on the historical reliability of the New Testament has been to frustrate the attackers because again and again Scripture has stood up to their challenges. For one thing, the New Testament provides a very accurate geography, not only of Israel, but of the Roman Empire. Places are where they’re supposed to be. Reported travel times are consistent with the distances involved. The topography is accurately described and extends to tiny details such as the locations of wells, streams, springs, gorges, cliffs, city gates, and the like. New Testament identifications and characterizations of a variety of individuals, both famous and obscure, also have frequently been confirmed.”
~ Rodney Stark
[I actually found this quote attributed to two different people—Rodney Stark (a sociologist of religion) in “Discovering God” or Harry Wedeck (a writer about various religions and spiritual topics including paganism and witchcraft) “A Treasury of Witchcraft.” I do not have either book, so have not confirmed the exact source. I have read some of Rodney Stark’s other books, though, and it seems to me like his style. So I’m making an assumption that it’s his quote.]
So at least in terms of history, there is no reason to dismiss the Bible as a work of fiction. In fact, just the opposite. It can be trusted as a reliable source of history. Even Eliezer Oren—an Israeli archaeologist and a professor archaeology [at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev]—one of the top archaeologists in the world today—when asked how he would evaluate the archaeological merit of the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) gave it an A+++.
All that is to show that the Bible should be taken seriously as a historically accurate work. So… does that mean that we should take everything the Bible says at face-value and accept it as literal? No, because there are different kinds of writings in the Bible for different purposes.
Remember that the Bible is not one book; it’s a collection of books. 66 books to be exact. 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. These books were written over the span of more than one thousand years by a variety of authors, and throughout them all there’s a remarkable consistency with the central message of a God who reigns over all and who has intervened in human history… in a variety of ways but ultimately through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as the hope of the world.
So far, we’ve taken a lot of time to talk about the historic reliability of these writings. But not everything in the Bible is about history. So just quickly, let me list for you some of the different kinds of writings you’ll find in the Bible.
Types of Writings in the Bible:
That’s what we’ve already talked about. But there is also writing that is…
There are times when the Bible uses a story to teach a moral lesson. For example, the parables of Jesus weren’t actual events; they were simply stories He told to teach the hearers something.
For example, the book of Psalms talks about God gathering his children under His wings. So is God a cosmic chicken? No, it’s just a poetic expression.
Again, you find that in many of the Psalms. Honest emotions, whether the words were literally true or not. Like in Psalm 22 when the writer talked about being abandoned by God. God hadn’t really abandoned him, but the writer felt like He had.
We can learn from the entire Bible, but you’ll find a concentration of practical and educational writings in places like Proverbs and in the letters of Paul in the New Testament.
f. Doctrinal (Theological)
These would be the passages that teach us about who God, how He acts, what He’s done, and how we relate to Him.
Prophetic writings are similar to the historical writings, except that at the time they were written the events written about hadn’t happened yet. For example, the Old Testament writings of the birth and life of Jesus were written centuries before Jesus was born, but the writings were about an actual birth, an actual death, and an actual resurrection. Sometimes prophetic writings are very details; other times they’re more vague and open to interpretation.
Of course, there can be some overlap between all of these types of writings.
You know, as I browse the Internet and read articles and check out comments in different blogs and message boards—and as I have conversations with friends and other people I meet—I discover that there are a lot of people who are completely unaware of the authenticity of the Bible. They think that it’s just a book that you accept or reject based on faith, and that ultimately it’s just fiction. But from what we’ve talked about this morning, you can know that the Bible was written by a number of people over a lot of years for a variety of purposes, but that the historical claims made in the books of the Bible are accurate. It’s been supported by archaeology and attested to by historians. It’s not just a book of faith; it’s also a book of facts.
And the truth is, all of Christianity is based on the historical reality of one event… the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If you don’t think that it matters if the Bible is historically accurate or not, think again. It’s essential. It matters that Jesus really lived and died and came back to life at a real time and place in history. The apostle Paul expressed this when he wrote…
1 Corinthians 15:14-16, 18-20 (NLT)
…If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave… And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
It matters that this really happened.
So is the Bible just a work of fiction? No, it’s been proven to be historically accurate, describing real people and events at a real time in history. And because of that, you can have confidence that your faith is based on facts. It’s not just about wishful thinking or some idealized code of conduct; it’s about reality. Faith has its reasons.
We’ll pick up from there next week...
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson