- .. and other questions of deep theological significance.*
Often when encountering the objections people have concerning the Bible, I am left duly unimpressed with the quality of thought behind their skepticism.
“Did Adam have a navel?” is one such question. Considering the Bible’s claim to be the authoritative Word of God, I wonder why people do not spend more time asking questions like “What am I going to do about the fact that Jesus died for my sins?” or “If this Bible is true, how shall I then live?”
“Well Did Adam have a navel?”
Could be. How else do you explain navel oranges or seedless watermelons? Something or someone had to produce them after their own kind. If man can produce a seedless grape, surely an all-powerful God could create a man in His own image with or without a navel.
Consider another eternal question “Where did Cain get his wife?” To which I invariably reply “The same place any man gets his wife from the available women!”
Or how about this one “How could Jonah be in the belly of a whale?” Questions such as these reveal skepticism and the desire to reduce the Bible God’s Word to the level of absurdity. If it can be shown that the Bible consists mainly of ridiculous fallacies, then its claim to be the infallible guide to our lives is refuted. Most of the questions directed in this manner are merely parroted clichés that clearly show that the skeptic has done no serious thinking of his own.
Another error that many people make when approaching the Bible is to accept the claims of 19th century Historical Criticism. The 19th century historical critics were liberal agnostics who studied theology in an attempt to discredit the Bible. Men such as William James and Julian Huxley began with the assumption that the Bible was full of historical inaccuracies and myths, and then attempted to separate what they considered to be fact from fiction. The claims of these liberal Bible scholars sparked an interest in biblical archaeology as scores of archaeologists flocked to the Middle East to gain new knowledge of ancient history.
The irony of this situation is that although most of these archaeologists set out to disprove the Bible, they ended up supporting its high degree of historical accuracy. All they ended up proving was that the Bible is the most accurate extensive history of ancient times.1 They uncovered the ancient civilization of the Hittites2 and found thousands of manuscript copies of Old and New Testament books which confirmed the accuracy of modern texts.3
Although virtually all of the claims of the liberal agnostics have been disproven by modern research, many of their ideas still float around as popular axioms. The greater crime, however, is that their ideas are still being propagated by many university professors. These fallacies are spewed out without a shred of reputable evidence, and many unsuspecting university students swallow them whole.
I would like to examine just three of the most common misconceptions that people have about the Bible. These misunderstandings were first popularized in the 19th century. Although they have been soundly refuted, it is sad to say that they are still widely taught and held beliefs in many classrooms.
#1. The Bible is full of historical inaccuracies
As one of the main foundations of liberal theology, this statement is not only untrue but it reveals that the skepticism of the historical critics was based on an ulterior motive to discredit the Bible as the inspired Word of God. In light of numerous archaeological discoveries, it can be said that no finding of modern archaeology has ever discredited a single historical detail of the Bible. Archaeology has, in fact, confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible to a greater degree than that of any other record of antiquity.
A recent finding that confirms the historical account of Genesis 14 is the discovery of the Elba Tablets in northern Syria by two professors from the University of Rome. Since 1974, 17,000 tablets have been excavated. Several of these tablets refer to the “Five Cities of the Plain” which are mentioned in Genesis 14 (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar). Once thought to be legendary, these cities are listed on one tablet in the exact order as in the Bible and indicate that this area was once a flourishing region before the catastrophe that overtook Sodom and Gomorrah recorded in Genesis 14.4
Furthermore, the Elba Tablets refute the “Documentary Hypothesis” taught by the higher critics. According to the higher critics, Moses could not have possibly written the Mosaic law since he lived in a time prior to the invention of writing. The higher critics also taught that the Mosaic law was far too advanced to have occurred during the the time of Moses. However, the Elba Tablets show that a thousand years before Moses, writing existed in the same region in which he lived. The tablets also demonstrate elaborate judicial proceedings and case law which are similar to the Deuteronomy law code (see Deuteronomy 22:22-30) which the higher critics have claimed was recorded hundreds of years after Moses lived.5
Other findings include excavations of Jericho: “The walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city”;6 a description resembling the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt in the Armana Letters;7 and the discovery of King Solomon’s stables.8
New Testament examples of historical reliability include the proven accuracy of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, was once a student of the German historical critics; but after many years of skepticism and an unfavorable view of the Bible’s accuracy, Ramsey changed his mind. Concerning Luke’s ability as a historian, Ramsey concluded after over 30 years of study that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy … this author should be place along with the very greatest of historians.“9 Ramsey added in another work: “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.“10
#2. There are so many translations of the Bible that no one knows which is the right one.
This is one of the most common objections to the reliability of the Bible. However, as this objection is vaguely stated, it can mean several different things.
One erroneous idea is that the Bible has been copied over so many times that the accuracy of the original manuscripts has been lost.
Prior to the latter part of the 19th century there were fewer manuscripts to work with compared with today. But since the explosion of archaeological findings in the last 100 years, there are now thousands of manuscripts available that indicate an extremely high level of textual accuracy.
For instance, in 1949 over 500 manuscripts dated at about 125 B.C. were found near the ancient religious community of Qumran near the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained a complete Isaiah scroll which is significant because for many years the higher critics had maintained that portions of Isaiah had been added to after the time of Christ. Isaiah 53 contained a startling prophecy about the Messiah which had been accurately fulfilled by Jesus Christ. In the eyes of the higher critics, this had to have been a forgery by the early Christian scribes.
The impact of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls is in the exactness of the Isaiah scroll (125 B.C.) compared with the Masoretic text of Isaiah 53 (916 A.D.): “Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions … Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question.“11 This demonstrates the unusual degree of accuracy in transcription over a period of more than 1,000 years and refutes the idle speculations of the higher critics.
Another commonly believed fallacy is that the Bible has been translated from language to language so many times that the modern English translation has become diluted in its accuracy.
In the 20th century there have been thousands of archaeological discoveries of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which are hundreds of years older than the manuscripts available prior to this century. There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and 24,000 manuscript portions available for study.12
In other words, there are more reliable New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek language available for direct translation into modern English today than ever before. Sir Frederic Kenyon, who was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum, states, “The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and general integrity of the books in the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.“13
Still another error people make when approaching the Bible is to assume that the large number of English translations indicates there are no accurate modern translations of the Bible available.
The King James or Authorized Version of the Bible is the most widely used modern translation by English speaking people. This translation was prepared in 1611 by 47 scholars in England. Latin, Hebrew and Greek texts were studied and other English translations were consulted with the view of obtaining the best results. It has been generally regarded as one of the best translations of the Bible available in any language for more than three centuries.14
Since 1952, there have been 10 Modern English translations of the Bible. The emergence of thousands of Greek manuscripts plus the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has made it possible for Bible translators to arrive at a Bible text which is more accurate than ever before. Some of the most accurate modern translations include the New American Standard Bible, The New International Version, and the New King James Version.
#3. The Bible was written hundreds of years after Jesus died.
The Bible was written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry His own disciples and by apostles that later arose in the first century Church Paul, Luke, Mark, James and Jude. Although 19th century scholars once tried to assign later dates to New Testament books, modern scholars regard the New Testament as a primary source document from the first century.15 There are many ways to validate the Bible’s authenticity.
Eusebius, the 4th century historian, drawing information from Papias, who was the Apostle John’s student, tells us that the Gospel of Mark was actually Peter’s account of the life of Jesus as told to his student Mark: “The Elder (John) used to say this also: ‘Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down everything that he mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order. For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required … So then Mark made no mistake, writing down in this way some things as he (Peter) mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.“16
Eusebius also tells us that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and travelled with him to Rome in 60 A.D. During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, the Roman authorities used a copy of Mark’s Gospel as evidence to implicate the Christians as the cause of a large fire which had burned much of the city. On a papyrus scroll appeared the title: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.“17 In the ensuing period, Christians were persecuted as scapegoats. Evidently the title of Mark’s Gospel was misconstrued as treasonous.
Flavius Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, makes mention of Jesus and John the Baptist; Polycarp (A.D. 70-156), another student of John, quotes the New Testament; Ignatius (A.D. 70-110), the Bishop of Antioch, quotes from 16 New Testament books; Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyons, makes 1,819 references to New Testament scriptures; Tertullian (A.D. 160 -220) quotes from the New Testament 7,258 times; Other first century writers who quote the New Testament are Barnabas (A.D. 70), and Hermas (A.D. 95).18
In addition to many quotations which agree with the versions of later manuscripts, archaeologists have, in recent years, uncovered many manuscript fragments. These fragments were originally complete copies of the original manuscripts of the New Testament. Manuscript fragments are scraps of papyrus leaves that have survived throughout the centuries in rubbish heaps or have lain forgotten in monasteries. Many of these fragments have been dated from the second and third centuries. The oldest known fragment is a tiny scrap of papyrus, 3-1/2” by 2-1/2” containing John 18:31-33, which scholars have assigned to the early part of the second century.19
William Foxwell Albright, one of the world’s foremost biblical archaeologists, said: “In my opinion, every book in the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the 40s and 80s of the first century A.D. (very probably sometime between about A.D. 50-75).“20
There are many evidences for the authenticity of the Bible, but there is one final proof I would like you to consider Jesus Christ is alive and He changed my life!
While many have tried to invalidate the claims of Jesus by reducing the Bible to the level of absurdity, God’s Word has a power to it that transcends ridicule. The power of the Gospel to change lives is its greatest proof. If you open yourself up to the Gospel, Jesus Christ will prove Himself to you by changing your life forever.
1 Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert; History of Negev (Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society of America, 1969), pg. 31.
2 William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1956), pg. 28.
3 J. Harold Greenlee, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), pg. 15.
4 Josh McDowall, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc.) pp. 63-83.
6 John Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History; Joshua, Judges (London: Constable, 1931), pg. 146.
7 Dr. Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, Grand Rapids: 1962, p. 114
8 Ibid., p. 191
9 Sir W. M. Ramsey, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), p. 222.
10 W. M. Ramsey, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 81.
11 Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), p. 263.
12 Josh McDowall, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979), p. 39.
13 Frederic G. Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology (New York: Harper & Row, 1940), p. 288.
14 The Thompson Comprehensive Bible Helps (Indianapolis, B.B. Kirkbride Bible Company, Inc., 1984), p. 181.
15 John W. Montgomery, History and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1971), pp. 34-35.
16 Eusbius, Ecclesiastical History (Grand Rids:BakerBookHouse, 1987), p. 127.
17 J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1972), p. 64.
18 Josh McDowall, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernadino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979), p. 51.
19 Dr. Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: 1962), p. 753.
20 Christianity Today, January 18, 1963.