Challenge: Everybody knows the Bible has been translated and re-translated so many times that we have no idea what the original authors actually wrote. And obviously there were urban legends and personal agendas that crept into these translations over the years too. The historical records have been so contaminated, how can you believe anything the Bible says?
Sometimes this question is asked in a very aggressive and pointed manner by skeptics, a sort of indirect attack on Christianity. (After all, if we can't be certain about any of the historical details of Jesus' life, Christianity crumbles.) But other times it's asked in more timid and even fearful tones by believers, afraid that if they dig too deeply, the entire foundation of their faith will be shaken.
As one YouTube skeptic put it, the Bible is just the world's biggest game of "Telephone", and we're all working from the last link in a long chain of transmissions. But is this actually the case?
I felt this was such an important issue that I didn't want to try and tackle it in just one post, so today what I want to do is simply set the stage and lay the groundwork for what I hope to do in the next three posts.
Arguing From Jesus
Typically, the argument for the reliability and inspiration of the Bible goes something like this: "If you look at the cumulative evidence of the Bible's fulfilled prophecies, historical accuracy, scientific accuracy, unique consistency over 66 books from 40 different authors, and unique impact on humanity, then the cumulative evidence would point to this book as having a divine author".  Still others might make the argument that we know by "the internal testimony of the Spirit", and while I can attest to that very thing in my own life and experience, it sounds way too much like the Mormon idea of a "burning in the bosom" for me to want use that argument with skeptics or uncertain believers.
So instead, I'm going to take my own advice. Recently, I was answering some challenges and objections in a high school group that I lead at my church. And as I was answering their questions, I said this:
"Any time you can answer a challenge or a question with 'Jesus', it's a win."So how do we answer the question of the reliability of the Bible with Jesus? Here's how I would do it:
- If we can prove that the four gospels are historically reliable (note: not even inspired or infallible, just historically faithful reportage), then Jesus emerges as something more than just some guy, more than just a spiritually enlightened teacher. If they are really faithful historical accounts, Jesus is shown to be God.
- If Jesus really was who he said he was and did what he said he came to do, then as God he confirmed that the whole Old Testament was His word (John 10:35, John 5:39-40, Matt. 5:17-18). In the same way and with the same authority, Jesus promised that His Spirit would guide the apostles after he left to recall and teach faithfully what he had taught them (John 14:25-26, John 16:7-15). So Jesus becomes the linchpin for the reliability, trustworthiness, and inspiration of the whole Bible.
As I see it, there are three important questions that we still need to answer, three questions that follow the chain of transmission all the way up to the Bible you read today:
- Did the gospel writers give us historically faithful reportage (Did they get Jesus right)?
- Were the copyists faithful to the original manuscripts (Did they get the gospels right)?
- Are our modern translations accurate representations of those original documents (Do they get Jesus and the gospels right)?
[...click here to go to Part 2...]
[1.] For a compelling argument of this sort, read Greg Koukl's article, "Ancient Words, Ever True". http://www.str.org/publications/ancient-words-ever-true#.VW3TYOcjii5
Other posts in the Clearing the Roadblocks series:
Does God Care About Our Government?