How trustworthy is the Bible?

As an adult embracing Christian-oriented religion, I think it’s important to reconcile my feelings towards the Bible. I’m sure the more devout readers will see this as sacrilegious: lets not forget that whole “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), okay? Just read and listen, we both might learn something.

Oversimplifying, the Bible is a collection of stories written by and about people and events. Some folks claim it is the word of God. Others say it was inspired by God. What we should be able to agree on, though, is the oversimplification I just described. But, how trustworthy is the Bible? Let me clarify: how historically accurate is it? God didn’t proofread and correct it. We know that throughout history, there have been reformations of the Bible with Popes acting as editors. How do we know if the stories contained in the Bible aren’t fiction? Archaeology might prove the existance of people, places and things–but how much can forensics tell us about what happened before we found their remains?

My shelf contains a large library of DVDs, mostly fiction–straight out of Hollywood. There are some documentaries and other presumed non-fiction, but even those tell a story from a particular point of view. I would be ashamed of some future archaeologist finding my collection, some 2,000 years later, mislead into thinking that the movies contained on my DVDs accurately tell the story of life in the year 2006, with super-human tales of mystery and heroism, of scandalous treachery, of zany love stories and war. Sure, it might be reflective of the popular culture of the times, but it sure isn’t historically accurate. After all, they’re just stories, most of them fictional, meant to sedate and entertain the masses. But, 2,000 years ago, before the age of movies on DVDs, televisions and even electricity, even before mass-produced books, we had handwriting and oral storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong: the Bible is an awesome story. A super-being giving orders from a pyrotechnical bush, stories of slavery and freedom, of love and life lost, of a man who heals the ill and walks on water, of angry mobs killing the hero, of supernatural phenomena like life-after-death … this is the kind of stuff that blockbusters are made of! But, I can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s more entertainment than historical fact. It contains a lot of wisdom and we should certainly listen for it and learn it and live it, but to take it literally and as accurate just seems foolhardy to me.

Am I totally wrong, here? What am I missing? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Sunny says:

    i wish the bible wasn’t changed because alot of evil peeps mock God

  2. Gordon James says:

    Great thoughts.
    Here is my quick impulse response.

    The Bible is a collection of writings that God has both protected and led His people to collect.

    This collection is diverse in many ways.
    – Approx 40 authors, some anonymous and some not.
    – Time span – 1500 BC to 75 AD
    - multiple languages
    - multiple cultures

    Mostly it is the story of God choosing people and then the story of them getting to know Him.
    It is also the story of God’s plan to create people to live with him, and even after sin and the fall (Gen 1-3) he works through history to have people live in paradise with him for ever (Rev 20-22)

    Now on to the harder questions.
    First a little background on me . . .
    I am skeptical of most things.
    Human nature is deceitful and selfish and I am quick to look for both proof and ulterior motives. My academic background is chemistry, biochemistry and medicine – and then I became a pastor (Biblical study, history, psychology and philosophy).

    The Bible is . . .
    The best preserved ancient documents we know of.
    (carm.org/can-we-trust-new-testament-historical-document)

    Full of details to demonstrate archaeological accuracy.
    (carm.org/archaeological-evidence-verifying-biblical-cities)

    Often very clear on stories (parables etc.) vs history.

    I liked your question of “entertainment value” – could it be fiction?

    The problems with trying to see it is fiction are many.
    To simplify, it is not presented as fiction.
    The long lists of family names (boring as can be) don’t make good fiction. They are written in the style of a genealogical record, and later used by other authors as a legal record of family heritage.

    The records of battles and their outcomes is written not with details of the fighting (like a good story) but with the results and treaty / property lines like a historical record.

    Even the love stories (like Ruth and Esther) are written as a record of God’s activity through unlikely people chosen for His mercy and love.

  3. Gordon James says:

    Cool quote about an archaeologist who set out to prove the Book of Acts and writings of Paul as inaccurate . . .

    “William Ramsay paid particular interest in the New Testament events, particularly the Book of Acts and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. The Acts of the Apostles was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no man could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the event—this is, when Acts was then supposed to have been written. He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded: ‘Further study . . . showed that the book could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement’ (The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p. 85). On page 89 of the same book, Ramsay accounted, ‘I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there [in Acts]. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment…’

    When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claimed to have been written by Paul were really his.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mitchell_Ramsay

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