Reasons for Belief in the Authenticity and Authority of the Bible in the 21st Century

By Alison Bailey M.A (with some suggestions from Paolo Castellina B.D)

Introduction

Down the centuries, countless words and thousands of books have been written suggesting that the Bible is a "myth" or half true, by secular writers who have never read it and if they have, they have never read it properly, in discussion with a trained theologian. They tend to refer to it with "blind eyes" and "deaf ears", unprepared to make carefully balanced judgments. Many of these writers make elementary mistakes in reading the text coherently, and consequently their works are full of misunderstandings. Their books read not so much as valuable and serious scholarly evaluations, but as secular "propaganda".

Recent secular critics, for example, ex-nun Karen Armstrong (who is not a Christian but a "freelance monotheist" who says that religion is "rubbish" and "facile"), or arch-atheist Richard Dawkins (author of "The God Delusion") have produced "new" arguments against the authority of the Bible which have been aired many times, indeed since the earliest centuries after the death of Christ. They have been countered by scholarly arguments about which many secular authors seem unwilling to engage. For example, many refer to Darwin's Theory of Evolution (which is still a theory) as undermining the Bible without knowing that the word in Hebrew for "day" (i.e. "God created the world in six days") in Hebrew, can also mean "epoch" or "age".

In view of the widely, and falsely held belief that the Bible is "just a myth", it will surprise many readers there is no new evidence in the 20th century and none, so far, in the 21st century to suggest or disprove the fact that the Bible is mainly "historical". In their "attacks", perceptive writers, subconsciously blind themselves to the Bible's magnificent language, its humanity, its realism, its timeless stories, to sublime poetry, its perfect and flawed characters and to its divine and divinely inspired "tone" . Even those who admit these "sublime" qualities, are not well-versed enough in the Bible or in other religious books to give credit to the strange "prophetic" tone and elements in the Bible e.g. the immensely intellectually challenging cross-referencing, the major prophecies (see Psalm 22 and here). They fail to note that even minor Bible prophecies e.g. the prophecy that Babylon would remain uninhabited (as it has been down the centuries) seem to have a habit of coming to pass. So we must fall back on the old arguments. As an Introduction, we would quote this statement:

"We believe in the authority of the Bible because Christ has endorsed its authority. He stands between the two testaments. As we look back to the Old Testament, He has endorsed it. As we look forward to the New Testament, we accept it because of the apostolic witness to Christ. Jesus deliberately chose and appointed and prepared the Apostles, in order that they might have their unique apostolic witness to him". (Revd Dr John Stott)

a) Firstly, committed Christians endorse the Bible (Scripture) because Jesus Christ, Himself, endorsed it as "Scripture" and as the Word of God. Almost no scholar seriously disputes that Jesus of Nazareth was a real, historical person with a home, skills, a job, mother, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters and cousins. There are contemporary records about him and his relatives, in Roman writings and in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus. Those rulers in the gospel stories, like Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, are also historical characters.

b) Second, believers in a broad concept of "God" cannot call themselves "Christians", unless they genuinely believe that God, the Father, through the Holy Spirit raised the unique and sinless Jesus Christ, (the promised Messiah) bodily at the resurrection on the third day, thereby vindicating Jesus's whole teaching and His claims to be who He claimed to be i.e. "The Son of God" and only Saviour of Mankind.

c) Thirdly, genuine Christian believers accept i) that Jesus regarded Scripture (the Old Testament) as the Word of God ii) that He said that His teachings/words (The New Testament) "will never pass away". Faith in His atoning death for sin on the Cross gives entry through grace into Heaven. Loyal and possibly sacrificial "obedience" to His teachings in the Bible is the standard upon which believers will be judged to fully belong to Him and to receive their heavenly "rewards".

d) Fourthly, believers cannot come to Christ to imitate Him as their Lord and Saviour, if they do not know Him. They find out about him through a portrait which can be found in both the prophecies of the Old Testament and in the first-hand witness accounts of the New Testament. There are all kinds of fanciful interpretations of "who Jesus was", since many people tend to draw him in their own ideal image. Ideas include notions that he was a itinerant preacher, a faith healer, a Communist, a hippie, a socialist, a prophet, a magician, a good man, a miracle worker, a campaigner for women's rights etc. But none of these "images" withstand inspection alongside the mysteries of the actual Bible texts themselves, which clearly demonstrate that He cannot be pigeonholed as one of these recognisible "types", and that He is infinitely more than any of them. Jesus of Nazareth cannot be limited, labeled or pigeonholed by any known human standard. Surely this is a challenging fact in itself, for in this case, who could have "invented" so convincing portrait of a living person who is both fully human and fully God, at the same time?

e) C. S. Lewis said that that even secular academics accept that the story of Jesus Christ is the "best attested fact in antiquity". We find the historic Jesus Christ in the Bible texts, or not at all. We have no liberty to invent our own version of Jesus as if He is a myth or a "symbol". The character "Jesus" and His second aspect (the Risen Christ) comes only from the Bible, and from its distinctive portrait of Him, created by those who knew him personally and who witnessed the resurrection. There is no reason to doubt the actual historicity of the gospel stories. For contemporary corroboration of many historic Old Testament events see here . In fact, some of the archeological sites mentioned in the New Testament have recently been excavated, like The Pool of Siloam, in Jerusalem. Liberal theologians challenge the Bible on grounds such as "literalism" e.g. challenging texts like "the finger of God", or on the genealogies of Christ, or thinking that some of the gospel stories contradict others, or on the grounds that "miracles are impossible". Liberal theologians see themselves as more enlightened and "sophisticated" theologians, and on those grounds, presuppose that they alone "know everything" about God and the Universe and that nothing can happen which their own rationality, logic or science (which is always evolving) cannot explain. However, when the so-called “Bible discrepancies” are examined in detail, it is found that the problems lie with misinterpretation of evidence, lack of evidence, or poor scholarship, not with the Bible. Many of their "criticisms" can been simply explained. For example, some things in the Bible are symbolic or figurative, since some of the Bible is poetry; the genealogies of Christ refer to Joseph's line (but presumably also to his mother, Mary's, as she had almost the same genealogies); the Gospel stories can be aligned, with careful attention and represent the actual discrepancies in witness statements that actually happen in modern court cases. Even Hamlet attacks the arrogance of "know-it-all" Horatio, when he states that "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy". Jesus states that only those who are obedient to His Word and "pure in heart" will "see" (know) God. So logic and "sophistication" per se are not qualifications. As for miracles, the personality of Christ is a kind of "miracle", itself. Even atheist Nietsche could not satisfactorily explain away His awesome, yet real and wholly human and supernatural personality. So he proposed the simplistic notion that Christ is a man-made version of Greek Platonism "for the masses". But why and who created this platonic "personality"? Was it simple Palestinian fishermen? And why did they make this image a Jew, not a Greek? The only real explanation for the Gospels is that there was an historic person called "Jesus of Nazareth" who claimed he was the Son of God, who lived in a poor milieu, influenced in some mysterious way a group of humble people some of whom later turned from cowards at the Cross, into saints who changed the Roman world. They said that this reason was that Christ had risen from the dead and was therefore the Son of God.

f) Nor do we have liberty to "cherry-pick" which Bible texts we want to accept, as if we are in a supermarket at the "pick and mix counter" as "liberals" do. That is rather like reading a manual on how to set up a video on your computer and leaving out Steps 2 and 4: you just do not get the picture, nor do you hear the sound. The Bible is a unity. Either the Bible is the genuine Word of God, entirely endorsed by Jesus Christ (raised from the dead) - or it is not and it is not relevant to our lives, at all. If the Bible is irrelevant and not the "Word of God", then we must discard its moral teaching, as well as its teaching about God, about Christ and about Heaven. If Jesus was not raised, then His life and death meant nothing spiritually. His teachings are not the Truth or the Way, nor do they hold promises of eternal life, nor have any authority over us. Instead, Jesus would be either a well-meaning but ultimately deeply misguided person or an extremely egotistical/mad or even deceitful "moral" teacher and not the divine "Son of God". "Jesus and the Bible" is a unity and cannot be separated. It is not surprising that when people like Richard Dawkins challenge "faith", they leave out the Personality, Work, Life and Death of Jesus Christ, which itself provides ample evidence of His supernatural character and transcendent aspects.

g) Lastly, 21st century critics, like Professor Dawkins think that the Bible is either "a myth" or has been disproved as a historical fact. This is not the case. In the Bible, we are not reading history that has been disproved. As stated above, there is plenty of archeological and historical corroboration outside the Gospels, in Roman records for the life of Jesus ("Joshua", thought to be son of Joseph the carpenter). There is evidence for the otherwise inexplicable transformation of the cowardly apostles at the Cross into the courageous martyrs who changed the Roman world. What changed them except the resurrection? The fact that secular archeology is so keen to make connections between the bones of this "Jesus" and ossuaries uncovered in Jerusalem e.g. producer of "Titanic", James Cameron film "The Lost Tomb of Jesus", and to create the notion of a Jesus who lived on and married Mary Magdalene (e.g. the highly profitable Da Vinci Code) is because historians know that Jesus was historical and that He existed. They know that if Jesus's "bones" exist, there was no resurrection, no new Testament and no Heaven (thus no Hell). There is a lot of financial interest in falsifying evidence. It is noteworthy that "debunkers" of Christianity become personally very rich and do not seem to give their earnings to charity, either. Making false assumptions e.g. in the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" to contradict the New Testament is quite an industry. See http://www.joezias.com/tomb.html and see its links, looking at the manipulation of mathematical probabilities and http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/02/jesus-tomb-titanic-talpiot-tomb-theory.html . Serious archeologists, who know the commonness of the gospel names in the first century, do not link discoveries of any ossuary discovered in Israel to the Gospels. Christians firmly hold that bones or tomb of Jesus have never been found (unlike those of Caiaphas). Not even the Jewish Sanhedrin could produce the body of Jesus on the fourth day after his death, which would have stopped the preaching of the new Gospel, in its tracks. Why? Because His earthly body had, as the Bible texts state, been raised into another kind of heavenly ,"resurrection" body, which could speak, walk through doors, eat and was not a ghost.

h) The New Testament tells that through the Holy Spirit, the Roman Empire and the Western world was profoundly affected, for the next two thousand years. Only an event like a Resurrection and an invisible "power" could have been behind the spread of Christianity, which so contradicts man's sense of need for "natural" religion (rituals, rites, self sufficiency, logic, reason).

i) It is noteworthy that the lives of Christians who submit themselves heart, soul and mind wholly to the Bible, noticeably change, even in the eyes of unbelieving relatives. Many unbelieving parents admit to a "transformation" at the conversion of their children and, inspite of possibly rejecting faith themselves, approve of the change. Converts suddenly have coherent, integrated, balanced lives and most demonstrate more rationality than before. In addition, Christian themselves, testify to having a personal relationship with the risen (living) Jesus, who still speaks and guides them, through the Bible. There is ample evidence that far from making people less whole and less rational, submitting to the Bible makes believers more rational, more caring, more positive, less selfish and more conscientious. If the Bible were something "dangerous" and irrational, it would tend to have the opposite effect. Of course, Jesus Christ (not Christians) is the proof of Christianity, since Christians tend towards sin even after conversion. However, the changed lives of Christians is still interesting, if not infallible evidence, that the Christ of the Bible (not the one of the secular world's imagination) is indeed, what He claims to be in the Bible: "The Way, the Truth and the Life".