Due to eye surgery, I have not been able to work at my computer until now. I was amazed at how many emails were in my mailbox during my absence from my computer. Most of those emails I deleted, but a few items I kept because I wanted to comment on them. One such email that I received was from a friend who asked me what I thought of its content. I suspect that he sent the email to me because I am a priest. I further suspect that he will not like my response. The email that he sent me is as follows:
Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?
During a question and answer session at a recent speaking engagement, a university student asked, “Why should we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God?”
Now this is a very good question; and probably one of the most important questions anyone could ask themselves. What is so special, so unique about the Bible that Christians believe it is literally the inspired word of God?
In answering this student’s question, consider the following facts about the Bible:
First, the Bible is not just one single book. This is a more common misconception than many people realize, especially with people who do not come from a Judeo-Christian background. Rather than being a single book, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, which is called the canon of scriptures. These 66 books contain a variety of genres: history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom literature, letters, and apocalyptic, just to name a few.
Second, these 66 books were written by 40 different authors. These authors came from a variety of backgrounds: shepherds, fishermen, doctors, kings, prophets, and others. And most of these authors never knew one another personally.
Third, these 66 books were written over a period of 1500 years. Yet again, this is another reminder that many of these authors never knew or collaborated with one another in writing these books.
Fourth, the 66 books of the Bible were written in 3 different languages. In the Bible we have books that were written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic; a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books were written.
And finally, these 66 books were written on 3 different continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people.
Think about the above realities: 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents.
What’s more, this collection of books shares a common storyline – the creation, fall, and redemption of God’s people; a common theme – God’s universal love for all of humanity; and a common message – salvation is available to all who repent of their sins and commit to following God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength.
In addition to sharing these commonalities, these 66 books contain no historical errors or contradictions. God’s word truly is an amazing collection of writings!
After sharing the above facts with this student, I offered him the following challenge: “If you do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, if you do not believe that the Bible is of a supernatural origin, then I challenge you to a test.”
“I challenge you to go to any library in the world, you can choose any library you like, and find 66 books which match the characteristics of the 66 books in the Bible.
You must choose 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, written on 3 different continents. However, they must share a common storyline, a common theme, and a common message, with no historical errors or contradictions.” “If you can produce such a collection of books, I will admit that the Bible is not the inspired word of God.”
The student’s reply was almost instantaneous, he emphatically stated,” But that’s impossible!”
It truly is impossible, for any collection of human writings. However, the Bible passes this test. The Bible contains 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, with no historical errors or contradictions.
The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, bears the mark of Divine inspiration.
The next time you encounter someone who asks you why you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, try sharing this challenge with them.
Better yet, don’t wait until you’re asked, just go ahead and share this challenge with a friend today. You don’t even have to mention the Bible up front, just ask them if they think it would be realistic to assemble such a collection of books. After they say, “But that’s impossible!” you’ve got a ready-made opportunity for sharing the truth of God’s word with somebody! In God We Trust
As far as I can determine, the content of this email was written by Ron Carlson, an evangelical (read fundamentalist) Christian, and founder of Christian Ministries International. Carlson, who died in 2011, was praised by some as a great Christian apologist and an expert on world religions and cults, and blasted by others as an evil bigot. Whichever he was, there is one thing that he was not. He was not a Biblical scholar. If he were, he would never have written the article that appears in the email that I received. As a Christian apologist, Carlson and others like him, enter into a discussion of a topic with some pre-conceived “truths.” When it comes to the Bible, the underlying “truth” is that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
A sincere Biblical scholar would never begin with that premise. Instead, there are several questions that need to be answered before one can begin. For example, at least the following questions should be asked:
- How did the Bible come to be written?
- Does the Bible reflect a single point of view, even a single inspiration or has that been an idea imposed upon it by religious devotees?
- Since what we now call the Bible was written by many authors over a period of about 1000 years, what were the particular circumstances that prompted the writing of each piece?
- What was the process by which these individual pieces got designated as “Holy Scripture?”
- Were there other works that competed for inclusion in the Bible, but for some reason were not chosen? If so, who made those decisions and on what criteria?
- Are all parts of the Bible to be regarded as equally holy, equally valid or does the Bible embrace concepts that are demonstrably untrue and proclaim attitudes that modern sensitivity and an expanded consciousness now find both repellant and repulsive?
From what I can gather from Carlson’s article, none of those questions were ever raised.
Some of what Carlson writes is true and can be considered factual. For instance, it is a fact that the Bible was written by different authors over a span of time. But beyond that statement, there is not much that can be considered “fact.” Let me just raise a few objections to what he wrote, quoting from the email.
“First, the Bible is not just one single book. This is a more common misconception than many people realize, especially with people who do not come from a Judeo-Christian background. Rather than being a single book, the Bible is actually a collection of 66 books, which is called the canon of scriptures.” It is true that some Bibles have 66 books. Protestant Bibles have this number of books. But some Bibles have more. The Roman Catholic Church considers the number of books in the Bible to be 73. Of these books, Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, parts of Esther and parts of Daniel are deuterocanonical, and are found in some Protestant Bibles in a section called The Apocrypha, and are found in the Bibles of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Some books should be in the Bible, but have been lost over time. The Bible itself mentions many books that are not found within, such as the book of Iddo the Seer, and the book of Nathan the Prophet, both referred to at 2 Chronicles 9:29.
“Fourth, the 66 books of the Bible were written in 3 different languages. In the Bible we have books that were written in the ancient languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic; a reflection of the historical and cultural circumstances in which each of these books were written.” This statement is misleading . Biblical Hebrew is the main language of the Hebrew Scriptures. Biblical Greek is the main language of the Christian Scriptures. Aramaic only accounts for about 250 verses (about 1%) in the Aramaic section of the book of Daniel (chapters 2–7, not the entire book of Daniel) out of a total of over 23,000 verses in the entire Hebrew Scriptures. There is not much Aramaic in either the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures. To say otherwise is to mislead the reader.
“And finally, these 66 books were written on 3 different continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Once again, this is a testament to the varied historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people.” This is not accurate. One would be hard pressed to prove any of the Bible was written in Africa. The narratives/books supposedly written by Moses were written AFTER leaving Egypt, after entering the Levant, which is not part of Africa. Many biblical scholars do not believe that Moses was the author of the books of the Pentateuch (Torah). One of the primary reasons for not believing the Moses tradition comes as a result of observing the presence of doublets in the Pentateuch, such as the two creation stories in Genesis. The doublets generally do not agree fully. Why would Moses – or any author – write two creation stories? Scholars reason that a much more logical explanation is that the books were written by multiple authors who lived long after the events described. That would have allowed the oral tradition to be passed from generation to generation in different areas of the land so that they had a chance to deviate from each other before being written down. In a few cases, triplets have been found in the Pentateuch where the same account appears three times.
“. . .these 66 books contain no historical errors or contradictions.” First of all, if the bible were divinely inspired, it would not have so many contradictions, and yes it does have many contradictions. I have counted at least 500 such contradictions. Here are just a few of the more obvious ones.
Where did Joseph and Mary live before the birth of Jesus?
- They lived in Nazareth, and traveled to Bethlehem because of a census. (Luke 2:1-7)
- They lived in a house in Bethlehem and moved to Nazareth after returning from Egypt (Matthew 2:1-2, 11, 22-23)
Who buried Jesus?
- Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60) (Mark 15:43-46) (Luke 23:50-53)
- Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:38-42)
- The Jews and their rulers (Acts 13:27-29)
Who carried Jesus’ cross?
- Jesus carried his own cross (John 19:17)
- Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32) (Mark 15:21) (Luke 23:26)
How many of each animal did Noah take on the ark?
- Two of each kind. (Genesis 6:19)
- Seven of each kind. (Genesis 7:2-3)
So, do I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God?
No, I do not believe that the Bible is in any literal sense “the inspired word of God.” (I will have more to say on this subject next week when I write about the aura that surrounds the Bible, making a critical study of the book almost impossible to the average person in the pew.)
As a priest, do I believe that God – the eternal, non-physical, ground of Being itself – actually “wrote” the Bible and gave it to us exactly as we have it?
No, I do not believe that.
Do I believe that the Bible is the source of spiritual insight and thought that is taken to levels of discernment and beauty that, in my experience, literalism has never produced?
Yes, I do believe that.