So after realizing I had no logical reason to simply accept everything in the Bible by faith, I still regarded the divine origin of the Bible as a possible hypothesis, and I felt I should examine a little more the concrete evidences some Christians claim to have for biblical inerrancy. Even though I already knew most of such arguments and evidences, that was the first time I looked at them in an unbiased, neutral way, really trying to figure whether they made sense or not. In this post I list my perceptions and findings about the SIX most persuasive arguments I came across.
1. AMAZING MESSAGE
“When I started to read the Bible I realized the messages it contained were so amazing that I couldn’t believe it was written by a human being. It could only have been written by God.”
I remember I first heard that one from a pastor. He was referring especially to the crucifixion stories, that show Jesus forgiving those who were executing him. I agree with him that it’s an amazing message about unconditional love. Perhaps it is one of the most beautiful stories ever written. Nevertheless, this argument always sounded kind of overestimated to me, since the fact it is beautiful doesn’t mean it is necessarily of godly origin. We all know human beings, even if not often, are capable of delivering deep teaching of love, like the teachings attributed to the Buddha and Lao-tzu, for example. So I concluded that, however beautiful some teachings in the Bible may be, they can never be seen as proof of biblical perfection. Besides, the Bible is filled with many other stories about vengeance and mercilessness as well. Psalm 109 is one of the best examples.
2. FAITH AS A GIFT FROM GOD
“God made me believe the Bible.”
Sometimes when I ask people why they believe in the Bible as absolute truth, they answer that the Holy Spirit gave them faith. They say they feel it’s true. I find this the weakest argument of all. At the same time, the strongest.
It’s kind of a strong argument because you can’t prove that it’s either true or false. If the person really had an awesome spiritual experience, something indescribable with words, through which he or she magically became fully convinced of the inerrancy of the Bible, nobody will be able to prove it wrong. It could in fact be true.
The problem with this argument is that many people claim to have this kind of feeling. I remember of three friends who once talked to me about their faith and how they felt God’s presence and were made so sure that the scriptures were true. They talked with so much passion and conviction that when I was listening to them I started feeling like it was real too. The complication, however, is that the three of them belong to different religions. One of them is a Protestant, the other a Seventh-day Adventist, the other a Muslim. All three religions are contradictory to each other. That brings the sad news that, despite their deep passion and belief, at least two of my friends had to be mistaken. They can’t all be right.
Unfortunately, feeling faith or feeling God’s presence doesn’t really mean that much. People of all religions claim to feel that. The Latter Day Saints (also called Mormons), for instance, preach that a warm feeling in one’s heart while praying is proof that their scriptures are right. Many Pentecostals also rely on their feelings to determine that their faith is right. But when our emotions are stimulated, our minds can make us feel many things. So it might be wiser to be always skeptical about feelings, always aware that sometimes they just come from inside our minds, and nowhere else.
3. HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCES
“There are tons of historical records and archaeological findings that agree with the events reported in the Bible.”
Indeed, there are many. However, when I decided to look at those sources I found out they are mostly records of names of places and major events like wars and conquests. But when it comes to historical documentation, or archaeological evidence of the supernatural events of the Bible, the most important ones, there is none. If many non-religious sources could be found recording things like the opening of the Red Sea, the fall of the walls of Jericho, the fire from heaven called by Elijah or the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, which supposedly had many eye-witnesses, the idea of the divine nature of Christianity and the Bible would be much more reliable.
Instead, many historical records actually contradict the Bible. An example is the Egyptian sources from the time of the exodus that have no mention of any mass escape of slaves, or plagues, or opening of the Red Sea. It’s strange that something this big and incredible would have no record at all. Additionally, the Sinai Desert, where hundreds of thousands of Hebrews are told to have wandered for 40 years after fleeing from Egypt, is in fact recorded in sources as being inside the Egyptian territory at the time, and shows no archaeological traces of so many people having inhabited there by then. The whole story of the exodus might very well be just a fictitious legend made by the Israelites. [see source]
It’s worth remembering that many modern scientific discoveries also contradict the Bible, as the old testament claims the world is under 6000 years old, that day and night existed without the sun and the stars, that the moon is a luminous body, and that the sky is a firmament that supports water above.
Regarding the New Testament, many point to the fact that there are around 5500 surviving copies of it, many more than any other ancient book, so we can cross-check them and verify that they are extremely similar, thus historically accurate. Well, first, if the copies are similar, it will only confirm that they are probably loyal to the originals, not that the originals provide reliable information. Second, among these 5500 copies, 94% are from the 9th century or later, and there is no complete manuscript dating back to before the 4th century (the only surviving manuscript from before the year 150 is the “P52”, a credit-card sized fragment). That means it’s almost impossible to know how many changes and editions were made to the text prior to the forth century. [see New Testament scholar Bart Erman’s arguments]
And most importantly, these copies are just not that similar. There are thousands of incompatibilities, most of which are minor writing errors, but some make a lot of difference. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, for instance, do not have the ending account of the resurrected Jesus (Mark 16:9-20). This account only appears in later copies and in two different versions, one longer than the other. Most of modern Bibles have a note explaining that, so it’s easy to check. Other examples of later editing are the Acts of the Apostles, with one version 11% longer than the other, and the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman, not found in the earliest copies of the Gospel of John. So the copies are actually not the same with the originals.
What about the overall historicity of the gospels? The gospels are the most important works in the Bible, as they carry the stories of the son of God himself. Unfortunately, though, no serious historian considers them as reliable sources. Most of the gospel accounts cannot be confirmed in secular documents (the Testimonium Flavianum is largely regarded as an interpolation, other texts of Josephus and Tacitus only mention minor facts). Religious documents (as the ones written by the “church fathers”) can have a strong bias for obvious reasons. But the main reason is that there is too much contradiction between the stories. Since they contradict each other, they can’t all be historically accurate. The gospels have different versions of the birth narrative of Jesus, the calling of the apostles, the entrance in Jerusalem, Jesus’ trial, the time of the crucifixion, the people who first saw the resurrected Jesus and many others. The one I find most striking is the genealogy of Jesus, which differs completely in Luke chapter 3 and in Matthew chapter 1. For example, in one of them Jesus’ fraternal grandfather is Heli, in the other it is Jacob. The death of Judas, by the way, is also a famous contradiction between the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27, that has him returning the money and hanging himself, and the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, (an extension of the Gospel of Luke), that has him using the money to buy a field and later falling headlong and dying.