Remember Art Linkletter? “Kids say the darnedest things” was a funny segment on his show (that was a long time ago, so if you don’t remember I don’t blame you), but now many teenagers have real theological questions and interests that come up in their average day and it isn’t so funny. Whether you watch “Supernatural” or not, there are many ideas about doctrine, and worse, there are quite a few assailants on faith who act as though they have it all wrapped up. They don’t. I used to debate/discuss with them all the time, and I know that Christianity has some very reasoned valid answers to modern questions of existence and meaning. But that isn’t the why or wherefore of this exercise that will occupy this blog for awhile.
No, the actual reason I was inspired to do some little theological FAQS is due to the real questions that came up in conversation with one of my children. This then led me to ask some of their friends to give me some of their real life questions. And that will be where I go with the blogposts for a little while in my “Bible Theology According to Mom“.
How can you trust the bible- wasn’t it just written by men? And what about the “missing parts”?
This is probably one of the most important questions for Christians, because a lot of our answers rest on “what the Bible says”. It is true that it was written by men. We know that, and it says so itself within the scriptures. We don’t make any claims that angels wrote it, or that God downloaded it directly onto parchments or tablets. The one passage that is said to have been written “by the finger of God” is Exodus 31:18:
“When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.”
But then, “When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.” So, we don’t have anything remaining for that claim. What we do have is a body of work that has remained faithfully true to the original through many ages. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls gives evidence for consistency of the Old Testament writings, not the purported change over time from transference. So doubts arising from an idea that the scriptures suffered loss or change of meaning over time just isn’t supported by any reasonable suspicion. It is as dependably consistent an any type of historical document can acceptably be. And I think, more so.
Think about what people normally choose to accept for historical validity. Even in modern times we often accept far less than what we have available to support the trustworthiness of the scripture accounts and of their accuracy within themselves ( that is, passed on through generations and copies).
OK, but what about missing parts, or other books that aren’t included in the “Bible”?
In an article discussing this on the Columbia University site, there is the idea that the Old Testament portion of the Canon (acceptable official body of scripture) was already in effect before Christ. The Jews had an authoritative view of what books were inspired by God. So the short answer is this: there were always other books to consider, but certain ones were weighted with authority based on a set of “tests”.
For the New Testament Wesley Ringer states:
1. First, the books must have apostolic authority– that is, they must have been written either by the apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by associates of the apostles.
2. Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the “rule of faith.” In other words, was the document congruent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative.
3. Third, there was the criterion of whether a document had enjoyed continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large.
Otherwise, I would summarize it this way:
- One was “who” accepted the books or not. Were they the apostles or those who both studied the scriptures and lived exemplary lives? Were there a group of these leaders who agreed on the inclusion of the books?
How The Bible Came To Us, is a look at how the manuscripts are compared, etc.
- Another is the way the book itself agreed with other accepted books, was there harmony of teaching within the stream of expression given by each book? The books themselves have an overall agreement or were circulated, and accepted, as trustworthy doctrine.
- AD 85 :By this time, all of the writings we include in our New Testament are in their present form and are in use by Christians. ~Timeline of formation of Canon and of the Creeds.
It is more complex than that, but that gives the main idea. By the way, just because I link to a particular page that is helpful, doesn’t mean I agree with the entire theology of what is represented. I might even link to an atheist view if it helps to clarify the discussion, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything the writer is saying or the opinions of their site- just so you know.
But let’s get to the real gist of the question: Did God write the Bible? I am going to be painfully honest here. No one can prove He did…just like no one can prove there is a God at all. And I know that if you are a Christian you don’t really like that answer, but if we are talking about proving something to people who want indubitable proofs in a physical manner, it just isn’t there… and it isn’t there for a reason. I am saving you a lot of futile effort here, in just coming out with the fact that you can’t prove this, and that there are other ways and reasons to have confidence in the assertion the Bible makes for itself: that it is God’s Word written as men were inspired in their hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit of God Himself. You can be confident, but you aren’t going to have hard and fast proof to show someone who wants to believe otherwise.
There. That is out of the way…now let’s get on with why we can trust the books we have in the canon of the Bible, and why we can safely do without those which aren’t included.
People sometimes make unreasonable requirements of matters in the realm of Christian faith that they don’t make in any other way in life. If they insisted on these requirements in any other comparable situation in life, no one would get very far. The main matter I am speaking of here is establishing veracity. Determining whether something is true.
In systems of law, especially, we rely on witness and testimony. In much the same way as the Bible canon was established, it matters who the person, or group of people, is: a trusted person who gives their expert testimony or their character witness to events or what the facts might be. Science supports that testimony, particularly in modern cases, but it is the interpretation of that science, and expert application of it that gives a convincing case. So it still relies upon the witness of people. There are matters where it is the testimony of a witness alone that is admitted for establishment of the truth of a matter.
And this is exactly the basis that God has for establishing truth about Himself. If we insist that this is not sufficient, then entire systematic ways we have of establishing truth simply collapses, and we would function on a very low level. We would never have nuclear power for example. Because we can’t prove everything about nuclear theory, we can only observe and act on what we observe.
The truths of the Bible are often observable over time. And many of its detractors will admit that. They might admit to the value of Jesus’ teachings, for example. But how reasonable is it to have something prove valuable over a long history of man, only to deny its value based on its age? Or based on the fact that there are variable interpretations? And those are the ways that many criticize the trustworthiness of the Bible as an inspired document, excuses to dismiss its value.
Whether we talk of whether the Bible is truth or God exists, we will come to a wall. That wall is the fact that faith is involved in accepting either as fact. As with law functioning with witness and testimony, much of what we know to be true is based upon faith. Our faith in the witnesses ability to tell us facts or relay information, our faith in the information itself. We use faith to believe much about the universe. We function with enough verifiable facts to move forward.
Often, it comes down to the same situation we see in the book of 1 Kings, when Elijah faced an opposition who countered all the claims that the God of the Old Testament, the Mosaic covenant with the Jews, was the God to worship and follow. That He was the True God, and that his words in his law and through his prophets was true. Elijah let God prove who He was and who He was speaking to and through. So in the final analysis, we believe the truth of the books that are handed to us within the Canon of the Bible, but it is up to God to prove that He inspired them. He does this through outcomes, and through His own acts. In the meantime, we may do much investigation to add to our own convictions. We can study archaeological information, lexicon explanations of the original languages, historical texts, etc. to better know and understand.
Thus, we prove how we believe Him, and our own ability to discern truth. Ironic, isn’t it?
If this didn’t answer your question, I hope it got you thinking, anyway. Have more questions, things you want to say? give me your comments, please.