The Bible is the most influential book in human history. But what are we supposed to do with it in the 21st century? And even more importantly, can it still be trusted as the Word of God?
Confusion and doubt about the Bible are becoming as common inside the church as they are outside. Questions come from all sides:
- Is the Bible anti-intellectual?
- Has the biblical text been corrupted over the centuries?
- Who really chose the books of the Bible and why?
- Which interpretation of the Bible is correct?
- Are the gospels full of contradictions?
There are an unprecedented number of sophisticated attacks on the origin, credibility, and reliability of the Bible today. Secularism has tried to undercut even the possibility of spiritual or moral knowledge. Skepticism toward institutional religion is at an all-time high.
Yet, the Bible claims that truth is knowable and God is actively involved in our world.
What are we to do?
Pray for wisdom. Think clearly. Pick up your Bible. Read through the 11 major challenges presented in these pages. And be ready.
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About the Author
JONATHAN MORROW (D.Min., M.Div., M.A.) is the author of Welcome to College and Think Christianly and coauthor of Is God Just a Human Invention? He also contributed to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students. Jonathan is director of creative strategies for Impact 360 Institute where he teaches in the college ¿Gap Year¿ program and high school summer Immersion experience. As the founder of Think Christianly Jonathan speaks nationally on worldview, apologetics, and culture and is passionate about seeing a new generation of Christ-followers understand what they believe, why they believe it, and why it matters in life. His books have been featured on shows like Family Life Today, Stand to Reason, Breakpoint, WAY-FM, Frank Pastore, The Janet Mefferd Show, and Apologetics 315. He and his wife have been married for 13 years and have three children. Connect with him at www.thinkchristianly.org.
Read an Excerpt
Questioning the Bible
11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority
By Jonathan Morrow, Jim Vincent
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 Jonathan Morrow
All rights reserved.
IS THE BIBLE ANTI-INTELLECTUAL?
Remember that God is a rational God, who has made us in His own image. God invites and expects us to explore His double revelation, in nature and Scripture, with the minds He has given us, and to go on in the development of a Christian mind to apply His marvelous revealed truth to every aspect of the modern and post-modern world. John Stott
Culture has been compared to a river that we are all floating in. The only real question is if we are aware of where we are drifting and are going to do something about it. One of the prevailing currents today is an overemphasis on emotion and a devaluing of reason. Our culture worships at the altar of sound bites, slogans, and quick updates. This makes sustained thought and critical reflection challenging, to say the least.
Couple this with the fact that our lives are overscheduled and hurried, and that is a recipe for superficiality. I don't say this to be mean or with a holier-than-thou attitude; I fight these tendencies as well. What has happened, however, is that both the broader culture and the American church have become shallow. We exalt the trivial and dismiss the meaningful.
This has consequences in many areas of life, but especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. How does the Bible—if it really is the Word of God—speak within such a culture? What cultural assumptions keep us from hearing and considering its message?
Claims are never made or heard in a cultural vacuum. The conversation about the Bible today is heard in a cultural backdrop that includes a lot of misunderstanding of religion in general and Christianity in particular. The goal in this chapter is modest but important. We need to expose some of these misperceptions about how to find spiritual truth, and then allow the Bible itself to inform our understanding of key words like faith, truth, and reason.
THREE SPIRITUAL DEAD ENDS TO AVOID
As I talk to people in the local church or the students I teach, I run into three common misunderstandings about God and spirituality. Whether or not you are ultimately convinced that Christianity is true, these are three dead ends you will surely want to avoid in your quest for truth.
"People are free to believe whatever they want about God"
Yes and no. If all that is meant here is that people should not be coerced or forced to believe something or follow a certain religion—then I wholeheartedly agree. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are extremely important principles to defend. The Manhattan Declaration captures this well: "No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions." In his excellent book The Case for Civility, Os Guinness articulates a vision of what we should be after in public discourse about our various religious beliefs:
The vision of a civic public square is one in which everyone—people of all faiths, whether religious or naturalistic—are equally free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faiths, as a matter of "free exercise" and as dictated by their own reason and conscience; but always within the double framework, first, of the Constitution, and second, of a freely and mutually agreed covenant, or common vision for the common good, of what each person understands to be just and free for everyone else, and therefore of the duties involved in living with the deep differences of others.
This is an example of what true tolerance is. Hue tolerance is where we extend to each other the right to be wrong. False tolerance, on the other hand, naively asserts that all ideas are created equal and this must be rejected. Not only is this obviously false, it's unlivable. Unfortunately, "The ideal of religious tolerance has morphed into the straitjacket of religious agreement." Contrary to what is commonly believed, the height of intolerance is not disagreement, but rather removing the public space and opportunity for people to disagree.
However, true tolerance is usually not what people have in mind when they say people should be free to believe in whatever God (or no god at all) they want to. Here is the simple, but profound point to grasp—merely believing something doesn't make it true. Put differently, people are entitled to their own beliefs, but not their own truth. Belief is not what ultimately matters—truth is. Our believing something is true doesn't make it true. The Bible isn't true simply because I have faith. Huth is what corresponds to reality—telling it like it is.
The bottom line is that we discover truth; we don't create it. Reality is what we bump (or slam!) into when we act on false beliefs. Spending a few minutes fondly reflecting on your junior high, high school, and college years will bring this principle vividly and painfully to life.
"All religions basically teach the same thing"
Let's be honest ... we don't like to offend people and we want people to like us. Because of this, we let some pretty silly ideas go unchallenged in our culture today. One perennial offender is the notion that all religions basically teach the same thing. If anyone is to find the truth about God or ultimate reality, then this myth has to be dispensed with quickly. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat hits the nail on the head:
The differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them. If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher—including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both—who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?
It is out of a sense of false tolerance that we think we are actually loving one another if we never challenge ideas that we believe to be false. In addition to this liability, we often lack the courage to (respectfully) say what needs to be said.
With that in mind, the first thing to do when encountering this claim is simply ask a question—"That's interesting; in what specific ways are all religions basically the same?" And then wait for a response. Fight the temptation to answer for them. Often, this will be enough to expose the superficial slogan so that you can have a more productive spiritual conversation. In his book God Is Not One, Boston University professor Stephen Prothero observes, "No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so obviously at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, essentially the same, and this view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture." Chart 1 points out key differences among the four major religions.
Many imagine God to be waiting at the top of a mountain and eventually, all paths will get to the top. But who's waiting for you at the top? Which God? The Christian God—the one true God who is a trinity? No God at all? Thousands of gods? Those are very different peaks! Admittedly, you will find similarities in the foothills in terms of basic ethics, but the farther you go up the mountain, the more pronounced the differences become because you are dealing with the nature of God, eternity, redemption, heaven, and hell.
A simple thought experiment makes this clear. Imagine you were at a table about to eat dinner and you have two bowls of white powder in front of you. Do you put them on your food? After all, they look pretty similar. But what if I told you that one was ordinary table salt and the other was cyanide? The differences matter far more than the similarities! So it is with religion and its path for your eternal future.
Finally, the fact that the religions of the world make exclusive and mutually contradictory claims means they can't be the same. Take Jesus of Nazareth as an example: either Jesus was not the Messiah (Judaism), was the Messiah (Christianity), or was a great prophet (Islam)—but not all three (cf. John 14:6).
"God is a psychological crutch humans invent to feel better"
In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud wrote that religious beliefs are "illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind.... As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection—for protection through love—which was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life." In short, we project the existence of God based on a human need for Him.
Sean McDowell and I spent a whole book (Is God Just a Human Invention?) addressing various angles of this issue, but let me highlight just two reasons this is not a helpful way to think about the God question. First, it begs the question against God. Freud's argument is, essentially, since we know that God doesn't exist, what are the most compelling psychological explanations of this belief? His argument assumes from the outset that no object of belief—namely God—exists.
And second, the projection theory logic cuts both ways. If it can be argued that humans created God out of a need for security or a father figure, then it can just as easily be argued that atheism is a response to the human desire for the freedom to do whatever one wants without moral constraints or obligations. Perhaps atheists don't want a God to exist because they would then be morally accountable to a deity. Or maybe atheists had particularly tragic relationships with their own fathers growing up, projected that on God, and then spent most of their adult lives trying to kill a "Divine Father Figure"?
New York University psychologist Paul Vitz helps us prioritize the right question: "Since both believers and nonbelievers in God have psychological reasons for their positions, one important conclusion is that in any debate as to the truth of the existence of God, psychology should be irrelevant. A genuine search for evidence supporting or opposing the existence of God should be based on the evidence and arguments found in philosophy, theology, science, history, and other relevant disciplines."
THREE THINGS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY THAT MAY SURPRISE YOU
Whenever people use the word Christian in a conversation, I don't assume they are using the term correctly (i.e., something that the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, would recognize). Again, I'm not being critical here; we just live in a postChristian culture today. There's simply too much misinformation out there. Moreover, people tend to repeat commonly used slogans or embrace a vision of Christianity that sounds curiously like twenty-first-century American values. In light of that, I have found that when I share what the New Testament actually teaches, people are genuinely surprised. In fact, many Christians I encounter also are surprised (and even resist) what I am about to share.
1. Christianity Rises to the Level of True or False
It's always best to begin at the beginning. If Christianity does not rise to the level of being true or false, then it has been completely removed from the cognitive realm. If something can't be false, then it can't be true either. And rational investigation becomes impossible. Please don't mishear me, I think there are very good reasons to believe Christianity is actually true and best explains reality. But Christianity is the kind of thing that could be false. It's at this point in my talk when people tend to get nervous (along with those who invited me in to speak!). My point is simply this: In a culture that relativizes (everybody has their own truth) and then privatizes (my spiritual truth is personal and therefore off-limits) religious belief, we must reintroduce Christianity to our culture with its very public truth claims and let the best ideas win. To use a football analogy, we have to take the red practice jersey off of Christianity so it can take some hits.
Nancy Pearcey puts her finger on the problem: "When Christians are willing to reduce religion to non-cognitive categories, unconnected to questions of truth or evidence, then we have already lost the battle." When it comes to Christianity, the most important question we need to help people ask is not will it work for them or help them feel better, but rather is it true?
And that leads us to another important but often misunderstood concept—truth. As we hinted at above, truth is simply telling it like it is. A more philosophically precise definition is that truth is what corresponds to or matches up with reality. For example, if you have the belief that it is raining outside and it actually is raining outside, then that belief is true. This is the classical and commonsense view of truth we all use every day. However, at this point it will be helpful to make a distinction between objective and subjective truth claims. For something to be objective simply means that it is not dependent on what anyone believes, thinks, or agrees on. (Objective claims refer to reality as it is "out there," is fixed, and discoverable.) On the other hand, to say something is subjective is to affirm that it is dependent on what someone believes, thinks, or agrees on. (Subjective claims are not fixed, i.e., can change, and refer to the beliefs and opinions of the person.) Greg Koukl offers a helpful illustration on the differences between ice cream and insulin:
Forgive me for stating something so obvious, but there is a difference between choosing an ice cream flavor and choosing a medicine. When choosing ice cream, you choose what you like. When choosing medicine, you have to choose what heals.
Many people think of God like they think of ice cream, not like they think of insulin. In other words, they choose religious views according to their tastes, not according to what is true. The question of truth hardly even comes up in the conversation.
In this illustration, the ice cream claims are subjective and insulin claims are objective. While many think religious claims are ice cream kinds of claims, this is incorrect. Biblical Christianity is making an insulin kind of claim, as we will see below.
Before concluding this section, we need to briefly say a word about why truth even matters anymore. To put it simply, truth matters because ideas have consequences for people. What you think is true is the map you will use to try to navigate reality—spiritually, morally, relationally, and intellectually. Wasting a few minutes because Google Maps led you down yet another dead end is one thing, wasting your life because you have sincerely believed a lie is another. God's position as stated in the New Testament is clear, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3–4).
Excerpted from Questioning the Bible by Jonathan Morrow, Jim Vincent. Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morrow. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: What Yon May Not Have Learned in Church about the Bible 11
1 Is the Bible Anti-intellectual? 17
2 What Can We Really Know about Jesus? 31
3 How Do We Know What the Earliest Christians Believed? 45
4 Why Were Some Gospels Banned from the Bible? 57
5 Did the Biblical Writers Lie about Their Identity? 77
6 Has the Biblical Text Been Corrupted over the Centuries? 93
7 Are the Gospels Full of Contradictions? 107
8 Is the Bible Unscientific? 123
9 Is the Bible Sexist, Racist, Homophobic, and Genocidal? 139
10 What Do Christians Believe about the Bible? 159
11 Which Interpretation of the Bible Is Correct? 173
Conclusion: What If a New Generation Took the Bible Seriously? 189
Appendix 1 A Noncircular Argument for the Bible as God's Word 215
Appendix 2 Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the Bible 225
Appendix 3 Why a New Generation Doesn't Take the Bible Seriously 229
What People are Saying About This
"Questioning the Bible is simply a fabulous book. It asks the skeptical questions people are asking about the Bible and then gives solid answers that are aware of where the real discussion is and what the good options are. In a world that is becoming more skeptical and in a church where many have no idea how to answer such questions, here is a resource that can give real aid and comfort.” - Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary
“Jonathan Morrow deftly addresses eleven major challenges to the Bible’s authority… It needs to be read and studied in groups or individually. And it must be given to friends and relatives, especially college students, who need to consider the wisdom in its pages.” - J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology
"The Bible is under more scrutiny than ever before. Yet Jonathan Morrow is up to the task! Questioning the Bible offers insightful and well-researched responses to the top objections. It is ideal for the person who genuinely wants to know whether the Bible can be trusted. I highly recommend it for individuals and group study." - Sean McDowell, PhD is an assistant professor at Biola university, popular speaker, and the author of Apologetics for a New Generation
“Anyone who thinks apologetics is no longer important doesn’t know the world students live in and the questions they ask (and are being asked). But Jonathan Morrow knows students. He knows what they need to know, and that’s why this book is so helpful. In it, you will find clear, concise answers that Christians, especially students, need when (not if) the truthfulness of their faith is challenged.” - John Stonestreet, Senior Fellow ofWorldview and Culture for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-host of BreakPoint radio
"For the skeptic, the Bible is a big target. He raises serious questions about alleged errors, apparent contradictions, canonicity, authorship, textual corruption, morality and much more. At the end of this intellectual onslaught, the Bible's authority is seemingly wiped out and the skeptic feels justified in dismissing it altogether. Tragically, most believers have no adequate response and when the challenges come, most retreat into an anti-intellectual privatized "faith" or worse, lose all confidence in the Bible's authority as well. Church leaders have largely failed to equip their people. That's why Jonathan's book is so important. He answers the most pressing objections to the Bible in a way that is intelligent, relevant and accessible. You don't have to be a scholar to defend the Bible, you just need this book." - Brett Kunkle, Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason - str.org
In our pluralistic age, evangelical Christianity is increasingly characterized by hesitant witness and half-hearted obedience. Jonathan Morrow charts the erosion of confidence in the Bible that lies at the root of this malaise, and addresses the waves that are causing this erosion. No other book so thoroughly and convincingly addresses the contemporary challenges to the authority of God’s word. Questioning the Bible should be read—studied—by any Christian attempting to be faithful to Scripture. -Garrett J. DeWeese, Research Professor, Talbot School of Theology