Validity of the Bible

How do we know the Bible is trustworthy?

Some stories are literal, some aren’t (for me, that makes it hard to understand when we can take the rest of it as literal or non-literal)

Some of the morals seem weird. In one part of the Old Testament (can’t remember the verse, but someone here might know) Saul (I think that was him) came up to another person before a battle, and claimed that the Lord told him to kill everything living in the city. Man, woman, child, infant, elderly, etc. Leave nothing alive. Why? It doesn’t seem in God’s character at all. And if Saul’s claim was what he wanted them to do and not God’s, then how can we know that God said anything in the Bible? It was written by man, So how would we demonstrate that God said anything, and not those men?

And then there’s supposed contradictions. I don’t know if there are any or not, but if there are, that makes it harder to know If we can trust it or not.

My main concern is how I don’t know if the Bible actually is the word of God and true, or if it’s just another religious book with stories in it.

Edit: trustworthy in that it speaks the truth.

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This is a perennial question for many - and worth addressing as such then. But if I may defer it for a bit to see if I can get you to consider it from another angle … a different question that perhaps ought to precede this one.

Is there a caring, loving God?

Some might respond: “Well - this is exactly why we need to know if we can trust the Bible … so we can know exactly this!”

But let’s consider this another way. If there is no God, or worse yet, if there was a non-loving God; then in that case why should I care about the Bible? What comfort, solace, or indeed Truth could such a thing possibly provide me if a malevolent God (or no God at all) is in power?

The fact that the Bible alone fails to convince everybody that the God revealed there is benevolent is already a testimony in part that words of truth, no matter how true they may be, are yet insufficient for our salvation.

Here is another question that might also need prior consideration: Even if we had a book of absolute, complete truth - and let’s further grant that this ‘truth’ must be of the reduced form as so many fundamentalistically-minded moderns now conceive it: “a collection of ultimately verifiable facts” - Let’s say we actually had that. Would that then be a guarantee that your receipt and understanding of that perfect and complete truth would also be as infallible? And if not - in fact if necessarily not, then what good is the assurance that at least it was pristine while still in its source? If, to be effective, truth has to reach down to us and come to where we’re at - then what clothing and veils must accompany it so that we aren’t merely blinded by it, or alternately so distant from taking it in that it is useless to us? Must the elementary school child be handed a Quantum Physics book before a simple lesson about light can be administered appropriate to her level? Any truth to be had from the QM text, true as it may be, will be just as useless to the child as an actual perfect text would be to our highly situated and enculturated minds. There is a reason God comes to us in human garb instead of us going to God. The Bible, no matter how perfect some might believe it to be is no shortcut around that, despite what some fundamentalists might have you believe. If from that very text they heeded John 5:39 spoken by the True Word himself, they would see the error - and transfer their ultimate allegiance accordingly.

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You are unpacking a lot here. Your questions are good, but for many it is a lifetime of wrestling to get past even just most of the questions. For me, a skeptic at heart, I have a deep love and respect for the Bible as a trustworthy book, inspired by God, because when I read through the Bible, I see so many unintended indications of and about Jesus Christ from book to book. I did a study a few weeks back on an obscure story from Exodus 17, where Moses needed a helper on each side to hold up his arms, with his staff held above his head in both hands, else God’s people would die in battle. I started by asking God what in the world He could have meant by this crazy story, and ended with a mind-blowing revelation or foreshadowing of the work of Jesus Christ through crucifixion. Have you ever studied the name Barabbas? Bar is “son of” and “abba” is daddy. Barabbas was a son of a daddy… the most generic person… in fact, he was us. We are all a son of a daddy and we all deserve death. And yet, without defense, Jesus willingly stepped into his place, our place, and gave his life for us. It’s clearly not an intentional part of the story, and yet, this person having this name, serving the purpose that he served, shows me that God was not only control of the story, but he was also in control of the narrative. From end to end, the Bible is filled with these obscure foreshadowings of Jesus. There simply is no other explanation than inspiration. Are there difficult passages? Absolutely. I choose to put some of them aside to see if there’s an alternate explanation that I can find later. Even if I cannot, Jesus was still foreshadowed a thousand years before his birth, and he still beat death, and it was all for us. That’s good enough for me to continue my own personal pursuit. PM me if you are interested in more of the Exodus 17 story details as an example.

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The short answer is: subjective judgement.

But the important question here is… trustworthy for what?

And that means for science and other things based on objective evidence you cannot expect the Bible to be trustworthy at all.

This is not a science textbook, nor an academic work of history. Thus its only role in academic and objective studies is that of a subject of study rather than a trustworthy source.

But life requires subject participation and thus the objective observations of science and academia is quite inadequate for the living of your life. Thus you are going to have to make subjective judgements on how to live your life and for that many have found the Bible to be both useful and reliable.

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I agree. I’d probably go further to say it can be a gateway to the truth but whether it succeeds as such depends on one’s participation. The form that participation takes obviously varies between denominations but also within denominations according to the efforts, preparation and sincerity of the participants. But of course I’m not a Christian myself so I don’t think the Bible is the only point of entry for life enhancing truth but I do suspect it’s track record is as good as any, though I haven’t done the research.

 
The Bible also talks about people deceiving themselves and being deceived by others.

[Blessed is the one who]…speaks truth IN his heart.
Psalm 15:2

Believing the bible is part of the bigger picture of faith. It is the basis of the Christian faith. It assumes the existence of God. Some of the history contained in it is verifiable elsewhere but it is presented as a book about God and just as God is not easily verified or validated the same will apply to the bible.
The more specific questions have probably been answered elsewhere on this forum.

Richard

The validity of the Bible is what Jesus brings to it, not the other way round. And even then, He doesn’t validate any interpretation of the TaNaKh, starting with His own.

So, what is the validity of Jesus.

I prefer the revised standard…

Psalm 15 O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
4 in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Those in the tent of the lord are those who keep faith – believing because that is what their heart and mind tells them is true and doing things because it is right… and NOT just some privileged few with some secret knowledge of truth or selling out their integrity for promised rewards in some Pascal’s wager devil’s bargain.

One thing that helps me is that I’m comfortable with something being true even if it’s not literal and for many parts of the Bible I’m ok with it being literal or not literal. Or rather historical or not historical. Some of it for men can’t be literally because it’s contradicting to science or history.

When something for sure can’t be historical because of evidence contradicting those claims I can always find a non historical interpretation that seems possible. Take genesis 1-11. We known scientifically the world was not made 6k years ago in a week with angiosperms predating conscious beings including two humans that are the parents of all humanity. Science shows the world is billions of years old, that lycopods predated gymnosperms which predated angiosperms and that humans evolved and we are primates and the same science that says we are mammals also says we are primates. For a fact it’s even better organized because things like platypuses makes the mammal taxonomy a bit lacking. Then when I look at what scholars say and apply my own thinking to it I can see that it’s far easier to understand genesis 1-11 is fiction teaching truth. 1-11 covers a bunch of time, dozens of key people and events and stories. The gospels takes up 4 books that covers 30ish years with 99% of it focused on 3 years.

But take some other things like Sampson. Was Sampson a real life superhero endowed with power from Yahweh because of a vow and long hair? Is he a sort of parody to bald headed Elijah who was fed by wild animals as opposed to eating honey out of a dead wild animal. I don’t know. Plenty to be skeptical about. I still ultimately think it’s probably historical. But regardless if it’s historical or not does not affect my understanding of the world some the supernatural plays very little of a role in my understanding of life. So I’m just as comfortable with Sampson’s story being 100% historical, 50% historical or 0% historical. The tale is crazy. But being unbelievable does not equate being fictional for me.

Then there are parts that for me kind of needs to be real in some way. Such as the resurrection of a Jesus. If Jesus just died, and never came back then he’s useless to me as far as religion goes. He’s still a fantastic guy and I would employ the majority of his paradigm and think his path is the best as in loving yourself and loving others. But in order for my faith to function Jesus has to be the son of Yahweh and he has to have died and rose again. It could be a physical or spiritual resurrection, but he has to continue to consciously and actively still exist and when I read the Bible I believe it’s supposed to be read historically when it comes to the gospels. As mentioned by others I believe the Tanakh truly points towards Jesus. I’m ok there is no historical or scientific concrete evidence of his story because there is no concrete historical or scientific evidence to say it’s a lie. So I’m allowed to have faith and so I do.

Now there is the rub.

On the positive side it has survived 2000 years or more despite scrutiny, skepticism and attempts to ban it in some countries. Perhaps the continuence of Christianity is a good enough witness?

The point is, you have to start with the assumption that it is true. If, as your life progrsses you do not find what it teaches to match your experiences then you have cause to raise doubts. But, if what it says is helpful, and you find a realtionship with God then it has done its job.

So, I guess, the proof is in the results.

Richard

This is an outstanding post. Trustworthy for what indeed.

To add my $0.02 to OP’s question. I don’t use the word trustworthy but it can be substituted in for “useful” and “inspired” below:

"In order for the Bible to be considered useful and inspired it must only serve the purpose for which God intended it. If God desired an inerrant scripture we would have one, no question. Why are many Christians certain God actually cares if the Bible is free from all errors or not? The purpose of the Bible is not to teach us exactly how Judas died or how long it took God to fashion the earth. The point is He created the earth and is sovereign over it. The purpose is to mediate the sacred and bring people to Himself through the redemptive work of Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 speaks to the purpose of scripture:

2 Timothy 3:15-17: and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. NRSV

The most important part of this passage in 2 Timothy is that God left us a record and message of salvation history so that we could come to know him through his Son. . . . a text does not need to be factually inerrant to lead us to Jesus, to be useful for teaching, reproof, etc. If we look at the Lucan prologue we see the purpose of his Gospel (Luke 1:1- 4). Does Luke have to be completely inerrant in all details for Theophilus to know the truth about the things he was instructed? Can one not write an informative work, the central message of which is true, that has some errors in it? Whether or not the Bible is inerrant, its salvific track-record delineates its general trustworthiness in fulfilling God’s intended purpose. It has mediated the sacred and helped God bring his message of salvation through Jesus to billions of people."

If we view the Bible as God’s Encyclopedia of theological facts and history then it is absolutely not trustworthy and has outdated and sometimes grotesque morality. The Bible reflects the worldview and beliefs of the people God spoke through. He accommodated his message and spoke through people in a manner that would make sense to his audiences at the time. This is not to say every letter in the Bible was specifically chosen or penned by God. That model of plenary inspiration is as bankrupt as is young earth creationism. The Bible is trustworthy because it is the book used to mediate the sacred and teach us about God’s character and his incarnated Son.

As far as the Hebrew Scriptures go, there was a lot of war-mongering back then and the Bible is just a collection of Israel’s history and development and usually each story had meaning or importance in the time it was written. These stories aren’t about history, they were about the present situation when they were written. Back then, there was a lot of uncertainty and war in life it seems. I certainly don’t buy the “God will help us steal this land and destroy our enemies” lines in there but littered throughout the OT is God’s chosen people failing, him punishing them and forgiving them. God detests and will punish sin. Jesus speaks of God judging sinners as well. Personally, that is all I get out of these stories, many of which have but a kernel of historicity if any.

These stories reflect the harshness of their times and depict the thoughts of God’s people living in a time of war. Sometimes it rage coming out and sometimes its sorrow or joy. But the theme is that sinning is bad and judgment will result. Some Churches today don’t like the idea of judgment but its found all over the the entire Bible. There is quite a bit of divine violence in the NT as well. Compare Jesus trotting to Jerusalem on the peace donkey vs the Cosmic Christ of Revelation with his blood stained cloak on a war horse. Jesus using a sickle or whatever his weapon of choice is to kill billions of people is not part of my image of God. Which version of Jesus is correct? Both or should we choose to harmonize like good fundamentalists?

Crossan writes, “The first and fundamental question . . . is this: how do we Christians know which is our true God—our Bible’s violent God, or our Bible’s nonviolent God? The answer is actually obvious. The norm and criterion of the Christian Bible is the biblical Christ. Christ is the standard by which we measure everything else in the Bible. Since Christianity claims Christ as the image and revelation of God, then God is violent if Christ is violent, and God is nonviolent is Christ is nonviolent.

This is even given in what we are called. We are called Christ-ians not Bible-ians, so our very name asserts the ascendancy of Christ over the Bible. But this only raises a second question. Which Christ do we mean? The nonviolent Christ riding on the peace donkey in the Gospel, or the violent Christ riding on the white warhorse in Revelation. . . . If, for Christians, the biblical Christ is the criterion of the biblical God, then, for Christians, the historical Jesus is the criterion of the Biblical Christ. This, is, once again, rather obvious. Christianity counts time down to the birth of the historical Jesus and up from that nativity. His historical birth is the hinge of time, breaking Christian history into a before and after rather than running it all towards it apocalyptic consummation. And that, of course, is why certain Christians ask, “WWJD,” that is, “What would Jesus do?” rather than “WWBS,” or “What would the Bible say? . . . Therefore, and with all due respect to Islamic tradition, we are not “the People of the Book.” We are “the People with the Book,” but even more importantly, we are “the People of the Person.” This is why a favorite Christian quotation from John’s Gospel does not say that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Book,” but “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (3.6) . . . Christianity’s godsend is not a book but a person, and that person is the historical Jesus. It is precisely that historical Jesus who Christians proclaim as “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4)."

To put is bluntly, for Christians, Jesus and the Incarnation trumps everything. Interpret everything in light of God lowering himself and becoming one of us.

Vinnie

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Trustworthy for what?

NT Wright has a good essay on what it means for the Bible to be authoritative.

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Thanks for pointing to this article, Christy. I finally got to listening to it today. It was really helpful.
@Trippy_Elixir and @Pculbert, Wright’s article might be of interest, considering some of the questions I think I remember you engaging with.

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‘Jesus and the incarnation trumps everything’.

Except that doesnt seem to be Jesus’ view of Scripture. He never negates OT teaching, but always upholds it. Now we can argue about the correct interpretation/understanding of certain Biblical passages, eg Genesis 1 & 2, but that doesnt mean any of it is untrue or untrustworthy. It often comes down to genre. Yes clearly it was human beings who wrote both Old and New Testaments, but does not ‘inspired by God’ not imply it is trustworthy? As long as we always remember it was written 2-3000 years ago and only hold the writers to standards common then, then we shouldnt have any particular issues with understanding.

Regarding your last point, although Jesus was non-violent during His time on earth, one could argue He had a specific mission, one of healing and bringing people to salvation, ultimately through His death. But is that the end of the story? No. Even in the early days of the church, it seems God made an example of 2 people who were trying to cheat and deceive out of greed, and God brought judgement on them. The result of that judgement was death. And when all are judged, those not saved will be destroyed. And we know who makes that judgement.

Depends who you ask. Your “never” goes way too far in my view. In Mark Jesus has no problems with his disciples violating the sabbath and uses a very poor exegetical argument to defend it (“David did it.”). Imagine if I get pulled over for speeding and I tell a police officer, “But other cars were doing it.” It is an admission of guilt. The sabbath is all over the OT and it is tied into the created order in Genesis 1. A guy is killed in the OT for picking up sticks on a Sunday! Also, in Mark Jesus literally is depicted as “declaring all foods clean.” That is not him upholding the Old Testament, it is the exact opposite. In my estimation, what Mark drums up is not historical. He caricatures Pharisees as well. Were they patrolling grain fields in Galilee on a sabbath – violating the sabbath in an effort to accuse Jesus of doing so? That reasoning is the same that Mark puts on the lips of Jesus in defending the disciples behavior. Did they also check under the disciples fingernails to make sure their hands were clean to ensure universal conformity to a practice that wasn’t actually universal? They were a minor sect at the time, small in number. Jesus is being used here to defend the practices of the later church (note in the story it is the disciples who eat the grain, not Him). But it is in scripture none the less. Jesus also didn’t care about “what Moses said” (AKA the Torah) about issuing a certificate of divorce. He rejected that flatly. He also said to “love your enemies” where the opposite can be found in many places in the OT (“happy is he who dashes your infants on the rocks”). Not to mention his prohibition on oath taking. Jesus certainly was a Jew and called the God of Israel his Father and used the OT as sacred scripture but by no means was he a literalist in the modern sense. We could quibble over what actually goes back to the historical Jesus and what was recast during his ministry by the evangelists but that is a much larger discussion and we would also need to hash out our respective canonical hermeneutics.

True in what sense? Trustworthy in what sense? The Bible is rarely concerned with history in the modern sense. It almost never is. Though it certainly contains many things which are historical. Though it is all interwoven creatively with theology and written in the much looser conventions of the time. Scripture is not about what happened “then,” it is always about “now” and that is as true when those stories were written as it is for us. It was written for us but not to us.

And the idea that if we get the context right we will have no “particular issues with understanding” is a modern myth to me and demonstrably false. There is no shortage of competing opinions and an army of seminarians and pew warmers exegetically splitting churches and forming new denominations over doctrine and interpretation. The truth is scripture may never have meant to have just one meaning and it not all consistent with itself. And the “official” meaning on many passages has changed countless times and so many Christians disagree on so many issues its useless to appeal to some such standard. It doesn’t exist in reality and it never has. We desire certainty but God doesn’t provide that to us. It can only be invented.

I don’t consider the genre of Acts to be historical and that story doesn’t jump out to me as “most likely historical.” It could be but I don’t see it that way nor do I care one way or the other. I wouldn’t argue from it though. The point is to share resources and not withhold things from God. I accept that truth. But yes, there is a lot of violence in the NT as well but given the times and its roots that is to be expected. Revelation is a whole other bag. In my mind it was speaking to a persecuted community and its prophecies about Rome did not come to pass. I would interpret the entire book differently in light of that.

I’d also rather not think of the Son of God as just putting on a peaceful ruse during the incarnation to me. The Jesus that lived, breathed, walked the dusty roads of Palestine and died a grisly death on a Roman cross is the only Jesus to me. He is the only one I know and he was the image of the Father. The conquering Christ on his war horse is theological fiction to me. I do agree judgment will eventually happen. I don’t know when or how and neither did any of the New Testament authors. Many in the early church had a mistaken timetable. Thessalonians makes this clear and Paul’s analogy about Jesus being the first fruits is a bit strained. A harvest metaphor for a 2000 year interlude?

Vinnie

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My wife just had an encounter, in trying to help her cousin deconstruct the weak hostility of dominant evangelical folk theology, with a ‘Bible believing Christian’ who in response to my wife saying she doesn’t think that way any more said ‘or you didn’t like what you were told’, ‘Jesus is quite clear’, and ‘tell me what Jesus died on the cross for then’. It’s taken me 67 years to get to the realisation that regardless of Jesus being God incarnate as a Jewish country carpenter, everything said starting with Him in His ANE Jewish culture, and then His apologists and all theologians since, as ‘theology’, is rhetoric, often acutely metaphoric rhetoric. Everything. Without exception. None of it has anything to do with reality apart from social, ‘moral’ discourse. That is the answer for a start. To all Bible believing Christians. An answer that my poor wife can’t give. Even though she agrees. And that that poor woman would choke on. Whilst swallowing that God the Holy Ghost is an assassin.

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It is not about what the Jews think. It is not even about what any particular group of Christians think. The Bible stands alone. You accept it, or you do not. Once you start dissecting and questioning you are on the slippery path to doubt and disillusion. The orthodox view is easy enough to find. All you need is a commentary.

Richard

Vinnie, that’s a pretty reasonable summary and I can relate with it. I’m not able to go there, but I can respect your view.

What I do wonder, and in my own personal journey, I’ve had a fascination for meeting theological liberals who are convinced of their sinfulness and still hope in Jesus for the propitiation of their sins.

I disdain the fundamentalist pirates in my camp, and see a real problem with the self-righteous liberals in yours.

Best Regards

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You seem to be assuming that the rules were given for all time and all circumstances, which isnt the case. And we have to remember that the Pharisees actually added to the Law, thus providing an unnecessary yoke to the Jewish people. That is what Jesus is pushing back against in his arguments with them. He clarifies the purpose of the sabbath, which is actually a day of rest and rejuvenation for the people, but the Pharisees had made it into a yoke on their backs. The idea that people would starve on the sabbath rather than eat some food is laughable to God, and shows how perverted the Pharisee mindset had become.

Regarding your comments on the Pharisees, yes they were a smaller group compared to say the Sadducees, but they had significant influence in the Sanhedrin and local synagogues, and represented the majority of Jews, the common people rather than the Sadducees who were typically elitists. So it is not surprising they took a keen interest in a would-be messiah and his followers, particularly if they thought he was misusing or ignoring the Law or their own additional rules. As Im sure you know the Pharisees became the most important ‘party’ within Judaism in subsequent years.

Regarding Moses and divorce, it is simply not true that Jesus ‘didnt care what Moses said’. It is clear from the OT what God’s intention for marriage was, a life-long relationship. But by the time of Moses, God tolerated separation and divorce and permitted a divorce as instructed by Moses. And Jesus spelled out to them why He allowed it - because of their hard hearts. God effectively said to them, even though you know my intention for marriage, if you really dont want to continue in your marriage because of your selfishness and hard-heartedness, I will permit you to divorce, but in doing so you must do the following, hence Moses’ instructions. The language and inclusion of these instructions within Deuteronomy show that this is a case of tolerating and permitting. But note how the Pharisees had changed Moses’/God’s ‘permission’ to divorce to ‘commanding’. Jesus would have none of that! In fact Jesus is simply reiterating what God had already said through the prophet Malachi - “For the Lord God of Israel says He hates divorce”.

It’s a shame that you dont seem to believe the Gospels or Acts are historically reliable in any real sense. Im sure youre aware of the well-known story of Sir William Ramsey who purposefully set out to show that Luke’s Acts was completely unreliable, but he came to the exact opposite conclusion. Many scholars agree with him, and view Luke as a pretty good historian.

As for Jesus, he made it clear in his years of public ministry he had not come for judgement at that time. But he made it clear that that would not always be the case. But then if you dont believe the Gospels are reliable and that the authors put words into Jesus’ mouth, then I can see why you dont accept that. But then your words seem to imply you are the judge of what Jesus said or didnt say, did or didnt do. That sounds like a Jesus made in your own image, one that you find acceptable, not the One portrayed by eyewitnesses and those closest to him.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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