The Ratio Christi chapter at UTA has a whiteboard where we ask people to write their reasons for/against the existence of God. One of the most annoying responses – and one that keeps recurring – is that ‘the Bible says so’. Don’t get me wrong. I believe the Bible has authority in our lives as Christians, but such an offhand declaration is either careless or stupid. What the Bible says holds no sway to anyone but Christians. If a Muslim told you, “I know that Jesus is not God because the Quran says so”, you would not find the response funny. A better technique is to present the Bible as a trustworthy historical document, and then argue for God’s existence. It avoids circular reasoning.
The Christian way, however, requires you to trust the Bible not just as a good document similar to your history textbook, but as the word of God. In other words, it requires you to believe that the Bible is an authoritative and reliable guide on moral, philosophical, and spiritual issues (at the very least). For this reason, there’s a lot of discussion going around about how trustworthy the Bible is. You will notice that I didn’t mention the Bible as a reliable historical account. That’s because I have no idea what to think about it. I believe certain parts of the Bible to be historically accurate; the accounts of Jesus death and burial are one such example. But I haven’t been able to reason from that point to the point in which all historical claims in the Bible are true.
I know, I know. You think I’m a heretic. I’m not. I’m just a little girl who wasn’t taught any of these things and is trying to figure them out for themselves. Even if I had been taught, should I believe whatever my parents and teachers tell me?
The Bible passage used most commonly on this subject is from 2 Timothy.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16,17
The verse clearly says that all scripture is good for moral concerns, so I believe that. But, picky person that I am, I can see that Paul doesn’t explicitly say that all historical claims are accurate, so I can’t believe it without some other reason. That reason is usually given as, “All scripture comes from God. God does not lie, so every word of scripture must be true. This includes all historical claims”. The response goes “Well, God does not lie, but God didn’t drop the scripture out of heaven. He used people and people make mistakes”. Then they argue back and forth on whether or not God would allow his instruments to make mistakes, etc. I usually get lost around the point where we start speculating on what God would and wouldn’t do. The issue becomes blurry, and blurry makes me nervous.
I use another technique to defend this view of scripture. We know that scripture must be accurate in its moral (and by implication, spiritual) teachings. If there are errors in the historical facts, there could be errors in the moral claims, unless God allows errors in one, but not the other. However, we don’t know what God would do, so my best guess is that if he would not allow errors in the moral claims, he would not allow errors in the historical claims. It makes sense, unless he has some obscure reason for doing something like that. (And with God, you never really know. He came to earth to die a most gruesome and humiliating death. Who does that? Granted, he had a pretty good reason, but it’s not something I would have thought of.)
Where was I? Ah, yes, historical claims. It’s tempting to deny this view of innerancy. That way, when someone tells you that the Bible says the earth is flat (it doesn’t, by the way), you don’t have to argue it. It is also tempting to claim that the Bible is inerrant in its historical claims. It feels like a superior view, demonstrating confidence in God and his word. But as the book title goes, “it doesn’t matter what you believe if it’s not true”. So I sit on the fence and listen to the arguments. The Bible passages most important to me are attested to in other ancient writings. With the not so important ones, I wait. It’s an uncomfortable position, but I need a reason before I can make a decision.