Note: It is a sad fact that most critics of the Bible know far less than they claim to. If you or someone you know has had their faith shaken by a skeptic I strongly suggest you take the time and read Choose Life That You Might Live. Many, if not most, non-Christians assume that Christianity is a "blind faith"... that Christians ignore reality and have unquestioning loyalty to an absolute belief system without proof or evidence. In fact, that they believe contrary to all evidence and facts. Much to the contrary, the Christian faith is a commitment based on evidence. The Judeo-Christian faith consistently stresses the importance of truth, and makes appeal to evidence to support it's truth claims.
Academia’s Asinine Assault on the Bible
The professor, age 50, wearing casual slacks and a sport coat over a sweater, arrived at the lecture auditorium to teach his afternoon class, as some 350 students streamed in for Religion 202 - one of the most popular classes on the campus of the large state university. Exuding an energetic, intellectually sophisticated manner, and projecting an endearing personality, the professor proceeded to propound a “problem” pertaining to the Bible. Pacing back and forth across the stage, he launched a ruthless but passionately eloquent tirade against the Bible’s alleged “anomalies,” “contradictions,” and “discrepancies.” It went something like this:
Entire stories have been added that were not in the original gospels. The woman taken in adultery is nothing other than a bit of tradition added by the Catholics 300 years after the New Testament was written. In contrast with Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the book of John Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, he did not tell any parables, he never cast out a demon, and there’s no last supper. The crucifixion stories differ with each other. In Mark, Jesus was terrified on the cross, while in John, he was perfectly composed. Key dates are different. The resurrection stories are different. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you find no trace of Jesus being divine, while in John you do. It’s time for you to think for yourself. You need reasons. That applies to religion. That applies to politics. Just because your parents believe something - isn’t good enough. (See Was Jesus Divine? )
So it goes, week after week, a relentless, rapid-fire barrage of bombastic barbs intended to overwhelm, intimidate, and bully their young, uninformed, ill-equipped victims. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times over the past half century in universities all across America. The result has been catastrophic. One heartbroken mother’s recent remarks are typical: “My 22-year-old son just graduated from ________ University where he lost his faith in God and His Word. My husband and I did the best we knew how to raise him to love the church and God’s Word. But he has allowed the world to sway his beliefs.” Like toxic waste, sinister propaganda has been dumped on the youth of the nation by biased, dishonest professors who have no interest in allowing the so-called “academic freedom” they tout in the form of equal time for reputable rebuttal. As a result of their decades’ long labor, a liberal, anti-Christian academic atmosphere now thoroughly permeates the university system of America.
Never mind the fact that these guys have nothing new to say that has not already been said by skeptics over the centuries. Their claims are merely a repackaged version quickly seized upon by a complicit liberal media that eagerly creates instant credibility by thrusting the new “prophet” before a larger audience - as if what he is saying is fresh and newly discovered. The fact of the matter is that all their points have been made and answered long ago. For those who have taken the time to examine the evidence, it is readily apparent that their accusations are slanted, overstated, exaggerated, and transparently biased.
Observe that the above professorial tirade issues two charges: (1) the text of the Bible is tenuous and uncertain, and (2) the gospel records contradict each other. The latter claim has been soundly refuted in detail by biblical scholars over the centuries. The Apologetics Press Web site is loaded with articles and books that defeat accusations of alleged discrepancy (see, for example, Eric Lyons’ Anvil Rings 1 & 2). Regarding the former claim, Textual Criticism is a long standing discipline that long ago yielded abundant evidence for the trustworthiness of the text of the New Testament. Over the last two centuries, the manuscript evidence has been thoroughly examined, resulting in complete exoneration for the integrity, genuineness, and accuracy of the Bible. Prejudiced professors refrain from divulging to their students that the vast majority of textual variants involve minor matters that do not affect salvation nor alter any basic teaching of the New Testament. Even those variants that might be deemed doctrinally significant pertain to matters that are treated elsewhere in the Bible where the question of genuineness is unobscured. No feature of Christian doctrine is at stake. When all of the textual evidence is considered, the vast majority of discordant readings have been resolved (e.g., Metzger, 1978, p. 185). One is brought to the firm conviction that we have in our possession the Bible as God intended.
See Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament AND Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament
The world’s foremost textual critics have confirmed this conclusion. Sir Frederic Kenyon, longtime director and principal librarian at the British Museum, whose scholarship and expertise to make pronouncements on textual criticism was second to none, stated: “Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Kenyon, 1940, p. 288). The late F.F. Bruce, longtime Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism at the University of Manchester, England, remarked: “The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (1960, pp. 19-20). J.W. McGarvey, declared by the London Times to be “the ripest Bible scholar on earth” (Brigance, 1870, p. 4), conjoined: “All the authority and value possessed by these books when they were first written belong to them still” (1956, p. 17). And the eminent textual critics Westcott and Hort put the entire matter into perspective when they said:
Since textual criticism has various readings for its subject, and the discrimination of genuine readings from corruptions for its aim, discussions on textual criticism almost inevitably obscure the simple fact that variations are but secondary incidents of a fundamentally single and identical text. In the New Testament in particular it is difficult to escape an exaggerated impression as to the proportion which the words subject to variation bear to the whole text, and also, in most cases, as to their intrinsic importance. It is not superfluous therefore to state explicitly that the great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed (1964, p. 564, emp. added).
Noting that the experience of two centuries of investigation and discussion had been achieved, these scholars concluded: “[T]he words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole of the New Testament” (p. 565, emp. added).
Think of it. Men who literally spent their lives poring over ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, devoting their lives to meticulous, tedious analysis of the evidence, conversant with the original languages, without peer in their expertise and qualifications, have concluded that the Bible has been transmitted accurately. Then a prejudiced professor of religion has the unmitigated gall to brush aside the facts and pummel students with a slanted, half-baked viewpoint that flies in the face of two centuries of scholarly investigation? It is nothing short of inexcusable and intellectually dishonest. It’s time for parents to rise up and make universities accountable, or else cease sacrificing their children on the altar of pseudo-education.
Brigance, L.L. (1870), “J.W. McGarvey,” in A Treatise on the Eldership by J.W. McGarvey (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff Publications, 1962 reprint).
Bruce, F.F. (1960), The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.
Kenyon, Sir Frederic (1940), The Bible and Archaeology (New York, NY: Harper).
McGarvey, J.W. (1956 reprint), Evidences of Christianity (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1978 reprint), The Text of the New Testament (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), second edition.
Westcott, B.A. and F.J.A. Hort (1964 reprint), The New Testament in the Original Greek (New York, NY: MacMillan).
Copyright © 2006 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved. This Article is to be found at http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2907
Why Bible Critics Do Not Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt
James Patrick Holding
Having now been engaged in apologetics for eight years actively and more years than that on the side, I have long since come to a conclusion that I have shared with others, but will now present in a systematic form here for the first time. My conclusion is a warning that is appropriate for any new readers (hence I link this article from my front page) and will be familiar to veteran ones.
I'll sum it up to begin: Whenever you run across any person who criticizes the Bible, claims findings of contradiction or error -- they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. They have to earn it from you. Here's why.
It doesn't take very long to realize that a thorough understanding of the Bible -- and this would actually apply to any complex work from any culture -- requires specialized knowledge, and a broad range of specialized knowledge in a variety of fields. Obviously the vast majority of believers spend their entire lives doing little more than reading the Bible in English (or whatever native tongue) and importing into its words whatever ideas they derive from their own experiences. This process is very often one of "decontextualizing" -- what I have here called "reading it like it was written yesterday and for you personally." Of course if the church as a whole is locked into this mentality, you may well suspect that critics (whether Skeptics or other) and those in alternate faiths are no better off.
See Section Reading and Understanding Your Bible
Let's anticipate and toss off the obvious objection: "Why did God make the Bible so hard to understand, then?" It isn't -- none of this keeps a person from grasping the message of the Bible to the extent required to be saved; where the line is to be drawn is upon those who gratuitously assume that such base knowledge allows them to be competent critics of the text, and make that assumption in absolute ignorance of their own lack of knowledge -- what I have elsewhere spoken of in terms of being "unskilled and unaware of it."
And is my observation to this effect justified?
Well, ask yourself this question after considering what various fields of knowledge a complete and thorough (not to say sufficient for intelligent discourse, though few even reach that pinnacle, especially in the critical realm) study of the Bible requires:
Linguistics/language -- indeed three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Criticizing the Bible in English is a hallmark of critics, who must inevitably resort to one of several excuses: "The translators obviously thought this was good enough, so that settles it." It never occurs to them to ask why a certain translation choice was made, or to make a critical study of the word in question as needed; in a most extreme case -- veteran readers know to whom I refer -- we have persons who think that it is impossible for there to be any new insights into ancient languages, and will openly reject out of hand any more recent study suggesting a word or words have a more nuanced or different meaning than the chosen English word.
It is also ridiculous to assume that even the matched English word can be vested with the same contextual significance as the original word -- any bilingual can attest that there are plenty of examples between languages of words that do not adequately capture all nuances when they are used to translate another word. A reader has added that English itself has changed, not only in the hundreds of years since the KJV, but also in the last decades since the NIV was written (which is the reason there is a new TNIV coming out, and why we now even have word studies on the KJV!).
Literature -- One prominent critic advises people to "read the Bible like a newspaper." That is absolutely the worst advice that can be given for reading any text that isn't a newspaper. The genres of the Bible include narrative, poetry, proverbial literature, wisdom discourse, a treaty (that's what Deuteronomy is, believe it or not!), legal codes, genealogies, biography (that is what the Gospels are!), personal letters and general letters, rhetoric (an art form in the ancient world), riposte, and apocalyptic. Treating each one as a newspaper -- written yesterday and with our own ideas in mind -- is a mistake constantly made by critics who impose their own absurd genre-demands on the text.
(Note: The critic's advice, actually, is itself fairly bad for what he is trying to get across! The critic in question said this only with an eye to newspapers reporting news stories, but as a reader pointed out:
The Bible is very much like a newspaper in that it reports on actual historical events. Newspapers can and do contain the genres listed above.
Narrative? In 1977, seven U.S. papers serialized the Star Wars novel by George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster.
Poetry? On occasion in the Family section, particularly around holidays.
Proverbial literature? You'll see that in "Thoughts for the day" columns.
Wisdom discourse? Syndicated columns by Billy Graham and Dr. James Dobson.
Treaties? Yes, when warranted.
Legal codes? Papers routinely report new laws that take effect on the first of every year.
Genealogies? Yes, particularly in Mormon newspapers.
Biography? In the obituaries or even in news or special supplements (many papers have published bios on George Lucas). Personal and general letters? In the letters to the editor section; and sometimes the general news section (such as the "Jedi homicide" case reported in the Kansas City Star).
Rhetoric and riposte? The editorial page.
Apocalyptic? Perhaps in the religion section. Or the editorial or news section when partisans declare the world will end when the opposing candidate is elected.
I would also equate the Bible allegorically as a recipe for living; here, too, newspapers provide recipes in Food sections. And comic strips are a visual/textual means of expressing narrative, rhetoric and parable.
So in a sense, the critic is right! But not in the way that he intended!)
· Textual criticism -- this is a specialized field of determining the original state of a text.
· Archaeology -- a field with many sub-fields of it's own, which may involve knowledge of geography, geology or chemistry.
· Psychology -- the study of human behavior, essential to understanding the motives of persons in a text; yet most people do not even have basic knowledge of their own psychology! This aspect is complicated by the variance in human behavior we note in our next entry:
· Social sciences -- it is in this field that we have found the most ignorance among critics, and not much less of it in others. It would shock the average pew-sitter to be told such things as that: persons in the world of the Bible did not have what we would call an internal conscience; or that Biblical society was heavily focused on honor, much like Japan's culture. No, most assume that people everywhere and at every time have been pretty much the same. That's one of the biggest mistakes a critic can make.
· Theology/philosophy -- obviously!
· Logic -- oh yes -- we know, most critics think they have a handle on this one; but most have done little more than memorize the names of a few fallacies, and then look for them everywhere they go. Sadly this is the one area in which people are mostly "unskilled and unaware of it" -- or else, they presume that this is all they need, and never bother to study in any other area.
· Miscellaneous -- I may think of more later, but as a catch-all, for example, you may have to learn a bit about biology (for example, if someone says the Bible teaches wrongly about the ostrich's living habits) or other areas.
That's quite a list, but there's one more note to add -- the holistic ability to put all of it together. How serious is this? Very. A carefully crafted argument about a text being an interpolation can be undermined by a single point from Greco-Roman rhetoric. A claim having to do with psychology can be destroyed by a simple observation from the social sciences. Not even most scholars in the field can master every aspect -- what then of the non-specialist critic who puts together a website in his spare time titled 1001 Irrifutible Bible Contradictions? Do these persons deserves our attention? Should they be recognized as authorities? No, they deserve calculated contempt for their efforts. (By this, I do not mean emotional or behavioral contempt, but a calculated disregard for their work from an academic perspective.)
They have not even come close to deserving our attention, and should feed only itching ears with similar tastes. Skeptics with largo egos who complain that this site does not always link to the articles it is addressing need to be told that their efforts -- engaging what I will call from here on "trailer park scholarship" -- do not deserve links. The Aryan Stormfront page may as well complain that Holocaust memorial sites do not link to them; or, the Flat Earth Society may as well demand links from professional geology and geography departments at college websites. Who are these people trying to kid? Their scholarship, as a whole, is reckless and pitiable; what they know, they have learned from reading a few popular books with no conception of the broader issues and fields at hand. Why does this site need to link to some injudicious blunderbuss who claims that Lev. 25:23, which has God saying the land is "mine," has to be read figuratively because if it were literal, then it would cause problems because people would then covet the land owned by God and that would cause them to break the commandment against coveting? Why do we need to link to people who refuse to come to the social world of the Bible on its own terms, and accuse scholars who are experts in the social world of the NT of being ignorant, based on nothing more than a bare English reading of the texts? These people deserve not links, but contempt and obscurity.
We can anticipate a few pushbacks here. One obvious one is, Well, Holding, isn't that what you are, you jerk? How much do you know? Answer: Enough to know how little these other people with the clown noses know. Enough to know that we spend too much time on our rumps watching television when we should be bettering ourselves. Enough to know that even the best scholars sometimes miss some of these things. And if you think you can catch me on something, well, that's why we have a Critic's Challenge on this page. My own views on various matters have changed over the years as I have learned more (notably, where eschatology is concerned), so an education from a worthwhile source is always welcome. Catch is, such sources are few and far between, and I have yet to meet a critic of the Bible who would qualify on that count, and one that doesn't think that they are more skilled than they are.
Another pushback: So what do you suggest we do, huh? Answer: Well, if you have any spare time, use it. We recommend books here -- pick an area you think will interest you; try to become as good as you can with it, meet up with people who know a lot about their own areas of interests -- if you don't have time to get into a great deal of it, cooperate somehow. If you don't have time at all and can't make it, work with someone who does. Teamwork is better than nonwork.
We may have more to add to this at a later date, but it's enough for now to settle with this conclusion: Don't take any critic's word in an age when any person with typing skills can post a website claiming just about anything. Chances are they haven't done a fraction of the homework they need to do to be a reputable commentator.
A Remarkable Book Called The Bible