Myth# 8 The Bible Has Been Proven False

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“We account the scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. I find more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history whatsoever.” Isaac Newton

A quick internet search will reveal multitudes of web sites entitled “the Bible has been proven false” or “errors in the Bible.” Click on one of these sights and you will no doubt be treated to a list of passages that Atheist are convinced show the Bible to have been exposed in error and therefore worthless. What is strikingly obvious about the material listed in those sights, other than the fact that they have obviously been copied from every other sight on the internet, is that they take a very narrow and distinct view on the Christian scripture. The Atheist polemic tends to be to a very narrow scope of religion; particularly Fundamental Christianity. Which speaks to the fact that Atheism is more of a reaction to Fundamentalism than a serious evaluation of the belief in God. The typical tactic Atheists use is to take a passage, impose a very narrow wooden interpretation on it, and then based on that interpretation dismiss the entire Christian Bible. This is obviously contrived, seeing that nearly every important document ever written is subject to varying interpretations. What we see when we truly examine this issue is that there is nothing objective about the Atheist dismissal of the Christian Bible. It is entirely predicated on their primary assumption that God cannot exist and the presumption that they have the correct interpretation of the Bible. What we discover is that the Atheist cannot contend that they have proven the Bible to be false, but rather that they have perhaps proven their own assumptions about the Bible false.

In fact the very statement that the Bible has been proven false is pregnant with the naivety of the Atheist review of it. If the Bible were only a list of statements or claims, then you could perhaps levy such a challenge. However the Bible is far more than such a list, in fact the Bible is more than a single book. The Bible is in fact a library of some of the most important and sacred writings of Judeo-Christian  history; with some of the writings being considered holy by other religions as well. While there are of course other important writings to Christians, the Bible contains documents that are so important to the Christian that they are considered sacred and inspired by God. The Bible, as we have said, is more than just a book, in fact the Bible contains 66 individual books. These books span centuries of human history; from before the Babylonian empire to the apex of the Roman Empire. They cover at least three different languages, and multiple cultures. There are perhaps three distinct movements Theologically speaking; the Patriarchal period, The Mosaic Period and the Christian Period. Within the context of each of the aforementioned cultures, time periods and movements, we have the literary styles of each culture and time period. Within the volume of this sacred library we have poetry, history, mystical writings and theological works. Leland Ryken, professor of English at Wheaton College and author of the book How To Read The Bible As Literature, says of the Bible “its most customary way of expressing truth is not the sermon or the theological outline, but the story, the poem, and the vision–all of them literary forms and products of the imagination (though not necessarily the fictional imagination). Literary conventions are present in the Bible from start to finish, even in the most historically factual parts.”[1] It is a work that has inspired the devotion of scholars, men dedicating their lives to the study of some aspect of it. Whether a particular language like Greek or Hebrew, or the historical situation of some portion of its writings. To simply caricaturize the Bible as a simple book that has been “proven false” shows gross ignorance of this magnificent work. This should be evident to any intelligent individual.

How the Bible came to be in its present form is a field of study in and of itself. The Judeo-Christian tradition of religion tends to be very historically focused, in this theological framework there is a sacredness about history. History is in a way, in this view, a liturgy to be used in worship and religious contemplation. Many of the stories that we find in the Bible were existent before writing became common place in human culture. These stories were passed along orally from generation to generation. This is why very early writings in the Bible take a more poetic form. This is because poems and songs are simply easier to remember and to pass along. These liturgical poems were taught to children, who in turn taught them to their children. In this way the Divine Story was passed along.  “And you shall rehearse them your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” [2] This sort of charge is repeated over and over in the Old Testament. Eventually oral tradition was written into volumes, some think this may have taken place during the Jewish exile when they no longer had access to their Temple and felt that their tradition needed to be preserved. When this writing took place we find a synthesis of poetic prose mixed with historical narrative. We do not find the refined, logical progression in these ancient Semitic writings that we do in the Grecian influenced writings of the New Testament. This is why it takes a good deal of study in order to be able to discern just what sort of writing one is looking at. Now at this point the Atheist would challenge that if this is the case, then the whole thing is nonsense and therefore worthless. However what the Christian and Jew contends is that the truth of these writings are not found primarily in understanding the literary context, but in what the stories communicate mystically. Of course there are views such as Fundamentalism that insist that a literal interpretation of these passages be held along side of the spiritual or mystical truth. However this insistence on literalism is in reality the endorsement of a particular view of where to divide the historical narrative from poetry and prophetic vision; the latter of which, as Ryken says, are imaginative albeit not fictionally imaginative. The New Testament follows a similar pattern in that the stories found in it, particularly the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, were at first transmitted orally. It was later in the Christian period that these stories were written and compiled in their present form. The New Testament contains the stories of the public ministry of Christ and the earliest days of the Christian movement. With these we have a large portion being letters to the Christian Apostle, Paul to various congregations under his oversight. There is also a lesser representation of other writings and one book of prophecy. These writing were not originally one volume, but after a couple of centuries they began to become unified into a singular volume. There are also writings from those early periods that are of varying degrees of importance, and there is some variation concerning the cannon among Christian groups, but the books we find in the New Testament represent writings that are universally seen as being inspired by God. What Christian Theology attempts to do is to take the stories, prophecies, poems, treatises and letters of the Bible and glean from them a central truth. In order to do this there has been the development of varied hermeneutical approaches that attempt to present a consistent approach to interpreting  the varied texts and differing literary forms of the Bible. The primary rule of hermeneutics being consistency, textual interpretation needs to follow a consistent method. Of course even in this there are variant hermeneutical forms, and the comparison of these are yet another dimension of consideration. And if the technicalities of Biblical interpretation seem a bit contrived, they are no more so than that of any other body of ancient literature. The wonderful advantage of Christianity is that these subjects have been studied and debated by some of the most brilliant minds of history for centuries. Much more could be said here, but suffice to say the Bible is not a volume that could be dismissed with the amateurish stuff posted to your typical “errors in the Bible” web page.

The idea that the Bible has been proven false is certainly naive, however what the Atheist is attempting to challenge with this is the claim that the Christian scriptures are the Word of God. The Atheist feels that if they can demonstrate what they consider to be an error in Christian scripture, then they would in their mind have proven that God could not have inspired the Bible. There approach to this is typically two tiered. The first tier of their polemic is to suggest that they have found some discrepancy in the Biblical narrative. For instance seeming contradictions in the details of a story. The second tier is to suggest that the Bible presents an immoral world view of some sort, or contradicts its own morality. However even in this they are naive, in the first place they have again made an assumption as to the nature of the Biblical texts and how they are the Word of God. When Christians say that the Bible is God’s Word, they are aware of the historicity of its origins. In other words Christians contend that the Bible was delivered by natural means, through human authors, but that these authors penned these works by Divine inspiration. Now this term “Divine inspiration” must be examined because this is the crux of the Christian claim. What we are addressing here is the concept of Biblical inerrancy. This is a view that has varying degrees of application. In a general sense the term Biblical Inerrancy means that the Bible does not communicate anything that is untrue when taken in its intended sense. Of course this can be taken to the degree of some, contending that the manuscripts of scripture have been perfectly preserved and that there is no factual discrepancy at all, to a more liberal view that the Mystical truth of scripture is without error, while the writings are human and therefore subject to the limitations of humanity. Whether these views or their variations are the best view is a matter for debate, but the point here is that showing a supposed discrepancy in a historical fact would only invalidate one view of inerrancy, not the Bible itself. It is totally possible to relate a truth and perhaps misplace a trivial issue. If I said “John stood on the table and cried ‘there is a fire! get out!'” But perhaps another bystander claimed “John stood on a desk and cried ‘Fire!'”  The discrepancies in this story do not prove the story to be in error, they show that one or both of the observers misplaced a detail. One person might reconcile this by stating that a desk and table are essentially the same thing. The differences in what was said might be attributed to the perspective of the observer. But we would not offhand dismiss the account as false because of such discrepancies. Further, if we were considering evidence as to whether or not John took initiative to warn others in this situation, the discrepancies would be insignificant to the intended point of the accounts. Seeing that much of the content of scripture deals with metaphysical and mystical concepts, to focus the subject of the Atheistic objection of peripheral issues is essentially straw-man argumentation. Any true challenge to the scripture must be levied at the philosophical level, if it is to truly address the intent of scripture. Debates over paradigms held by certain Christian groups such as the diversity of living things and the age of the Earth and the universe can certainly be tested, but the problem for these issues are that even if they could be shown in error, it would only address the view of some Christians and not the Bible in general. There are in fact Christians and Christian denominations that agree with institutional science on such issues as evolution and the age of the Earth. These Christians read the Bible and see no conflict with such scientific views and their view of scripture. Essentially all the Atheist could prove with such peripheral claims is that one interpretation of Christian scripture is in error. They would still be a great distance removed from proving scripture in error. The bottom line is this, before you can prove the Bible in error, you must prove first what it is claiming.

Now it is usually at this point that the Atheist becomes a Christian Fundamentalist. What we mean is that they begin to contend for a very rigid wooden interpretation of Christian Scripture. Which the irony of an Atheist contending for the proper interpretation of scripture is nearly humorous, but what basis do they contend for this based on? In their contending for a proper interpretation of scripture they must appeal to a hermeneutical approach which it is doubtful that they are qualified to contend for. The purpose in their insistence on a singular interpretation of scripture is so that they can argue against a view that they feel they have the strongest position against. However this is clearly strawman argumentation. If they are seriously going to challenge the claims of Christianity and the Bible, then they need to answer all such claims, and not just a few cherry picked views that they feel they can handle. This is in itself part of the narrow mindedness of Atheism. Once the Atheist has exhausted his resources in trying to disprove the Bible, their next strategy is to attempt to devaluate the Bible by claiming it is an immoral book. In this they use a hermeneutic that is laughable if it were not sad. There overall claim is that the Bible is an immoral book that leads to rape, murder and violence. They will insist that if the Bible were really believed and followed that people would be murdering in the streets and eating their offspring. However when we look at those who read, study and practice the religion proclaimed in the Bible, we see that they understand it to teach love, peace, the furtherance of human rights and ultimate human dignity. When the people who actually study and attempt to follow scripture see one thing, while the antagonists proclaim a different meaning, who should be taken the more seriously? Whose interpretation is the most valid? It seems that what is perhaps in error is the Atheists understanding of scripture, rather than the scriptures themselves. Further if they are going to claim that the Bible is immoral, then what objective moral standard are they appealing to? From their position they cannot truly say that any action is immoral. You will typically find all sorts of things that they claim the Bible endorses, and to substantiate that claim they will cherry pick passages out of context and impose meaning on them. But in all of this they ignore any sort of counter explanation other than the one that they have chose to believe.

The Atheist approach to scripture is obviously one of severe bias. There is clearly an agenda, and that agenda is to prove that God does not exist. Which I think points to their overall mindset. Atheist will claim all day long that they have not taken a position on the existence of God, but when it comes to the Bible it is clear that they are searching for evidence to support a supposition. This sort of approach cannot yield any kind of objectivity. Has the Bible been proven false? Clearly not. What has been shown to be in error however is a good number of Atheistic claims and assumptions about the Bible and how it should be interpreted. The Atheist argument against the Bible is no different than their argument against the existence of God. If they chose not to believe, then that is their God given right, but if they want to claim that they have disproved the Bible that is clearly another story. One that belongs in the realm of myth.

[1] Ryken, Leland, The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing

[2] Deuteronomy 11:19