Objection 8: There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
The Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th Edition) lists more than 200 Christian denominations in 17 broad categories, from “Baptist Churches” to “Community and New Paradigm Churches.” If Jesus prayed that His followers would be one (John 17:11), and if there is to be “one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:4-5), why can’t Christians get along? Even within denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention there have been major splits over issues such as the inerrancy of Scripture and the role of women in the church. Doesn’t all this contentiousness prove a fatal flaw in the Bible, since even people who study it and say they believe it can’t agree on what it teaches?
First, it should be noted that many of the disagreements among Christians are over matters of conscience, such as which day of the week to worship, dietary restrictions, or which translation of the Bible to use (see Rom. 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 10:23-33), or they focus on lesser points of doctrine, such as the mode of baptism, church polity or the manner in which missions activities are organized and funded.
Second, it should be acknowledged that Christians often have engaged in petty squabbling, internal power struggles and political wrangling, resulting in unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ, not to mention damage to the church’s reputation. The New Testament implores believers to be gracious toward and forgiving of one another; clearly, this has not always been the case.
At the same time, Christian denominations generally developed out of a desire for fellowship and joint ministry between individual churches – a biblical concept (Acts. 11:27-30), according to Charles Draper (“Why So Many Denominations?” Apologetics Study Bible, p. 1709). In addition, denominations many times began as renewal movements. The Reformed movements of the 1500s sought to restore the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and justification by faith to the church, which had all but abandoned these biblical teachings. In time, some Presbyterians drifted toward liberalism and new conservative Presbyterian groups emerged to preserve the Reformed teachings. Baptists came along within the Reformed tradition. Pentecostals and charismatics formed new unions based on their view of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
There is a rich diversity among Christian denominations, and the differences between them often are not as wide as they appear. This is not to say that all differences are minor, or that all should be set aside for the sake of unity, for in Scripture Christian unity is the product of God’s Spirit working in the hearts of regenerate people and anchored in the truth of God’s Word. Some separations are, in fact, necessary. In the New Testament, many false teachers were disciplined or left the churches (see 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 John 2:19). In addition, the apostle Paul warns the church that false teachers will rise to prominence in the church in the days before Christ’s return (2 Tim. 3:1-9). The church today should be on guard against those who preach “another Jesus … a different spirit … a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). For example, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christian in their theology and practice, yet both organizations deny the central teachings of Scripture, particularly those having to do with the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel.
Charles Draper summarizes: “The most important thing to do is to examine a church’s teaching and practice to see if it is consistent with Scripture. And finally we have to realize that in this life Christians will not agree on everything” (Ibid.).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Objection 5: The Bible is full of contradictions.
When someone raises this objection, a reasonable first response is, “Show me one.” Often, the person objecting cannot do so. However, it must be acknowledged that there are numerous places in scripture where there are seemingly conflicting testimonies and apparent contradictions. If the Bible comes from God, and if God does not make mistakes, how do we reconcile these Bible difficulties?
First, we should examine the Bible the same way we examine other documents, using the traditional rules of logic and reason. A good place to start is by applying the law of non-contradiction, which maintains that “nothing can both be and not be.” For example, it cannot be day and night in the same place at the same time. Therefore, if a passage of scripture violates the law of non-contradiction, its trustworthiness is undermined. At the same time, based on the law of non-contradiction, two statements may differ without being contradictory. For example, in Matthew, we read that Jesus met two blind men. In Mark and Luke, we only read about one blind man meeting Jesus. Are these contradictory statements? Not according to the law of non-contradiction and the rules of evidence. If Jesus met two men, He certainly met one. (By the way, alleged contradictions such as this provide supporting evidence for the veracity of the eyewitnesses; they show that the New Testament writers didn’t “get their story straight” in order to concoct a hoax.)
Second, we should consider translation and context. Some Bible passages appear contradictory because of the nuances of Bible translation. A case in point: The Book of Acts has two accounts of Paul’s conversion experience. Acts 9:7 (KJV) says the men journeying with Paul heard a voice but saw no one. Acts 22:9 (KJV) says they did not hear the voice. The two passages appear contradictory, but the Greek clears it up, as do some modern translations. The construction of the verb is different in each account. W.F. Arndt explains: “In Acts 9:7 it (the verb “to hear,” akouo), is not the same in both accounts. In Acts 9:7 it is used with the genitive, in Acts 22:9 with the accusative. The construction with the genitive simply expresses that something is being heard or that certain sounds reach the ear; nothing is indicated as to whether a person understands what he hears or not. The construction with the accusative, however, describes a hearing, which includes mental apprehension of the message spoken. From this it becomes evident that the two passages are not contradictory” (Does the Bible Contradict Itself? Quoted in “Bible Contradictions – Appearance or Reality?” found in www.allabouttruth.org.)
Some additional considerations:
- Time. Some seemingly contradictory statements are separated by years – even hundreds of years – and must be seen in their proper time frame. For example, Gen. 1:31 records that God was satisfied with creation, while Gen. 6:6 says He was sorry that He made man. Contradictory? No. Keep in mind that hundreds of years, including the fall of man, came between the first and second statements.
- Context. A careful study of the chapters and books in which the seeming contradictions occurred often reveals subtle differences that aid understanding.
- Sense. Words and phrases can be used literally or figuratively. For example, Matt. 11:14 identifies John the Baptist as Elijah, yet in John 1:21 John denies being Elijah. Contradiction? No. In Matthew, Elijah is described as the spiritual antitype of the great prophet (see Luke 1:17).
- Quotations. Many references to Old Testament passages are not word-for-word quotes in the New Testament. Rather, they are paraphrases or summaries.
- Understanding. Some critics assume that passages they can’t explain cannot be explained by anyone. But hard sayings do not imply errors in transmission.
- Perspective. When two or more writers provide separate accounts of the same events, differences in names, numbers, and conversations may be accounted for by each writer’s perspective: What did he see? Who did he interview? What was most important to record? Who is the audience to whom he wrote? Should numbers be exact or rounded?
Rick Cornish summarizes: “The Bible enjoys a much better track record than the critics. They’ve been proven wrong man times; Scripture, not once. Even though criticized for centuries, it has stood the test of time. But skeptics play a constructive role. Their challenges force us to study and sometimes reevaluate our interpretations. But until they improve their own game, we need not worry about their accusation that ‘the Bible is full of errors and contradictions.’ It’s not” (5 Minute Apologist, p. 68).
Next — Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Christians believe in the reliability and authority of the scriptures. That is, we trust the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God and the authoritative source of all we believe and practice. By inerrant, we mean the original autographs are without error because they come from God (2 Peter 1:20-21). By infallible, we mean the Bible is incapable of error because God, as its author, does not lie or make mistakes (Num. 23:19). By inspired, we mean the Bible is “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) And by authoritative, we mean that the Bible, as God’s Word, is His written revelation to us and must therefore guide our thoughts, words and deeds (Heb. 4:12).
But many people do not share such a high view of scripture. In fact, some raise serious objections to claims about the Bible’s truthfulness and reliability. While there are many objections, eight of the more common objections include:
- No one really knows what Bible says because the original manuscripts are lost.
- The Bible has been copied so many times, with so many variations, there’s no way to know what was originally scripted.
- The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books – perhaps some equally inspired writings.
- It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.
- The Bible is full of contradictions.
- The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
- There are so many translations of the Bible today, it’s impossible to know which translation is the right one.
- There are so many Christian denominations today, it’s clear that Christians can’t agree on what the Bible teaches.
Responding to these objections is a daunting task – in part because critics raise some valid points. For example, it’s true that we do not have the “autographs,” or the original documents. At the same time, the Bible soars above other ancient documents in many convincing ways, providing evidence of reliability and consistency that gives Christians good reasons to trust it as the Word of God. Our faith is not, as some critics say, “blind faith,” but reasonable faith based on the evidence.
Every Christian should be confident the Bible is true because there are good answers to the skeptics’ objections.
Objection 1: No one really knows what Bible says because the original manuscripts are lost.
The second part of this statement is true: The “autographs,” or original manuscripts, written on a variety of degradable surfaces from parchment to papyrus, no longer exist. But the remarkable number of copies, dating back in some cases to within a generation of their authorship, makes the first half of this objection false. In fact, we have tremendous confidence in the reliability of the Bible because of its manuscript trail. Craig L. Blomberg writes, “In the original Greek alone, over 5,000 manuscripts and manuscript fragments or portions of the NT have been preserved from the early centuries of Christianity. The oldest of these is a scrap of papyrus containing John 18:31-33, 37-38, dating from A.D. 125-130, no more than forty years after John’s Gospel was most probably written” (“The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, pp. 193-94). Andreas J. Kostenberger adds, “The total tally of more than 6,000 Greek mss., more than 10,000 Latin Vulgate mss., and more than 9,300 early versions results in over 25,000 witnesses to the text of the NT” (“Is the Bible Today What Was Originally Written?” found in www.4truth.net).
So how does the Bible stack up against other ancient manuscripts? According to scholar F.F. Bruce, we have nine or 10 good copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars; 20 copies of Livy’s Roman History; two copies of Tacitus’s Annals; and eight manuscripts of Thucydides’ History. The most documented secular work from antiquity is Homer’s Iliad with 643 copies. But the New Testament, with its thousands of Greek manuscripts alone, is the most highly documented book from the ancient world (The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable?, p. 16).
In short, while it’s true we are lacking the “autographs” of scripture, we have every sound reason to be confident that what we read today has been faithfully preserved through thousands of copies, many of them written in close chronological proximity to the time they were originally penned.
Next — Objection 2: The Bible has been copied so many times, with so many variations, there’s no way to know what was originally scripted.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips