It is not important for the truthfulness of Christianity for the Bible to be without error.
I talked to a church this morning about the fact that the Bible has not been changed as it has been translated and re-translated through the ages. But in fact, we have a document that is 99.9% pure. I explained in that session about how it is that such a thing could be, but one of the points that I made is that they are accurate to history. That is, the broad issues of the Gospels can be trusted as being historically reliable. And I made a point to them this morning that I’ve made here before. It really relates to a broad strategy that I have about defending the faith.
My broad strategy is simply this: I do not go beyond the evidence. I make a very modest case. I don’t overplay my hand. That is, I stay well within the kinds of conclusions that I think I am justified in making given the evidence.
For example, I personally believe that the Bible is inerrant and I have particular reasons for believing there aren’t any errors in the Bible even though some people disagree with me. But I will not try to make that case in public because I don’t think it is that easy to do. I think it is much harder. There are a number of different angles to it if you want to make the case credibly.
There is another case that I can make that is much easier. The evidence is much more in my favor. It is much harder to refute. And it turns out that this other case is actually the more important one for defending Christianity. As I explained this morning, it is not important for the truthfulness of Christianity for the Bible to be without error. It is just irrelevant.
Think of it for a moment. Did the early Christians, say the Gentiles who heard the testimony of Jesus Christ from Paul, did they believe they had an inerrant Bible? Well, first of all, a third of the Bible wasn’t even written yet. And secondly, the 2/3 that were written, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gentiles didn’t pay any attention to it. So for all intents and purposes, they had nothing like an inerrant Scripture.
What did they have? They had a testimony from Paul and the Apostles about a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who said certain things and did certain things, who died on a cross and rose from the dead. As far as Paul was concerned, that was enough. That is, if the salient details, the broad issues of Christianity and the life of Jesus were actually true, that was all he needed to convince people.
He didn’t need to prove the inerrant Bible. He didn’t even offer them a Bible. He didn’t walk there with a Bible in his hands when he spoke to the Gentiles. He didn’t say, here, believe this first as the word of God and then we will go from there. No, he started with Jesus.
Actually, I think this is a great approach from a philosophic perspective. Sometimes we take a two-step approach. We’ll start with the fact that God exists and make arguments for the existence of God. Then we move from there to the evidence of God in nature and the evidence for the Bible, etc. So, first step we prove the existence of God and then we demonstrate that God has spoken through Jesus. But it is not necessary to take those two steps; there is a shorter way around. Just start with Jesus.
If you can demonstrate that Jesus did the things that the Gospels say He did, well, you are well on your way to proving the case for Christianity. And in fact, if the Gospels are reliable at face value on the broad issues, then the case for Christianity has been made. This is a much more modest claim. It is more difficult to prove inerrancy. It is not difficult to demonstrate that it is reasonable to believe not only that the New Testament documents have been passed down in tact, but also they reflect accurately the larger issues of the life of Christ.
Why do I put it that way? Because someone could ask how is it that the disciples can remember all of these little bitty words of Jesus after so many years that they waited, allegedly, to write the Gospels down? I think there are some answers to that, but I’m not going to go into them right now. For one, they were taught specifically by Jesus, day after day, on these specifics. Trained. Following the pattern of the day, they memorized large portions of things, and then Jesus sent them out on forays to practice. Little short-term missionary trips. So they didn’t just have to recall a conversation from ten or fifteen years ago. They had to recall the kinds of things they had been repeating time and time again.
In fact, this morning I did three services. I never used my notes one time. Because I knew this material. Why? Because I’d been over it so many times. Were there differences from one talk to the other? Yes, minor ones. But the main points were all there because they had become part of me. And I suspect that was the same thing that happened with the Apostles.
But that aside, I don’t have to have all of those particulars precisely recalled by the Apostles in order to make my case. Let me ask you something. If you were sleeping in a boat, and you were awakened by a tremendous storm that this small boat was going through, the waves were crashing over the side, and you despaired even of life, it is one of the most traumatic experiences of your life. Then someone else in the boat stood up and said, “Be still!” speaking not to you but to the wind and the storm, and instantly everything was calm and quiet. Do you think you’d forget that?
Do you think that you would forget what that person said and what happened? Do you think you’d forget a statement like, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through me,” especially spoken many times?
Do you think you’d forget the statement, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies,” if it is spoken at a time when immediately after that phrase is spoken the speaker then says, “Lazarus, come forth!” and a dead man comes to life? Do you think you’d forget that in five years, ten years, thirty years, fifty years? Don’t you think that you can lie on your deathbed seventy years later and still recall that incident? That’s not far-fetched, ladies and gentlemen.
I am not overplaying my hand in making that suggestion. That’s all we need. We just need disciples who remember those claims and remember those miracles. The feeding of the five thousand. The casting out of demons. The calming of the storm. The healing of the sick. The lame walking. The blind seeing. Would you forget that? Would you say, you know what? I thought that guy was blind and then Jesus put mud in his eye and he could see, but I don’t know maybe I’m getting confused. Maybe he didn’t see after that. Maybe I’m just imagining this. No, that’s not going to happen.
Think about this for a minute. Do you think you are going to be mistaken about seeing your leader, the one whom you’ve talked with, walked with, ate with, slept with, done everything with for three years, crucified, dead, embalmed, and buried, and then three days later you see him alive and well and many times until his ascension. Do you think you would mistake that? I don’t think you would. I think we are talking about such life shaking and earth shattering kinds of things that these are not the kinds of things you are going to forget.
This morning somebody asked me afterwards, “I have some friends who say you can’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because nothing like this ever happens.” First of all, that is circular reasoning because our claim is that it did happen at least one and we have reason to believe so. David Hume argued against miracles. He said they just don’t seem to happen very much, so when someone claims they do happen, we are not rationally obliged to believe in such a thing because they certainly aren’t very probable.
But no act of history is very probable. All acts are arguably unique in some sense. And it is precisely because resurrections are unique that they have the force that they do to demonstrate truth in the spiritual realm. If people were rising from the dead all the time, then you would have no reason to doubt the resurrection and you would have no reason to apply any spiritual significance to the resurrection. It’s precisely because they are rare that they are relevant to the claims of Jesus Christ.
The important question isn’t whether they are rare. The important question is whether Jesus rose from the dead. Is the evidence good that He did? And when you think about the authority of Christ or the claims of Christianity, as long as we can demonstrate that it is reasonable to believe that the disciples recorded accurately His claims to be God, to be the source of salvation, to be the resurrection and the life, to be the Alpha and Omega, all those dramatic claims that no sane person would make with a straight face, and also accurately record the healings, the calming of the storm, the walking on water, the casting out of demons, the raising of the dead. If you were there when Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead, or a man embalmed and dead and stinking for three days, Lazarus, and he hobbles out, would you forget that? I doubt it.
But if those things are actually true, if Jesus did claim those things and did do those things, if He predicted His own death and resurrection three days after His brutal crucifixion, and He by His own power raised Himself from the dead, do you think that then becomes relevant to the question of whether Christianity is true or not? Whether Jesus is someone to be reckoned with?
You know, there is this magazine article in Newsweek this week, the cover story. “Visions of Jesus: What the other religions think of Jesus.” Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism—for the most part, people think pretty highly of Jesus. He’s a good man, a good teacher. Based on what? Just based on what He taught. Most of these people don’t take the miraculous stories seriously. Just based on what He taught, His presence of mind, the depth of His insight, people are inclined to think highly of Him. Just on the force of His words.
Do you realize how much more important, how much more powerful the evidence would be if all the miraculous statements about Jesus are also reasonable to believe as having been recorded accurately? Of course. This is why the Christian has nothing to be ashamed of. The Christian case given the evidence is actually quite modest and reasonable.