Greg gives quick responses to two common doubts believers have when they read the Bible.
Question: Can we trust the Bible? There are a lot of things that the Bible says that sometimes cause me to doubt, and I’ve recently just begun thinking about that as a problem.
Greg: “There are a lot of things the Bible says that cause me to doubt.” I’m not sure what those things are. Now, I have a suspicion about some of them, and they fall in two different categories. One is a category of fantastic things, and the other is a category of what appear to be immoral things.
Fantastic things would include a worldwide flood, however that’s construed—global or the world that then was, as Peter put it in 2 Peter, a local flood that consumed all of the human inhabitants of the world at that time, save for eight. So, that might be a fantastical thing. It might be a floating axe head. It might be the sun standing still. It might be the shadow going backwards up the steps with Hezekiah. There are all kinds of things that the Bible says really happened, and to those kinds of things I just have to say, we live in a magical world. The world of the Bible is a magical world, and I’m using the word “magical” advisedly here because I don’t mean hocus pocus. I mean that there’s a supernatural element to this world. It isn’t just molecules clashing in the universe. There are invisible forces at work, and God is the prime one who made it all and can do whatever he wants.
All of these fantastical kinds of things are only fantastical if you are somewhat committed to a materialistic view of the universe, but they are not fantastical if you take seriously the worldview of the Bible. Now, the question is whether that worldview—taken as a whole—which includes the supernatural, is sound or not. If Jesus rose from the dead—and there’s tremendously persuasive historical evidence that he did—then people do rise from the dead, and if people can rise from the dead, and God can direct that and cause that to happen, then he can cause all kinds of things to happen that are fantastical. That doesn’t mean they did happen. I think they did, but all I’m arguing is that this is a worldview question.
If one’s worldview is largely materialistic, then all of these other things are just not going to make any sense. It’s like when Christopher Hitchens debated Jay Richards. Hitchens asked Richards whether he believed in the virgin birth and the resurrection, and Jay said yes, he did. So Hitchens said, “I rest my case,” because Chris Hitchens is an atheist and a materialist, and in his world, those kinds of things can’t happen. But, of course, what kind of world we actually live in was the nature of the debate, which means his statement was circular. He was already assuming a particular world, instead of demonstrating that world, and using his assumption as evidence against Jay Richards. So, you have to decide what kind of world do we live in, and if we live in a magical world, then magical things can happen, and they can’t be dismissed out of hand.
Then there’s another category of things that look immoral. Let’s say the destruction of the Canaanites by Joshua and other things that are kind of similar. I’m just going to say two things quickly, here. First, the concern here is that God seems to be guilty of genocide or ethnic cleansing when all the people—the men, women, and children—are to be destroyed. The language that is employed there is characteristic of Ancient Near Eastern military hyperbole. Think, for example, of the sports page. “We massacred them.” “We wiped them out.” “We’re going to absolutely destroy them. “We’re going to clean the car.” These are the ways people talk when they mean “complete victory,” and this is what we see in those passages because there are times when the language is used of women and children being destroyed when there weren’t even women and children involved. These are hyperbolic ways of talking about complete victory—utter defeat of the enemy and a displacement of the enemy.
Secondly is that part of the reason for the destruction of the Canaanites was that these were really bad people who participated in debauchery for hundreds of years while God patiently waited for them to change their minds—and Nineveh was an example of one culture that did change and God relented of the punishment. Part of what that debauchery included was not only sex, but human sacrifice—not just humans, but children. This is the kind of thing that, I think, if Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins had countenanced, they would say, how could there be a God if he doesn’t act? Well, God did act, and he brought judgment against those people for the terrible things that they were doing.