Can We Trust the Bible?
Other Alleged Problems
In my two previous posts, I covered 5 postures we can take toward the Bible and the importance of the self-attestation of Scripture. You can find the respective posts here and here. Along with so-called contradictions in the Bible, other alleged problems include material not found in most Bibles: (1) the longer ending of Mark, (2) the account of adulterous woman in John; and (3) the so-called “Johannine comma” in 1 John 5. But there is no problem here: these portions are not original, and therefore not included in virtually all English versions (see Truth Matters, pp. 120ff).
Also, some cite differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John as problematic. I have written on this extensively in various venues, both in essay form and in my Johannine theology. In short, John typically provides more overt theological reflection and often seems to presuppose—and then transpose—material found in the earlier Gospels.
Finally, there are apparent differences in theological outlook between NT writers, such as the famous case of Paul’s and James’s teaching on works vs. faith. Again, space doesn’t permit me to handle this issue fully here (though I’ve done so elsewhere). Suffice it to say that Paul and James likely address different scenarios, which accounts for their complementary approaches.
Broader Issues Involved
Finally, let’s keep in mind that often people’s problem with Scripture won’t simply be differences in wording of Synoptic accounts or even differences in theology between various NT writers. There may be broader issues involved, whether relating to God, the transmission of the Bible, the extent of the canon, or the nature of Christianity at large.
Bart Ehrman wrote a volume entitled, God’s Problem, in which he asks (and he is not the only one): Why does a good God allow terrible, innocent suffering? Think of some of the recent school shootings where dozens were killed. Or terminal diseases that kill children or young people. The list goes on and on.
The Text of Scripture
Others may be troubled by alleged problems with the transmission of the text. We don’t have the original autographs (manuscripts) of Scripture but only copies. How do we know these copies are reliable; could they have been corrupted by incompetent copying? A related concern some have raised is the number of textual variants in the available copies. In short, I’d respond that we have so many variants because we have so many manuscripts (over 5,800!). Also, no major biblical doctrine is affected.
The Canon of Scripture
Or are there problems with the process of canonization? How do we know that we have the right books in our Bibles? What about the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas and other ancient writings not included in Scripture? Again, Bart Ehrman wrote books such as Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities. Is he right that the (proto-)orthodox suppressed alternate views?
In short, I would only point out that it is astonishing how early we find the consciousness of writing Scripture (AD 60s). For instance, in 1 Tim 5:18 Paul refers to Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7 (the words of Jesus!) as Scripture. And in 2 Pet 3:15-16, Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture. The Gospels writers also were likely aware that they wrote Scripture.
Finally, some have voiced problems with the kind of Christianity espoused in Scripture. Was early Christianity diverse, that is, were there multiple “Christianities”? Did the Roman Church impose its version of Christianity on the rest of Christendom, as the famous Bauer-Ehrman thesis contends? (For more information on this, see Mike Kruger’s and my book Heresy of Orthodoxy.)
Conclusion: You Can Trust the Bible
The problem is not with the Bible. The problem is with us. We’re often skeptical, or suspicious, or critical, and lack faith. The Bible can withstand critical scrutiny if approached with an open mind. Discerning engagement is the best way to read the Bible. We’re not normally asked to exercise blind faith, but God has revealed himself through human witnesses in Scripture.
Have you encountered an apparent contradiction or incongruity in the Bible? There are answers. If you’re interested, please check out the following works for more extensive discussions: Truth Matters, Truth in a Culture of Doubt (both co-authored with Josh Chatraw and Darrell Bock), and Heresy of Orthodoxy (co-authored with Michael Kruger).
You can trust the Bible! You can depend on it. You can stake your life on it. Jesus compared building one’s life on God’s Word to a man building his house on solid rock. If you build your life on the foundation of God’s Word and live according to his design, you won’t regret it, neither in this life nor for all eternity.
Note: I gave a talk on this topic to the Chris Gardner/Blake Derrick Life group at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, on February 18, 2018. To listen to a recording of this talk, please see below.