February 11, 2013 by Dusty Dean
Every now and again, we run into people who, for whatever reason, are incredibly skeptical on the subject of God. In fact, often I’ll run into people who are threatened, even angry that someone would bring up the subject of God…and we’ll all had moments where someone has posed a scenario to us that left us unsure how to answer or lacking in knowledge and it’s in times like this that the very need for Biblical apologetics is necessary.
Over the next 3 weeks at Heartland Church, I’ll be tackling the subject of evangelism in our weekend services. Over the past 4 weeks, we’ve tackled the same subject in our student ministry. I’ve never been more convinced that Christians feel threatened to share their faith due to a lack of knowledge. This is where apologetics comes in. Occasionally as you share your faith, you will have to defend it before you share it. I like to think of this process as “pre-evangelism”.
So I thought I would tackle a couple of common questions that Christians are asked about the Bible and then I’ll answer them. I also invited students to text in their questions and that I would attempt to defend the Bible regarding them. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll tackle questions on the subject of evangelism, apologetics and difficult questions many believers struggle with. Feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’ll try to answer as many questions as I can. (Note: these blogs may be lengthy at times. Skim what you don’t want to read and read that which interests you. My only goal is to disciple the body of Christ on issues that people are often skeptical on.) On to the questions!
This question comes from a student text:
There is no evidence that the Bible is actually true and there are perhaps 40 different religions that claimed the same things as the Bible and Christianity long before Christianity even existed.
There are a lot of questions here that need to be addressed so let’s hit these in sections.
First, let’s address the claim that the Bible is not true and cannot be trusted.
When individuals claim that the Bible cannot be trusted, it is usually coming from one of two ways. Individuals either don’t trust the Bible spiritually (meaning that not every word can be trusted as a spiritual guide) or they do not trust it historically (meaning there is not enough evidence of the original manuscripts). Let’s address both of these concerns starting with the historical data first.
To clarify how “true” a book can be, one would start with a couple of basic questions: 1) Do we have a copy of the original 2) How many transcribed manuscripts do we have? 3) How old are the transcriptions in comparison to the originals? 4) How much time has lapsed?
It’s important to know that Jesus worked and taught from a translation. Jesus didn’t work from the original. In Luke 4, when Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah, He is not holding the original scroll of Isaiah. It was a copy. So, Jesus worked from copies and had access to translations and he trusted them and we should too.
Whenever someone questions the veracity of the literature of the New Testament historically, the greatest thing I like to point out is the hypocrisy that exists in Western literature. I want to show you a chart and I think that this is helpful. If one should claim that the Bible cannot be trusted historically, I believe that we should treat the New Testament like we do the rest of the canon of Western Literature.
This chart addresses many of the most common philosophical books studied in Western literature. These books are read in schools and universities across America. Homer, Plato, Aristotle…notice how few copies we have of the originals that were written. Also, notice the earliest copy. So as an example, we have 7 copies of the original manuscript of Plato and it dates back 1300 years from the time that the FIRST copy was written.
Author Earliest Copy from Time Written # of Copies
Homer ? 643
Plato about 1300 years 7
Aristotle about 1400 years 5
Caesar about 950 years 10
Tacitus about 1000 years 20
New Testament about 100 years about 14,000
What’s interesting is that no one questions the legitimacy or veracity of these documents. They are used factually in high schools and universities across America. Translations and copies…no one questions them.
Now look at the New Testament. We have somewhere around 14,000 copies of the original manuscripts. It’s not even comparable. Then the date from the original to the oldest manuscript that we have is estimated, and this is even generous to the skeptics and critics, is 100 years. There are some scientists who are willing to date the manuscripts that exist to the 60’s AD. That’s only 30 or 40 years after Jesus and during a time when many of the eyewitnesses were still alive.
Here’s my point: to reject the New Testament is completely absurd and academically irresponsible. If we were to treat the rest of the canon of Western Literature as we treat the New Testament, we would have no historical books in existence today.
Second, let’s address the claim that the Bible is not true and cannot be trusted spiritually.
Simply put, this is where the Bible shines like no other piece of literature ever written. Though there are other religions that have recorded prophecies, there is not one that is 100% accurate as the Bible is. The Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth prophesied with precision several things about Jesus. Please consider the following:
Jesus was born of a virgin (OT Prophecy: Isaiah 7:14; NT fulfillment: Matt. 1:18, 25).
Jesus was born at Bethlehem (OT Prophecy: Micah 5:2; NT fulfillment: Matt. 2:1).
He would be preceded by a messenger (OT Prophecy: Isaiah 40:3; NT fulfillment: Matt 3:1-2).
He would be rejected by his own people (OT Prophecy: Isaiah 53:3; NT fulfillment: John 7:5, 48).
He would be betrayed by a close friend (OT Prophecy: Psalm 41:9; NT fulfillment: John 13:26-40).
His side would be pierced (OT Prophecy: Zech 12:10; NT fulfillment: John 19:34).
You get the point. I can go on and there are further prophecies fulfilled regarding other areas, but countless times, the Bible prophecies an event, and it comes to pass in the New Testament. Simply put: only in the Bible are there accurately fulfilled prophecies of a coming Messiah that greatly detail intricacies of the circumstance. Now, if I am going to trust a book, spiritually speaking, I am going to trust one that a) I have the most historical accuracy and b) has a significant history of proving to be true. The Bible is written by over 40 different authors over a span of 1500 years and yet is a complete story from beginning to end with no varying theological inaccuracies. If ever there was a book to trust spiritually, this one would be the one!
Thirdly, let’s address the claim that there are religions that existed before the Bible and that Christianity are copies from other religions.
Generally, the criticism is that there were religions that were older than Christianity that had similar concepts such as the virgin birth, God in the flesh, resurrection of the dead and etc. Critics suppose that because these concepts existed before Christianity was formed, that Christianity is a “knock-off” religion.
Here’s the problem: similarities do not prove Christianity was copied no more than two similar paintings were copied from one another. If the idea is that religion that is new is borrowed or copied from one that is old, then one must conclude that most religions borrowed from the Old Testament which was written between 400 and 1600 BC. The primary focus of Christianity should not be that it borrowed from other religions, but rather that many of the things written in the Old Testament foreshadow and are fulfilled in Jesus in the New Testament as I mentioned in the previous text. Old Testament Judaism prepares the way for New Testament Christianity.
Often times, when individuals claim there are several religions previous to Christianity, the first thing I invite those individuals to do is to name them. What are these religions and what do they claim? Secondly, I would invite this person to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament truth. Many religions claimed a “messiah” or “someone that would save the world” or even “die for sins” however one must look at these ideas in light of fulfilled prophecy.
Here’s another question that was texted in from a student this past week that I really want to get to in this blog today.
A lot of Christians base their beliefs on spiritual experiences that they’ve had. They say things like, “you can argue with my logic, but you can’t argue with my experience.” However, I know cultist religions such as Mormons and other religions such as Judiasm and Islam that have similar experiences. Is it possible that experience is psychological or non existent? Is religion a region based idea tethered to culture and a way to explain things that we cannot. I am a Christian, but I struggle with this.
Great question! I’m pumped to share regarding this one! Let’s start with the subject of experientialism as the basis for faith.
In faith conversations, people usually defend their faith one of three ways. Presuppositionalists believe that evidence is meaningless to unbelievers and think that natural theology is useless. Therefore, only the Holy Spirit can point someone to God and knowledge is pointless until one comes to a faith in Jesus. In other words, you have to choose to believe.
The second way is through evidentalism. This is the most obvious of all three, but this person believes that man is capable of considering the logic presented before them. If the information can be considered and then verified, then one can be logically challenged. Now, this person doesn’t believe that evidence can save a soul, but it can convince them to be open to the claims of Christianity.
The third way is through what you are talking about and have had interaction with others and that is as an experientialist. This person believes that the common ground from which a presentation of the Gospel should come is through shared pain, crisis or experience. There is this sense that all men can sense their lostness and so the narrative of experience is used to provide clarity of the gospel.
Let me make some comments personally on this subject. I grew up in a culture that taught experientialism. In fact, if there is one pure observation that I could make about charismatics, it’s that many base their ideologies off of their experiences. Today, I have grown into an evidentialist. This is primarily probably due to my intellectual desire to be stimulated. I like logic and conversations around what’s logical. But the downside to this is that faith has become harder for me than it once was.
Here’s what I’ll say about experience: it’s powerful. I still believe that an experience with Christ can change your life forever. Our experiences change our lives. But our experiences are also subjective, unproveable and like you said, can be duplicated by other religions…because our experiences are emotive in nature…and when we are ruled by our emotions, we become unruly and often unbalanced. It is for this reason that experientialism represents the weakest form of evangelism and apologetics.
So this is what I would say: a solid fundamental basis for Christianity is from the truth of the Gospel in the Scriptures. The truth of the Scriptures is what separates Christianity from all other religions, not emotional experiences. But our lives can be changed through the experiences that we have God. Intimacy is important for relationship. A relationship built upon logic and reason lacks spiritual fervor and zeal. So I encourage believers to be both devotional and emotional in their relationship with the Lord. The truth of the Scriptures transcends culture. Experiences are often both personal and cultural.