As you begin to read scripture, you realize that there are some stories that are hard to believe. I have a hard time believing a man lived in the belly of a fish for three days or that men walked in a fiery furnace and lived. These types of stories begin to stir up questions, and even doubt, at times. There isn’t enough space in this article to convince you that those individual stories are true or not.
We have to remember that the Bible is not only a book, but a library of books. It contains 66 different books, with over 27 authors, written over thousands of years. To try to filter this miracle through our 21st-century understanding would make a lot of things in the Bible seem weird and unbelievable. However, we can’t use that as a cop out to not look at it critically. I believe it’s important to be critical with things that claim something of high importance. How else would we gain confidence? It’s important that we are confident in the Bible because it is the main resource most people use to develop their faith in God.
I want to present the way we should go about the criticism. I believe the most important question and approach to the validity of scripture isn’t whether or not a guy lived in the belly of a fish or that one of the stories you read confused you. The most important approach is to pick at the man that the entire library points to — Jesus.
In my mind, a healthy approach to criticism of the Bible is this: if I can trust the writings about Jesus, the Gospels, then the rest of scripture is easier to believe.
I believe if we can trust that Jesus said what He said and claimed what He claimed, all the rest of the Bible can be trusted. Because, if I’m ever in doubt, I will just trust the guy that rose from the dead.
The Gospels are accounts written by four different men telling the story about Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). All different in style but all give a detailed account of His life and ministry. When it comes to proving whether or not history is true, we have to approach it as historians approach it. So, how do historians approach criticism when it comes to ancient writings?
One main metric used is the distance between the date the book was composed and the earliest manuscript (copy) we have in our possession. The less time between the original and the copy, the less likely the original story had been tampered with. It’s important to note that we measure history differently than we measure science. The main formula in science is to observe and repeat. And once it has been observed and repeated enough times you can prove it as fact. Well, there is no way to observe or repeat history unless we have a time machine. That’s why historians have to approach history the same way the court does. It’s not a matter of possibility but a matter of probability. Or, as a lawyer would say when proving their case, what is the probable cause?
Just as in a court, all we can do from a historical standpoint is gather the evidence and begin to present what probably happened. So, that’s why we can trust certain history books we read in school. Historians that have gathered enough evidence from enough people to say the likelihood of this story happening the way they said it did is very likely.
When it comes to the timespan metric, between original copy and first manuscript (copy), the gospels blow a lot of accepted history books out of the water. For example, The Iliad, written by Homer, is a history book we read in school. The span of time between the original and the first copy we have is around 900 years. Compare that to the Gospels (life of Jesus) in the New Testament, the span of time between the original and the first copy we have is 50 years.
When compared to other ancient works of literature, the existing manuscripts of the New Testament documents in today’s museums date back further, are of higher quality, and exist in much greater numbers, than a lot of history we read about in our education system.
In conclusion, historically speaking, the Gospels are one of the most trustworthy history books we have. There are no archaeological discrepancies when it comes to the accounts given in the Gospels. That means when the scriptures talk about a person, place, or thing, it’s supported not just by the Bible but by other historical books as well.
At the end of the day, the Gospels can be proven reliable which means the probability of what Jesus said to be true is high. So, you can trust the rest of the Bible because you can trust the story, life, and words of Jesus.