Isn’t the Bible a Myth? Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
Mosaic Rockford – Dave Spooner – April 28th, 2019
- This morning we are starting our new 6-part series called “Reasons to Believe.” This series looks to answer some common and modern-day questions people have about the Bible and Christianity. Questions like:
- Isn’t the Bible a Myth? Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity?
- What Gives You the Right to Tell Me How to Live My Life? Why Are There So Many Rules?
- Why Does God Allow Suffering? Why Is There So Much Evil in the World?
- Why Is the Church Responsible for So Much Injustice? Why Are Christians Such Hypocrites?
- How Can God Be Full of Love and Wrath at the Same Time? How Can God Send Good People to Hell?
- The primary guide for these questions comes from the book “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller. I would encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself. The primary reason we are addressing these questions comes from the instruction of the Apostle Peter.
1 Peter 3:15-16 NIV
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
- First, we are to set Christ apart from everyone and everything else. He is the Lord and there is no one else like Him. He is to be our primary focus and the center of our faith.
- Second, we are to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason why we have hope . . . so I am looking to help prepare you to give an answer, to build your faith and your commitment to the word of God. Also, not only the reasons and rationales for faith in answering questions, but the tone and approach in answering. You can be right in your logic and wrong in your delivery and approach. We are to communicate with “gentleness and respect,” not trying to destroy, belittle, or prove how superior we are, but speak in a loving, gentle and respectful way.
- Third, we also want to have a “clear conscience,” knowing that we endeavor to do this truthfully with integrity. We should not just become some “bible answer man” but a person who takes knowledge and understanding and lives it out in good behavior. The end of good theology is not correct thinking but right living.
- Have you ever noticed that people respond to the Bible differently than they do to other literature? People have a hard time being objective about the Bible because of the truth claims it makes about God, origins, humanity, truth, reality, responsibility, relationships, accountability, authority, and eternity among other things. Because if it is true, it matters and has personal implications for our lives and the world. Other pieces of literature don’t make those claims and don’t affect us or relate to us, so they are viewed differently than the Bible.
- People will say, “you can’t take the bible literally.” What they usually mean is that the Bible is not entirely trustworthy because some parts are scientifically impossible, historically unreliable, and culturally regressive. To address these questions, we need to start with Jesus. So here are three reasons why people can trust that what the Bible says about Jesus is historically reliable.
Reasons to trust what the Bible says about Jesus
- The New Testament accounts of Jesus were written too early to be legends.
- Luke wrote his account of Jesus’ life 30 – 40 years after the events, and he records the fact that many people who saw Jesus were still alive, and that his readers could therefore check his account with these eyewitnesses. In fact, Luke (in Luke 1:1–4) claims to be painstakingly preserving historical facts, “I myself have carefully investigated everything . . . so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke’s statement to Theophilus, the recipient of the text, shows that ancient authors knew the difference between an “orderlyaccount” and spinning a tale.
- This attitude toward history is not Luke’s alone. In John 19:35 and 1 John 1:1–4, John claims to have been an eyewitness of the events of Jesus’ life.
John 19:35-36 ESV
He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.
1 John 1:1-3 ESV
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you
- Paul, who wrote 15 – 20 years after the events of Jesus’ life records, “He [the resurrected Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living” (1 Corinthians 15:6).Paul could not have written that in a public document unless there actually were hundreds of living eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus. Paul could also confidently assert to government officials that the events of Jesus’ life were public knowledge: “[These things were] not done in a corner,”he said to King Agrippa (Acts 26:26). The people of Jerusalem had been there — they had been in the crowds that heard and watched Jesus. The New Testament documents could not say Jesus was crucified when thousands of people were still alive who knew whether he was or not. If there had not been a burial, if there had not been an empty tomb, if there had not been appearances after his death, and these public documents claimed there had been, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. It would have been impossible for Christianity to have gained widespread support if its critical historical claims were bluntly contradicted by numerous witnesses who were still alive.
- Additionally, there are references within the Gospel texts that demonstrate that the Gospel writers and readers had access to firsthand accounts of the events of Jesus’ life. In Mark 15:21the author Mark can refer to “Alexander and Rufus” (the sons of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross for Jesus) in a way that shows they were well-known to his readers.
- This shows that the Gospels were written by people in a position to get and report accurate historical information and were written at a time when eyewitness memory about Jesus was still widely available as a “check” on any fantastic or fabricated claims.
- The documents are too detailed in their form to be legends.
- In Mark 4 there is a detail recorded which says that Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of a boat. In John 21 it says that Peter was a hundred yards out in the water when he saw Jesus on the beach. He then jumped out of the boat and together they caught 153 fish. In John 8, as Jesus listened to the men who caught a woman in adultery, it says he wrote with his finger in the dust. The best explanation for why an ancient writer would mention the cushion, the 153 fish, and the drawing in the dust, when they are irrelevant to the narrative, is because the details had been retained in the eyewitnesses’ memory. Legends, and especially legends written at that time did not have this kind of detail.
- The documents are too counterproductive in their content to be legends.
- The argument goes that the Bible does not give an account of what actually happened; instead, it is what the church leaders wanted people to believe in order to consolidate their power and build their movement. However, if someone wanted to build a movement, would they have included in the account that their founder, Jesus, asked the Father for a way out: “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39)? Would they attest that the original resurrection witnesses were women at a time when women’s testimony was not admissible evidence in court? The leaders of the early church were the successors to the apostles, and yet in many places the New Testament, the apostles look like fools or cowards. Why would a leader of the early church make up those accounts? The only possible explanation for their inclusion is that they actually happened. Otherwise, they are totally counterproductive.
- So, because of these reasons and others, we can completely trust what is written in the Bible about Jesus is true and factual. Here are some other statements and questions that people say and ask about the Bible.
Questions about the Bible
- “The Gospels are full of contradictions.”
- Comparing the Gospel accounts reveals some apparent tensions and contradictions. But a long tradition of scholarly study has shown that most of these can be explained with reference to two principles.
- First, remember the Gospel writers were not simply reporters but also teachers. John says that it would be impossible to put together a complete account of all Jesus’ teaching and acts.
John 21:25 ESV
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Each writer selected under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what he included in accordance with his teaching goals.
- For example, many have said that John contradicts the other Gospels because he depicts Mary coming to the tomb alone on Easter Sunday. And yet, when Mary runs to the disciples, John reports her as saying, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2). Mary’s use of the plural “we” shows that John knew full well that Mary had not gone to the tomb alone, and yet in the first part of his account he chooses to focus on her exclusively. Why? He wanted the interview of Jesus and Mary to be highlighted later in his account.
- Second, remember the selectivity of eyewitness memory. If, as they claim, the Gospel writers were drawing on eyewitness accounts (e.g., from the memory of Peter, John, Mark, or any of the women), each witness would have seen only part of the events.
- Also, in some cases, a fact could be described different ways by eyewitnesses without being a contradiction. For example, John says Mary arrived at the tomb “while it was still dark” (John 20:1), but Matthew says it was “at dawn” (Matthew 28:1)and Mark says “just after sunrise” (Mark 16:2). At dawn, the degree of darkness or light is a matter of opinion, and so three different people, there at the same moment, might later describe that moment in all three ways which are not in contradiction to each other.
- “The Gospels can’t be reliable accounts because they describe miracles.”
- There is an intellectual inconsistency involved in objecting to the accuracy of the Gospels because they contain miracles. To say “miracles cannot happen” is a philosophical assumption, not a conclusion resulting from or guided by experience or experiment. If there is a God, miracles would have to be possible, even if you have never seen one. If a God exists who is capable of making the world, why should he be incapable of altering it? To say miracles are impossible is to assume that there cannot possibly be a God, a thesis that is impossible to prove and therefore a philosophical assumption. This is arguing in a circle — “miracles cannot happen; therefore, miracles have not happened.” If there is a God, then there can be miracles.
- Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be. In Matthew 28it says that when the apostles met the risen Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee, “they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”That is a remarkable admission. Here is the author of an early Christian document saying that some of the founders of Christianity could not believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at Jesus with their own eyes.
- This passage shows several things. It is a warning not to think that only modern, scientific people struggle with the idea of the miraculous, while ancient, more primitive people did not. The apostles responded like any group of modern people would — some believed, and some did not. It is also an encouragement to patience. All the apostles ended up as leaders in the church, but some had more trouble believing than others.
- The most instructive thing about this text, however, is what it says about the purpose of biblical miracles. They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, awe, and wonder. Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed to impress and manipulate. Instead, He used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry, raise the dead, free the captives and verify his teaching. People tend to think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible says that God did not originally make the world to be filled with disease, hunger, and death. Jesus’ miracles are not just proofs that He has power, but wonderful foretastes of what He is going to do with that power. Jesus came and is coming again to redeem the world where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken.
- “Why should a person believe the Old Testament is true?”
- There is a great deal of archaeological and historical support that validates much of the Old Testament . . . But that alone could not establish the divine inspiration of the Bible. Christians believe the divine inspiration of the Old Testament because Jesus taught and believed in its entire inspiration and trustworthiness (John 5:37–39, 46–47; 10:34–35; Matthew 5:17–19).
No one can doubt that Jesus, as a first-century Jew, believed in the authority of the Old Testament. If Jesus was who He said He was, then we must accept the entire Bible as God’s Word.
- In Matthew 5:18 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished.”In John 10:35he says, “Scripture cannot be broken.”According to Jesus, even the smallest punctuation mark in the Old Testament is important — “the least stroke of a pen.” That is the strongest statement about the Bible that can be made. On one occasion Jesus says to someone: “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24). Far from being full of errors, Jesus insists that the Bible is the way to keep from error.
- Jesus does not just say that every part of a letter of the Bible is true. He goes even further to say every part of the Bible will come true— he says it will all be accomplished. It is one thing to say the Bible is true. A phone book could be true. But Jesus goes beyond that — it will be accomplished. That means every prophecy will come true, every promise will be fulfilled. Every warning and every threat will be followed through on, and every single command will someday be obeyed because someday every nation will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Scripture cannot be broken, it cannot be written off, not one part of it, because every part of it is the Word of God.
- Interestingly, in John 7:17, Jesus lays down this challenge to people who doubted his words: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”Jesus is saying that if you want to know in your own experience whether or not the Bible really is true, then put its teachings into practice.
- “Evolution makes biblical faith unacceptable.”
- I am not an expert on creationism vs. evolution, however I do know a little about math, and the probability of Darwinian evolution being reality is as close to zero as you can get. I believe in Jesus and Jesus believed the Old Testament is reliable and historical (along with the other New Testament writers. Gen. 1:1reads “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” There cannot be anything unless there is a “cause” that is “uncaused”. A number of foundational theological doctrines stem from the truth that is revealed in the opening pages of Genesis.
- There are many people who have written extensively on this topic and it is way too much for me to include here in this message. I would strongly encourage you to read more about this subject, and there are many books that would be helpful for you. I have brought several from my library today that you can take a look at and order (there are many great ones to choose from that are not listed here as well). Here is a list of these resources.
- The Ultimate Proof of Creationby Jason Lisle.
- Creation or Evolution – Do We Have to Choose?by Denis Alexander.
- The New Answers Book, over 25 Questions on Creation/Evolution and the Bible by Ken Ham.
- Did Adam Have a Bellybutton?by Ken Ham.
- 40 Questions About Creation and Evolutionby Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker.
- Origins Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design by Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma
- I encourage you to continue to study these things and I trust that your confidence in the Bible and the soundness of your faith has been strengthened by what you have heard today.
- Know that your faith has a solid foundation and that what has been recorded is true and what has been promised will come true. We have all these things because of the grandeur of God and the love of Jesus Christ.
- Next week, we will explore the questions, “How Can You Say There Is Only One Way to God? What About Other Religions?”