Could you answer hard questions about the Bible from those who are sceptical? Heather Tomlinson shares some advice
If you’ve spent most of your life as a Christian, and so accept the Bible as God’s revelation, it can be hard to understand some of the questions and objections to this belief from the outside world.
But if you think about it for a moment, those doubts are reasonable, from someone who has not had much contact with Christianity or who knows much about the Bible. After all, there are umpteen documents that are believed by various different groups, from Mormons to Muslims, to be God’s word to us.
We know that the Bible was written by lots of different human beings, and we know that humans often embellish or change stories for all kinds of reasons. So why should we believe that it is the primary communication of God to mankind?
Many Christians just take it as a question of faith, or as a work of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to understand what God is saying. However valid this is, these responses aren’t very compelling to someone who has no Christian faith or no knowledge of the Holy Spirit. So what should we say to this question?
1. It’s powerful
We’ve all heard stories of people coming to faith because they asked God to reveal himself, or asked him to help them to understand the Bible. For me it has become the Living Word of God, speaking to me very deeply – though it took some time in my relationship with God for this to happen. Even some who come to the Bible to try to discredit it find that they come to faith; David Wood being one example, who tried to prove Christianity wrong while in a prison cell, but left it as a believer. So just engaging with the Bible – reading it and asking questions - is a good place to start, as well as asking God for help.
2. Jesus stands out
I began my spiritual journey by reading lots of other scriptures, including the Koran and the Gnostic Gospels. I didn’t find anything compelling. What started my Christian journey was reading about Jesus in the biblical gospels, particularly Matthew. It was the teaching and behaviour of Jesus that struck me. I felt deeply that I wanted to live this life that Jesus outlined; to not be angry, to be compassionate to the suffering, to forgive enemies and not to respond with violence. (I found out later that I was incapable of doing so, and needed forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, but that’s another story).
Jesus leapt out from the pages, and still does; his personality, his life, and his love. So my first answer to the question ‘Why is the Bible God’s word?’ is to say; because it speaks of Jesus, it is our primary and most authentic record of what Jesus did and said, and that I find this man to be amazing. And I’d say, read it for yourself, and decide – do you want this Jesus, who is recorded in the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
3. It’s reliable
Some might say, well how do we know it’s the most accurate record? For me the difference between the biblical gospels and the later Gnostic gospels was obvious when I read them, even before I was a believer; and there are plenty of reasonable arguments for the case that the four gospels of the Bible are the most accurate historical accounts that we have of Jesus’ life. There are umpteen academics who believe this to be true. While it’s commonly thought that the ‘Bible has been changed’, check out some of the arguments that its meaning has been preserved.
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4. Fulfilled prophecy
One of the most interesting things about the Bible is the predictions in the Old Testament and how they relate to the events of Jesus’ life in the New. For some of these, a hardened skeptic could argue that later scribes made up events to fit in with the Old Testament prophecies. However for the predictions in Isaiah 53 I think this is a difficult case to make, and given that it outlines the Christian message clearly, it’s worth exploring. The text says that the sins of the people will be born by an innocent man. We have copies of this that were written before Jesus’ birth, so we know the prophecy existed before his life and the meaning hasn’t been changed. It uncannily predicts what happened to Jesus, and clearly explains why he died – so that we could be declared righteous despite our sins and mistakes. Listen to some Jewish people engaging with this chapter for the first time.
There’s so much more to be said, from various different angles: the experience of the Bible coming alive, intellectual arguments, historical arguments and so on. It’s worth seeking them out.
Heather Tomlinson is a freelance journalist. You can find her on twitter @HeatherTomli or through her blog http://www.heathert.org