I. The conversion and ministry of the Apostle PaulSome Bible experts consider this the second-most-important evidence, after the resurrection of course. My personal vote for that position would go to fulfilled prophecy. These two are strong contenders for second and third place.
Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus, a committed, well-trained, brilliant Jew, devoted to following and defending Judaism, the first leader of persecution of Christian believers, violently opposed to the new teachings of the Apostles. He sincerely believed they were in conflict with the teachings of the Old Testament, and therefore heresy, infidelity, an evil cult which must be stamped out for the good of the people and the glory of God. Suddenly he became the greatest missionary in the history of Christianity, the writer of many of the epistles of the New Testament, and finally a martyr. Paul made such a dominant contribution to Christian teaching and propagation that many skeptics claim Paul invented Christianity! What could have produced this 180 degree turnaround in his life? His own explanation was that Jesus Christ appeared to him one day as he was on his way to Damascus to arrest any Christians he could find there. No one has yet thought of a better explanation. So this must be placed near the sufficient end of the necessary-sufficient scale.
J. The date of writing of the original documentsFrom here on we leave the contents of the Bible and discuss its process of recording and transmission down through the centuries to the Bibles on our bookshelves. However authentic the revelation may have been at that time in the ancient world, how much do we know about it now?
The earliest writing in the Bible was probably the book of Job, about 2000 BC. The five books of Moses were written about 1400 BC. The Old Testament was almost all written in Hebrew. A few of the last parts were written in Aramaic, about 400 BC. These are the traditional dates, taking the text at face value. What evidence is there to confirm or dispute these dates?
The Dead Sea Scrolls (written 200-100 BC, discovered in 1948) prove the Old Testament was written well before 200 BC. The accompanying books express belief that the books of the Bible were ancient, authentic writings, and nearly all the evidence indicates they were in fact originally written long before 200 BC. See also comments on the documentary hypothesis, sec. D, 3.
The oldest existing copies of parts of the New Testament were written soon after 100 AD. Probably the earliest is a small piece of the Gospel of John, the John Rylands fragment, found in southern Egypt, dated 130 AD. This may be a copy directly from the original. Its being found in such a remote location indicates that it had already been in circulation for a period of time. John was the last of the gospels, and the one which most clearly teaches the deity of Jesus. Many skeptics claimed that it therefore must have been written several generations after the actual events of Christ’s life. The discovery of this fragment disproved that theory.
Many other fragments prove that the entire New Testament was written before the end of the first century, within the lifetime of Jesus’ friends and enemies. The evidence confirms what Christians have always believed, that the New Testament was written (in Greek) between 40 and 100 AD.
There is a strange double twist in skeptics’ theories about the writing of the four gospels. On one hand they once asserted as fact their assumption that the New Testament must have been written much later than the traditional first-century dates, because that would make its accounts questionable. On the other hand, Matthew, Mark, and maybe Luke have so much similarity in some parallel accounts that it is widely assumed by scholars, including conservative ones, that the writers must have obtained some of their material from an earlier document, dubbed Q. This places the earliest written account even closer to the original events, yet skeptics portray this as reason to doubt the accuracy of the story. Neither inspiration nor eyewitness authorship precludes use of reference material.
This point is neither necessary nor sufficient. By itself it proves nothing about whether the Bible is from God. Many other documents are also preserved from ancient times. But almost all skeptical theories of the origin of the Bible do not fit this fact of the date when the originals were written. Most theories assume the miracle stories and doctrines developed slowly during several centuries following the time of Christ. It is difficult to believe that they all developed within a fraction of a lifetime.
K. The preservation of the original textChristian faith is based on the contents of an ancient book, which claims to be a message from the God who created us, and therefore has the right to supreme authority in our personal life (see above, sections A, B, C). We are supposed to make all our important (and unimportant) decisions according to its teachings, even when that leads to apparent loss at the moment. Even given faith that the original events and writings were genuine divine revelation, are we sure enough now about the contents of those ancient documents to justify such strong faith in it? People facing martyrdom need to be sure enough about it to suffer and die for it!
We do not have any of the original manuscripts written by the authors themselves. We have many copies of copies of copies ..., written during the centuries after the original, some only small fragments, some complete. Of course what we now have is only a tiny fraction of the copies that were made; most have been wornout and thrown away. Only very exceptional conditions would allow an early copy to survive this long. Those few that now exist were lost for centuries in places with a very dry climate, fallen down behind a bookshelf or within a wall until finally discovered.1. Material
To determine what was written in the original manuscript, many scholars have spent their lives studying and comparing thousands of ancient copies, translations, and quotations in other books. Those who oppose faith in the Bible point to all the differences and problems, and claim that we cannot be certain what was originally written. However, the complexity of all this material is not a problem, but a solution. No other book from the ancient world has anywhere near as much material, with as short a time between the writing and the existing copies, as the Bible, especially the New Testament.
If only one copy had been made of the original, we could only wonder how accurate it was, and we would have no way to know. But there is no reason to doubt that several copies were quickly made of most of the original manuscripts, and sent to different places. We now have many copies of copies of…, and they were found in many different places, as indicated in this inverted-bush diagram. There was never a bottleneck, never any one person or place which possessed all the copies from which we obtain all of our present New Testament, and therefore there was no one who could have gotten away with altering its contents however they wished. We cannot make quite such a certain statement about the Old Testament. The final editing into its present form was probably done around 400 BC, perhaps done or supervised by Ezra. But as stated in connection with the Documentary Hypothesis (sec. D, 3), there is no basis for assuming that there was wholesale alteration and forging of the contents by these later editors.
Most of the thousands of differences among the manuscripts are trivial, unavoidable copying errors, and raise no question about the meaning. Comparison with other copies eliminates most of these errors. In the New Testament, there are only about 400 places where there is any question about the meaning of a doctrinal statement. Only about 50 are important questions. All of these are about a subject which is discussed in another place where there is no question. The essential doctrines of Christianity are all based on New Testament teachings, which of course extensively quote and interpret the Old Testament.
There are more uncertainties about the content of the Old Testament, but the Jewish scholars were amazingly careful in their copying. We do not have as much information about the meaning of Hebrew words as we do for Greek. Hebrew numbers are very easy to copy incorrectly. But the Old Testament is still by far one of the best-preserved ancient books in existence, second only to the New Testament.
As a condition for belief in the Bible, this point is necessary, but not sufficient.
This should be enough said on this subject, but there are two related questions on which there is often considerable confusion.
Canonicity means the status of a document as authoritative: When and how were these particular books chosen to become a part of the Bible?2. Canonicity
The Old Testament was accumulated through the generations of the Jewish nation, and accepted in that form by the early church. The New Testament and early church leaders quote from all parts of the Old Testament except a few of the smallest books, and often refer to it all as “the Scriptures,” which is God’s word. Jesus is recorded many times as referring to parts and the whole as God’s word.
Soon after AD 100 most churches were using the four Gospels, Acts (written together with the Gospel of Luke), Paul’s epistles to churches, Hebrews, James, I John, I Peter, and Revelation. The smaller epistles, written to individuals, were slower in being circulated. By 200 AD, almost all the present New Testament was widely accepted, with some question about the authors of Hebrews, James, and Jude.
Some early churches accepted some other books, written by their favorite leaders. Some of these still exist, and are valuable historical documents. But many have serious historical errors or other problems.
The church councils of Hippo Regius in 393, and Carthage in 397, made a list of the 27 books which make our present New Testament. They were representing long-established practice, not giving orders to change it. The choice was made on the basis of apostolicity, general acceptance, and the widespread sense of the HolySpirit’s confirmation as these teachings were believed and applied. No books outside the present 27 ever gained wide acceptance. They were clearly different from everything else. They were widely accepted, and nothing else even came close. There was discussion and even controversy at the voting councils, but there were no close calls, where some books narrowly missed acceptance and other narrowly gained it.
The Apocrypha is a collection of books which were written during the time between the Old and New Testaments. The (Roman Catholic) Council of Trent, in 1546, decided to make them part of the Bible, because they contained the basis for some of the Catholic Church’s doctrines which were rejected by the Protestant Reformation (beginning with Martin Luther in 1517). The Jews never accepted them, nor did the early church. There are no known quotations from them in the writings of the Church Fathers.
In the Apocrypha, I Maccabees 4:46; 9:27; 14:41 says there were no prophets at that time, so the writer certainly was not claiming to be one himself. This adds confirmation to the Jews’ and early Christians’ opinion, but this alone does not prove these writings are not inspired, because Ps. 74:9 in the Bible says the same thing, and Jesus accepted the entire Old Testament as inspired.
There are historical errors in some of them: Nebuchadnezzar is described as being in Nineveh (instead of Babylon), and a man who died in 758 BC is described as seeing both the revolt under Jeroboam (925 BC.) and the fall of Samaria (725 BC.).
This is a contentious point in some circles. To answer the first question, there are many reasons why there are so many English translations of the Bible, some of them good and some of them not so good (referring to both the reasons and the translations!). There is simply a very large market, and that market is affluent, educated, and blessed with political freedom and leisure time to do and say almost anything. It is true that no translation is perfect, and translation is at best a subjective process on which there is a wide variety of legitimate opinions and practices. I will not even try to begin here to list the best-known English translations, or compare them.3. Why are there so many English translations? Is the King James still the best?
There is of course a legitimate place for comparison and criticism of translations, and for personal preferences. The contention arises when some groups make the claim that the King James Version (of 1611 originally, with later revisions) was and still is the best English translation, to the extent of claiming for it some unique status as virtually inspired. They also cast aspersions on all other translations as unnecessary at best, in fact based on ulterior and heretical motives. In support of such allegations they list verses in which newer versions omit some words or phrases that are in the KJV, and this is interpreted as maliciously removing key biblical doctrines related to the Trinity, Jesus’ deity, and so on. They also ridicule the huge number of new versions, the questionable process and marketing of some of them, and the ongoing periodic revision of a few of them. All this is considered evidence of motives that are mercenary or worse, and admission of failure in accuracy of translation. In response I will make only some brief comments in principle; we cannot possibly get into the details here.
First, the issue is not what we think are important doctrines and passages on which they are based, but what the original authors wrote. When the critics of newer versions list these “lost” words and phrases, they forget to mention whether there is evidence that those words were in the original manuscripts. Thus they run the risk of claiming to correct the original authors, to whom these defenders of the KJV themselves attribute the authority of divine revelation.
The critics reject not only the English translations but the Greek (and Hebrew, but the focus is on the New Testament Greek) text from which it is translated. This text is the product of the complex scholarly comparison of ancient manuscripts, which is described above. Critics of newer versions extol the virtues of the Greek text used in 1611, and claim that although there have been many more and earlier ancient manuscripts discovered after that time, they do not in fact give a more reliable reconstruction of the original text, but rather are less reliable and should be disregarded. They also claim evidence of liberal bias in the process of comparison of manuscripts and revision of the “standard” Greek text, which has been ongoing in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In response, we must note that the ancient manuscripts are mostly available to qualified scholars, not held in secret somewhere, and there are many conservative scholars qualified to review them. No one could get away with a really serious distortion of the material. There may be some truth in allegations of bias in the research process, but the critics seem to be seriously overstating the problems.
Second, before we accept an accusation of deliberate sabotage of the Bible’s teaching, we must ask whether all the key texts on these points are distorted. The answer is “definitely not”; all the basic doctrines are still clearly supported in the current Greek text and in any reputable translation. So if there really was an attempt to delete these doctrines from the Bible, it was not successful.
Third, we must ask whether there are examples in the other direction, in which the newer translations include words and phrases not present in the KJV, supporting doctrinal points. The answer is that there are many such examples, so the critics’ own criterion could be turned against the KJV.
Fourth, stepping back slightly from this confrontation, we must ask how it could possibly be so important to defend a particular English translation. Those who speak English, while numerous and influential, are still a small minority in this world, and the entire debate is irrelevant to the vast majority. There could not possibly be a Spanish KJV, or French, or German, or Chinese (the world’s most widely-spoken language!), let alone in the languages of the thousands of small tribes in isolated locations. We who speak English are certainly blessed to the point of surfeit, with our shelves full of Bibles, while most of the world still waits for even one complete Bible in their mother tongue. This privilege is also a responsibility, which is not served by nasty squabbles about our versions. Such squabbles only confuse most bystanders, and give them the impression that no translation is reliable.
Fifth and finally, although it does seem inexcusable to have so many translations in one language while so many others have none, and some of the translations are seriously flawed, there is still legitimate cause for at least a certain number of translations, and ongoing revision of the ones we have. The English-speaking world is far from monolithic, spread across several countries and many social classes, and changing with time. A small part of that world can still be much larger than most of the still-untranslated language groups, if our priorities are to be guided by numbers alone. Having a limited number of translations done with varying, but still all competent, philosophies of the translation process, we thus have a valuable means of reference and cross-checking for the vast majority of us who have no hope of becoming competent in the original language.
I am a member of the last generation that grew up on the KJV, back when it was “the Bible,” and everyone carried a copy. We learned many Bible verses simply by osmosis, from sheer frequency of hearing them quoted from Sunday school to the Sunday service, as well as our own reading. This is what is still embedded in our memories, even if we have not read a KJV for years. Our children and grandchildren have an obstacle of profusion in the way of their Bible memorization, not hearing any one version often enough for osmosis to succeed, and uncertain even what version to choose when they deliberately set out to memorize. This is a considerable price to pay, and it would be desirable to achieve a broad convergence on a particular newer version.
However, I must point out that the good old days weren’t all good either. Sermons almost always required considerable time devoted to the explanation of archaic words or phrases, and the KJV is not above criticism in its accuracy of translation. There had come to be such a gap between “Bible language” and current speech that it was a significant barrier to those new to it. Even prayer for some reason had to be done with “thee” and “thou” and “thy” and “wouldst”, and those who hadn’t yet acquired this skill felt unqualified to pray in public or even in private. It contributed to the general impression that Christianity and God Himself had somehow gotten left behind in the 17th century and does not really understand the 20th let alone the 21st.
I am not aiming to degrade the achievement of the KJV Greek scholars and translators, but they weren’t perfect or inspired. I am not aiming to uphold any particular newer version, but language and culture do change, and there is a legitimate need for continuing production of new versions, and for ongoing revision of those versions. Such revision may be an indication of competence, not of subversion or failure.
If a particular new translation is especially suited to some types of people, and as a result they read the Bible more, and with more understanding, than they would have with some other translation, even a “better” one, then thank the Lord anyway. I would rather see people read a mildly flawed version that still leads them to the basic truths and a saving faith in God, than not read a perfect version (if one existed). And that is the reason this whole subject has been brought up in a book on science and faith. The legitimate debates on the relative merits of various translation methods and versions of the Bible need not be a barrier to anyone’s faith in the teaching and the God of the Bible.
This topic perhaps ought to be placed at the end of ch. 5, blind alleys. But it requires the background of this section.4. The Bible Code
Briefly, the Bible Code story is the claim that information is encoded in the text of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, that anticipates later and even modern events. The encoding consists of being spread through the Bible text in the form of choosing every n-th letter, with n from a few dozen to a few hundred. Some truly amazing things do turn up, such as the names of the apostles in a passage that is a Messianic prophecy, as well as information about the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, and the death of Princess Diana. The author is careful to clarify that this is not capable of producing fortune-teller type predictions, but only becomes apparent after an event has occurred and we know what to look for. This was published in a reputable journal of statistics in the mid-90s, very reluctantly, after first being rejected by the editor and referees, and reviewed extensively. The author challenged anyone to produce writing in which similar information is hidden, or find a similar phenomenon in anything besides the Bible, and the reviewers were unable to do so. In addition to that journal article, several books have been published by different writers. The conclusion is that only a superhuman intelligence could produce such coded information, especially about the distant future. This is the kind of thing that believers like to hear, and of course we believe that the God of the Bible is capable of encoding such information. The question is whether He did.
However, an article in early 1999 in the same journal contains an apparently effective refutation, specifically meeting the author’s challenge and finding exactly such amazing things in other books. Thus it seems that it is after all merely a matter of looking hard enough and long enough, and by chance something that looks relevant will turn up anywhere. The code is in the eye of the beholder. The details of this are in the book by Jeffery Sheler listed at the end of ch. 5.
One point made in that book is worth stating here. It is incredible that the precise original text could be preserved exactly down to the precise letter throughout passages of at least hundreds of letters, especially in the existing Old Testament manuscripts. This is what is necessary for such a code to be possible; a single misplaced letter would destroy the entire coded message. There are even different methods of writing ancient Hebrew. So it actually is rather embarrassing to find such a code apparently successful, and it is a relief to find the whole thing seemingly debunked. No doubt this is not the end of the story yet.
L. The survival and growth of ChristianityThe early Christians had no political power, position, wealth, organization, or weapons. From the beginning they were divided internally by argument and confusion about doctrine and behavior. Such conflicts were described and opposed as early as the later epistles of the New Testament. Christians were opposed at first by the Jewish government and religious leaders. Rome at first protected Christianity as a branch within Judaism, an approved religion. But the recalcitrant Jews wore out Rome’s patience, and the Empire destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish system in 70 AD. Even before that it began attacking Christians, and continued to do so in various times and places through the next three centuries.
Why did the government turn against Christianity? They preached and practiced respect for rulers, honesty, marital faithfulness, kindness, and many more virtues. What more could society want? It wanted worship of Caesar, the emperor. The prescribed expression of patriotism was worship of the emperor, and refusal was considered as treason. The rest of the population saw no problem in adding the emperor to their already-long list of gods, or in giving insincere assent to his worship. But these strange Christians placed themselves in harm’s way by insisting that they could only worship one God, and it wasn’t Caesar. Christians’ refusal to participate in emperor worship was used as an excuse to kill thousands of them in many brutal ways. The problem was compounded by widespread rumors that the mutual sharing and caring within the Christian community included sexual orgies, and that their communion services used real blood from human victims.
Roman society was skeptical, materialistic, pleasure-seeking,
proud of its culture and philosophy - just the same as present-day Eastern
and Western society. People can have their opinions on whether the Bible
is suitable to modern society, but at least they cannot say that modern
or even “post-modern” society is basically different from the society in
which Christianity started and grew. Many people do say this, but it is
a baseless excuse for unbelief. It reveals ignorance about the Roman world.
The Roman Empire is long since gone, but Christianity is still growing. It is still divided, arguing, confused; the term “Christianity” is claimed by so many groups and ideas that it is almost meaningless. It has seemed to be on the verge of collapse for 2000 years, and many branches of it have risen and fallen. Church history is a catalog of constant chaos. Its greatest danger has actually been from its friends, not its enemies. But the basic teaching of the Bible has continued to spread, and it is the only truly world-wide religion.
How can the survival and spread of Christianity be explained except as God’s work, guiding, protecting, and using His word and His workers? Its survival is of course a necessary condition for belief, and it is so amazing that it approaches sufficient.
M. The opposition it has faced, physical and intellectualFirst, there has been physical opposition, direct attack on the property, body, and life of Christians.
From the Roman Empire until the present, Christians have been accused of every possible crime, and ridiculed and killed. No other religion has faced this kind of opposition and still survived. Islam spread with a sword in its hand. Communism grew with a gun in its hand - and has mostly collapsed anyway in less than a century. There have been more martyrs for their Christian faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.
We must confess that Christians have also used a sword on some occasions: during the Crusades in the Holy Land, during the late Middle Ages in the Roman Catholic Inquisition, during some much smaller persecutions by Protestant groups, and in present-day ethnic battles in Ireland and Lebanon. But in all these cases the battles were actually politically motivated, with religion borrowed as an excuse, directly against the teachings of the Bible. It made no contribution to the spread of genuine Biblical Christian faith, and in fact has driven a large number of people away from belief in Christianity. The abominable actions of the Crusades a thousand years ago are still the Moslem world’s largest objection to Christianity. And the Jews have been widely persecuted in the name of Christ, with predictable reaction in their opinion of Christianity.
A brief comment is in order at this point to correct a widespread misapprehension, namely that attacks between Catholics and Protestants were nearly a tit-for-tat draw. Notice the comment above that persecutions by Protestants were much smaller. The respective body counts differ by at least one hundred to one. Any such persecution by Protestants at all is reprehensible, and tragic for its victims. No one denies that some occurred. But there was nothing comparable to the virtual genocide carried out by Catholic forces against Protestants, such as the massacre of the Huguenots in France. Notice that nearly all the early immigrants to America came to find religious freedom, specifically Protestants seeking refuge from Catholic attack. Catholic refugees from Protestant attack were a tiny minority.
Second, there has been much intellectual attack, ridiculing and attempting to disprove Christian faith. One major purpose of this book is to respond to such attacks.
Believers do not hide from society, but attempt to explain their beliefs and answer all questions. There have been outstanding scholars among conservative Christians through all generations, experts in every aspect of philosophy, history, language, and science. As mentioned in the introduction to ch. 4, many people seem to assume that there has not been a single thinker or scholar in 2000 years of Christendom. But I have not yet seen an “expert” critic of the Bible who mentions and refutes all the facts listed in this course. This indicates to me that the open-minded, reasonable conclusion is to believe the Bible.
At first this point seems to be neither necessary nor sufficient for belief. Any viewpoint will be criticized. But it is at least necessary, because the absence of opposition would prove that the Bible is not God’s word. The Bible says there is a devil, Satan, who has a large number of other, lesser, fallen angels in his service, and whose most important goal is to destroy the plan of God for this world and the human race. If we looked around and saw no opposition occurring, that would be a reason to doubt the Bible.
N. The Bible’s influence for good in societyThis point is too subjective to classify as either necessary or sufficient. The reader must judge its significance.
In the first place, what is “good”? Good is in the eye of the beholder. And yet there are many things that virtually everyone agrees are good: love, comfort, development of personal abilities, and freedom from violence, disease, and other generally recognized evils.
Furthermore, it is arguable whether the Bible has promoted good in the world. Many professing Christians have done many things that most people do not consider good, from arguments in the early church, to medieval Crusades against Moslems in Palestine, to religious wars in medieval Europe, to two world wars started between “Christian” European nations, to the faults of your Christian friends and neighbors and the churches in your home town.
The simple response is of course that we trust Christ, not Christians. Nobody ever said Christians are perfect. But there is more to say. The faults of Christians are not so easily excusable.
Most people consider the Bible to be the world’s highest moral standard. But this raises two objections. Is this just Christians’ prejudiced opinion? And even if it is true, is it helpful in practical life?
To answer the first question briefly, non-Christians have made statements agreeing that the Bible contains the highest moral standard of all. Who but Jesus Christ could teach us the Golden Rule, to love our enemies and do to others as you wish them to do to you? Perhaps the world’s second-highest standard is Confucius, with his famous exhortation “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” But even that is a negative statement, which falls far short of actually loving our enemies, blessing those who persecute us, returning good for evil, and leaving vengeance up to God.
Also, Christianity is unquestionably regarded as requiring conformity to its standards, not mere mental assent. You often hear comments about “How could a Christian do that?!” but when does anyone wonder “How could a Buddhist (or Moslem, Hindu, animist, agnostic, atheist) do that?!”
But the second question then comes: is it practical? It is no use to set a standard that no one can attain or intends to. But it seems that this is all that is expected in most people’s minds. Religion is a set of moral rules, and people are proud of their possession of a set of rules, yet pay little attention to following them. Anyone who does so is remarkable, a holy person, devout, set apart from ordinary life and society. We have often been told by Chinese people that they do not need Christianity, because they already have a moral standard. And we are commended for our exceptional devoutness in choosing a lifestyle and career centered around obeying and spreading our faith, even if that faith is considered narrow and prejudiced. The average Chinese person does not “have time” to be a Christian, expressing the concept that real practice of a religion requires withdrawal from society.
Christianity does require obedience in everyday life. The problem is that so many Christians do not obey the Bible. Does this mean the Bible is useless? It would if all Christians were seriously disobeying it. But not all of them do. Some Christians are outstanding, respected, loved, trusted. They do not withdraw from society. Though they refuse to be controlled by its standards and values, they are part of it and contribute to it. It is intensely practical; society would function far better if more people were like them, although that would result in unemployment for most of the police, lawyers, jail wardens, and locksmiths, and close down the liquor, gambling, tobacco, and sex industries.
When someone complains about all churches being imperfect, I tell them, “When you find a perfect church, please don’t join it. Then it won’t be perfect any more!” We of course cannot use this as a reason to excuse the faults of Christians, but on the other hand one important function of the church is for Christians to love and care for each other even though we are still less than perfect. It is people who have problems who are most likely to realize they need God and become believers. The church’s reason for existence is to accept and care for such people. Jesus said He came to call sinners, not the righteous (Matthew 9:13), though the Bible clearly teaches that no one is really righteous. Jesus was replying sarcastically to self-righteous critics.
You don’t blame the hospital because all the people who go into it are sick or injured, but judge it by how their condition is improved during their stay. Don’t judge Christians by comparing them with other people who have fewer faults; compare them with what they themselves used to be like. Give God credit for their progress, not blame that they still aren’t perfect. This is the balance between excusing all our faults and demanding perfection. Of course, some things demand a radical change; there is no virtue in murdering fewer people today than you did yesterday.
People outside the church tell us about the church’s faults; do they think we on the inside don’t know about a lot more faults than they do? Do they think that if we knew we would stop believing?
From the time of Christ onward, the influence of Christianity on society has mostly been what anyone would consider “good.” It has promoted the value of every individual, particularly respect and care for children, women, the poor, handicapped, and minorities. At the time of Christ a large proportion of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves; it was a slave-based society and economy with no concept of human rights. Within 300 years slavery had been abolished. This was not because Christians protested it, or revolted violently, or demanded their rights. The New Testament does not approve slavery, but neither does it condemn slavery or teach a specific doctrine of civil rights or democracy. In fact, it tells slaves to do their best to obey their masters. It teaches that all people are of equal value in God’s sight. A slave-owner who became a believer might find himself in church on Sunday alongside his slave as a brother in the Lord, perhaps even as a leader in the church. This unavoidably affected their relationship during the week too. Gradually the Christian way of thinking influenced the entire society, and slavery became unacceptable.
Christians were the leaders in almost every social reform movement before the 20th century in the West or anywhere else. No other philosophy or religion has successfully rescued so many people from the control of alcohol, drugs, crime, broken marriages, family conflict, and other conflicts. The only really effective way to change society is to change individuals, which is the subject of the next section. Modern scientific research, the concepts of hospitals, public education, personal counseling, and democracy all developed and spread in the Western world when it was most strongly influenced by Biblical teaching, even though the Bible does not specifically teach any of these things.
These liberating social concepts and services were spread around the world by Christian missionaries beginning in the 18th century, reaching its peak in the late 19th and early 20th. They started most of the schools and hospitals in Asia and Africa, especially those that provided services for women, children, the handicapped, and other disadvantaged groups. Most of these missionaries worked sacrificially, motivated by their love for God and His love for others. We must admit that they made many mistakes in misunderstanding and rejecting the native culture and way of life. A few so-called missionaries exploited the people and resources, and thus became personally wealthy and influential. But those who blame missionaries for all these faults must also admit that most of them suffered poverty, rejection, and sickness. Many of them and their children died and were buried there. 19th-century missionaries to some parts of Africa knew that 19 out of 20 of them would be dead within two years from tropical diseases, before they even had time to learn the language and spread the gospel. They brought their belongings with them in a casket, not expecting ever to return home. Some other places were almost as deadly. Yet they went.
Many of their national students and patients became believers, and leaders not only of their churches but of their nations and further social reform. It was Chinese Christians who banished the excruciating practice of foot-binding for girls from their society, and led the beginning steps toward democracy. The staff of early missionary hospitals and schools throughout Africa and Asia were mostly national believers, because no one else was willing to perform these services. Christianity brought compassion and care to societies that previously had nothing better than heartless and superficial handouts motivated by the givers’ desire to accumulate merit for themselves. Because Christians are not living for this world’s benefits, they are the most free to care for it, free to give to it without expecting to receive anything in return from it.
I do not belittle the commitment and sacrifice that has been demonstrated by many non-Christians in social reform efforts, particularly in the 20th century. But I do wish to point out that an objective, balanced evaluation shows that the origin of most of these movements was based squarely on a Christian heritage. Review the descriptions of “heathen” life in sec. D. Those customs went on for centuries, and their native religions seemed to have no interest in opposing them. The rare protesters were extremely counter-culture. It was only under the influence of Christian teaching and concern that reforms were begun. There have of course been many abuses in “Christian” societies as well, but these are mostly due to departure from Biblical principles, and would be corrected by a return to those principles.
It is actually quite amazing that the Bible has had a good influence on society. It does not discuss any basic philosophical issues as such, but it gives a comprehensive world view and value system. It gives no specific instructions for government or economic systems, not even opposing the Roman Empire or slavery, but the countries which have been most influenced by it have been the world’s most politically stable and economically prosperous. It tells us how to live under any system and improve it by improving people. There is no simple solution for the world’s political and economic problems.
Democracy requires brief specific comment. Most Western Christians consider democracy to be a basic Christian concept, and many tie capitalism into the package as well. This is a faulty, even dangerous, viewpoint. When built on a foundation of Biblical principles, democracy and capitalism have brought many benefits. But without that foundation both become chaos and oppression. No system is good if people’s heart is wrong, not even democracy, which will soon collapse into anarchy if most people use it as an excuse for selfish, destructive activity. This has happened in most of the formerly communist countries, and is happening also in Western and Eastern capitalist countries that reject Biblical principles. Societies prosper when they follow Biblical principles (even when they do not believe the Bible, such as post-war Japan), and collapse when they do not, which is happening before our eyes in post-modern society.
Hell cannot tolerate democracy, and heaven does not need it. Democracy is a fragile, highly inefficient balance between restraint of human evil and development of human virtue. When people have no self-restraint, they need imposed restraint to prevent anarchy. Science and freedom grew in the soil of Biblical beliefs, and Western society is now determinedly pounding that soil off the roots. How long can the plant survive? (See also the discussion of current trends in ch. 5, V, B.)
The Bible also has no direct instructions about the environment, but it produces respect for the world as God’s handiwork entrusted to our care. It forbids cruelty to animals, forbids greed and destruction, and gives value, purpose, and restraint to both work and pleasure. If we all followed these principles, the environment would be getting better, not worse.
Along with the benefits of the Bible’s influence on society, we must compare this with the influence of the lack of Biblical influence in many societies, including much of our own.
Sec. D, 5 discussed the lifestyle of the Canaanites whom the Israelites were instructed to eliminate. No doubt those people lived much like similar primitive modern-day idol- and spirit-worshipping tribal societies do throughout the world, with constant fears of the unknown spirits and darkness around them, and of neighboring tribes with whom they are constantly battling. They live an exploited, troubled, and usually (mercifully) short life, and many of them are extinct or nearing extinction due to murder and disease. Disease is common due to unsanitary and outright injurious practices entwined in their religious and social customs, aggravated by home-brewed liquors and inadequate nutrition. Worst of all, and very strangely, these miserable people influence everyone around them to join in their misery. Beyond a certain degree of severity, this is like cancer, which must be removed before it destroys the entire body. That is precisely what God intended to do with the ancient Canaanites, who exceeded the tolerable severity.
Superstitious folk-religion practices blame many events on malicious spirits, and it is not uncommon for a string of events to be traced by the village shaman to the spirit of a particular person in the village. That person then faces the instant alternative of death or banishment, often resulting in the breaking of a family because a parent must flee never to return. It is unfortunately often the mother, and her subsequent life as a fugitive is difficult to imagine, as well as that of the suddenly bereft children and father. Or the person may get off “easy” with some sort of sacrifice that is ruinous to their already destitute financial condition, or else some sort of taboo that restricts their already insufficient nutrition. There is no such thing as the “happy heathen” who would be very well off if they were just left alone, and whom missionaries do more harm than good; that is a figment of anthropologists’ imagination. Anthropologists’ television documentaries somehow fail to mention these aspects of life, and instead blame missionaries for disrupting and damaging their culture. They are strangely less zealous in reporting the disruption brought by logging and other development, not to mention “modern” entertainment and social behavior. In most primitive areas nowadays, it is the missionaries who are in the forefront of efforts to preserve languages and cultures from extinction under the onslaught of the global village, as well as rescue them from the devastation of their original practices and bring them the positive aspects of modern health and services.
Much of this is also true of many technologically modern societies, and was worse until the recent past. What goes on in many societies around the world is not widely known in more prosperous and educated circles. Children are widely abused and exploited, especially orphans and girls, and infanticide is common. However much this may be extenuated by conditions of poverty and lack of birth control, the casual and fatalistic outlook on it is still shocking. Women are deeply second-class members of many societies, hardly considered more than property and baby machines, and subject to destruction if they prove unsubmissive or incapable, or even simply inconvenient. Many baby girls were either actively killed or passively exposed to the wild in many primitive societies, as well as highly cultured China and India. The centuries-old practice of excruciating non-anesthetized “female circumcision” is still widespread in Moslem society. Millions of Chinese girls were kept under virtual house arrest until their wedding day, arranged without their consent by their parents and others, at which they met their husband for the first time, and thereafter were a prisoner in his house. In “preparation” for this role, many of them endured the torture and handicap of bound feet beginning in their early childhood. Fortunately, that ended in the early 20th century, and only a few elderly women could still be seen tottering on tiny feet when we arrived in Taiwan in 1976. In India for centuries widows were burned alive on their husband’s funeral fire, and often thesewidows were young girls. The forced marriage of these young girls in the first place is a gross abuse which still continues, even though fortunately the burning has been eliminated. But sexual exploitation in temples and tourist centers continues unabated in many countries around the world. There is no country in which sexual abuse of children does not occur, but there are countries in which it is flagrant and the government and society seem not to care.
While we are considering the condition of the “heathen,” (a term used in past generations by Christians to refer to all others, often pejoratively) it is worth pointing out what is becoming of our “modern” society which is turning away from respect for a higher authority. It also seems to be heading toward extinction, just like primitive heathen; the only difference is that our weapons of mutual murder and self-destruction are guns, industrial pollution, or even nuclear weapons, and our fatal diseases are mostly sexually transmitted.
Abortion is one of the primary battlefronts in the transformation of our society. We practice infanticide shortly before birth instead of shortly after, but that distinction is being zealously blurred by the practice of abortion, particularly the grisly barbarism of partial-birth abortion. It is amazing that even the advocates of abortion are willing to call their opponents “pro-life.” What is the opposite of life? But rather than call themselves pro-death, they call themselves “pro-choice.” The problem is, whose choice? It is not merely a matter of a woman’s body and reproductive freedom. There are at least two other persons involved in this choice. The smaller of them is unable to speak, and is given no participation at all in the choice. The larger one, the father, often is absent and irresponsible, or even present and irresponsible, but there are cases in which he is opposed to the abortion but ignored.
The pro-choice movement exploits the legitimate concerns of involuntarily exploited and abused women, and makes that an excuse for attempting to evade the consequences of voluntarily practicing a promiscuous lifestyle. The professed compassion of pro-choice advocates will be more convincing when they stop evading the question of when an embryo becomes an individual, and particularly when they acknowledge the problems of post-abortion syndrome experienced by most women who have an abortion. They experience depression and feelings of guilt and loss, and no effort at all is made to help them anticipate or deal with this. Only Christians are making efforts to provide an alternative to abortion, and provide compassion and support in all problem pregnancies whether aborted or completed.
The value of children after birth is being dragged down along with that of the yet-unborn, with rising rates of abuse and even death. It is no wonder that such a society is displeased by the idea that God exercises discipline of nations according to their behavior. If God does not do something, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Canaan.
The departure from Biblical concepts also opens the door to redefinition of marriage and the family. Is the drastic increase in divorce and remarriage resulting in greater happiness? That may be difficult to answer, because of the amount of unexpressed unhappiness in past, more traditional, generations. Be that as it may, the experiment does not seem to have been much progress. As for departing even further from Biblical norms, into same-sex marriage, that was discussed briefly in ch. 4, IV, B, 1, and more in sec. IV below.
These problems are of course not a pretext for us to presume to eliminate any individual or group, by murder or war, for our own purposes (see also ch. 4, IV, B, 3 on the results of suffering). According to the Bible, government is established to provide justice through due process. Individuals are forbidden to carry out personal revenge. There is no conflict between Biblically authorized capital punishment and the Biblical command “You shall not kill.” Government is authorized, and responsible, to provide justice and protection, and those in authority are placed there by God and will give account to Him for their performance. This Biblical teaching was almost all given in a context of monarchy, not democracy, but we discussed that already.
Not only does the Bible not directly address political issues, it seems not to answer the basic philosophical questions, at least not in the terms in which the philosophers ask them, about ethics and epistemology and so on. But if this is used as a reason to reject the Bible, it seems that naturalism does not answer any of them either, but has led to despair over finding any answers. The Bible does give information about the origin, condition, and destiny of the universe and human life; if those are not philosophical questions, then the philosophers are asking the wrong questions.
We need standards, but no other religion or philosophy has successfully provided a basis for its ethical standards, nor power to change the human heart to enable us to obey it. They have standards, and goals, and many people accept them, but they have no ultimate answer to the question “Why?” Why should we do good to others, serve society, etc? They can only appeal to our feelings, in which case you either feel like agreeing, or you don’t. If you don’t, they have no more to say. And even if you agree, you often are unable to do as you wish you could.
Ancient philosophy in both East and West had no basis for absolute standards. Only the Hebrew Old Testament and Christian New Testament taught that there is one true God Who is absolute. European culture for a few recent centuries accepted this, and during that time produced modern science, prosperity, and (to a limited extent) successful democracy. But they soon began trying to reject the basis but still enjoy the benefits, and those in power committed much exploitation both within their own countries and elsewhere in the world. They even often linked it with their professed Christian faith. Among those openly renouncing the Bible, the history of Western philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries was a series of unsuccessful attempts to build a standard of truth and ethics on reason and science alone, without being based in God. In the 19th century some like Nietzsche realized it could not be done, and in the 20th century this realization became widely accepted. Nietzsche went insane, and the “free” world at the beginning of the 21th century is following his example. But they still are unwilling to return to faith and obedience to God, the beliefs on which progress was once built, preferring the “freedom” of hopelessness and relativism. They can only cling to a baseless optimism that we can somehow, someday, solve our increasing problems. Or they resign themselves to pessimism.
It is frightening but true that not only Nazism and Marxist communism, but also modern non-Christian Western “free” society, is based on these ideas, hoping we can solve all of our problems using education, science, technology, and government. It is a curious and dangerous phenomenon in modern society, that there is widespread simultaneous assent to two mutually exclusive principles: the individual’s right to unrestricted freedom of action and choice, and the government’s duty to protect everyone from any harm or danger due to her own or others’ behavior. This ambivalence appears in many forms. People talk about tolerance, pluralism, and relativism, but as soon as they experience personal injury or loss they make some very absolute statements about their “rights,” “should,” “should not,” etc. We demand freedom of thought and expression, yet expect our educational system to mold our children’s thoughts and values. And that contains a double contradiction, because the thoughts and values which are permitted to be propagated in public schools aggressively exclude anything remotely approaching Christianity’s standards of absolute right and wrong, let alone an explicit Biblical basis for them. Atheistic naturalism is the established religion of the US today, in the guise of avoiding offense to anyone’s beliefs (except of course Christians, who deserve to be offended). And in the application of this policy, it is forbidden for teachers or students to mention in the science classroom or anywhere else that there are any legitimate doubts about the theory of Darwinian evolution as the explanation of our own origin (ch. 6, II). So much for academic freedom, let alone freedom of speech. Once again, when we remove God from our life we must make ourselves God.
All genuine efforts at improvement of laws, society, and environment should be done, and there is certainly room for improvement, but there is no hope that they will succeed in improving individual human nature, and society is composed of individuals. With the Biblical conceptual base largely rejected, it is doubtful whether science, prosperity, and democracy can long survive in Western society, let alone grow in other societies where the attempt has been made to transplant these concepts and systems without any such conceptual base. The world news is not encouraging as I write this in 2000.
This rejection of absolutes extends not only to moral issues but to the very concept of truth itself. Post-modernism is the assertion that there is no absolute truth of any kind, that what is true for you is not necessarily true for me. In response, I ask (for the umpteenth time) “Is there absolutely no truth?” and assert that that is not true for me. Tolerance and diversity are the current supreme virtues, but they are given a contradictory definition that tolerates no possession or assertion of convictions. In the US there are now even laws against “hate crimes,” which were passed on the pretext of responding to some truly shocking incidents of violence against people of different races, religion, or sexual preference simply because they are different. But these laws are sometimes being applied as outlawing the expression of one’s own religious beliefs, and particularly of sharing them in a way intended to influence others to adopt the same beliefs. The most grievous offense of course is to express Christian beliefs, and many suspect that this was the real goal for which these laws were formed in the first place. All this in the name of tolerance, in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” To pass and apply such a law is itself a hate crime.
These laws are a legal can of worms that lawyers will spend years disentangling, if it can be disentangled. They make a special offense out of harming particular groups of people, thus giving less protection to those who are not included in such groups, and this is an obvious case of unequal rights. The outcome will be interesting to watch, and in the meantime make sure you are neither in a hated group nor in an unprotected group…
Post-modernism even undermines the use of language. It includes the principle of deconstruction, in which literature can mean anything to the reader, unconstrained by the meaning the author had in mind. Therefore words do not really mean anything. And post-modernists really mean this! Such a glaring self-contradiction is of course suicidal, and is obvious to many thinkers who have no Christian convictions at stake, only their own sanity and civilization which is being dismantled in the “culture wars” going on throughout the academic world, and expressed so pervasively in our “entertainment.” Logical or not, it is being applied to our life and society with disastrous consequences.
Post-modernism will no doubt before long pass into the philosophical history books along with many similar predecessors, only to be succeeded by similar lunacy in still another new guise. Without a concept of truth, where else can our society go? This is a dead end. It is not an argument about accuracy of different maps, but the rejection of all maps.
As applied to legal questions, this is the basis for the current trend toward a “living constitution” and legislation by the courts, handing down decisions based on the judges’ personal philosophy with little regard for the meaning intended by the authors of the Constitution let alone other laws or elections. This is a subversion of the entire structure of democratic government and legislation, but that is to be expected when the basis for democracy has been jettisoned.
This is the alternative to the Bible’s influence on society, occurring before our eyes.
Given these 14 points about the Bible (plus one more
below), how can we explain the writing and survival of this book? The authors
were either prophets (or apostles), liars, or lunatics. The only simple,
reasonable, consistent theory is that they were prophets, and that there
is a power far greater than the ability of the human writers, which guided
them in writing the Bible. This power is the God of the Bible, who claims
to be the Maker of heaven and earth and us. Throughout history He has been
changing the lives of those who believe in Him, and He continues to do
so today. That is the following, final point.