Objections to the Bible

Modernist objections

Modernism is the name given to the prevailing culture in the western world for at least the last century and a half. Many people say that modernism is on its last legs but modernist objections to the Bible are still prevalent. Here are five.
The modernist objection to the Bible is summarised simply as 'it isn't true'. This is an approach that goes right back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who questioned 'has God really said!'

Post-modern objections:

Many people claim that western culture is entering a new era, called post-modernism. Of course others dispute this and simply say that post-modernism is not in the least bit post but just modernism come to full fruition. The reason for calling it 'post' is to make us feel progressive.

Postmodernists object to modernism and therefore question the constant appeal to truth. To some extent postmodernism can feel like an ally to Biblical Christians. But this assault on truth also turns out to be an assault on the truth of the Bible from a different angle. Here are just three objections postmodernists raise:

These things don't happen

Modern man, it was said, could not be expected to believe in miracles or in the idea that in Jesus God had ‘become flesh’. To people who were ruled by reason and science anything we cannot see or deduce cannot be believed.

Some theologians took to ‘demythologising the bible’, which means that they tried to remove from the Christian faith, all the bits that they saw as primitive, that is anything super-natural and concerning the deity of Jesus, the power of prayer etc. This view has caused serious problems in many of old denominations and has led to their rapid decline. In the end this sort of religion satisfies no-one except a certain brand of intellectuals. At the time of Jesus, the party of the Sadducees held these sort of views.
Jesus' response to them was to tell them that they knew 'neither the power of God, nor the scriptures'.
To suggest that God cannot do the things in the Bible ought to be patently absurd, except that many do not want a God like that.

Because the main line churches failed to address the spiritual needs of people we have seen a rapid growth of interest in the satanic, in the paranormal and in the supernatural within alternative religions.

Today we are witnessing the death of modernism, a growing recognition that science and reason have not and cannot provide the answers. Christians should rejoice at this. In the post-modern world belief in miracle and supernatural is quite acceptable.

History shows the bible to be false.
In early 1993 a national newspaper in theUK reported the assertion of a world renowned scholar that the Old Testament was almost entirely myth having little grounding in historical reality. This sort of view has been held by many people over the last 150 years. In particular the article said that there was no historical or archaeological evidence outside of the Bible that David, King of Israel, ever existed. Clearly if David had not existed this puts the testimony of the Bible under a deep shadow.

As a book of history the Bible contains far more information than other ancient manuscripts, but scholars have claimed it is untrustworthy. It was probably quite a shock to many people to realise that outside of the Bible there was no historical evidence for David at all.

Later in 1993 the same newspaper reported on a new archaeological discovery in Jerusalem. It is an inscription which refers to the house of David, and may well describe him as King. The newspaper did the honourable thing and pointed out how this disproved the claim made earlier in the year.

In the past this sort of claim about the untrustworthiness of the Bible has been common. Evidence has later proved the critics wrong. For example many people last century said that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because writing had not been invented in Moses’ day. In fact there is now evidence that writing existed more than 1000 years before the time of Moses.

Similar claims existed and continue around the book of Daniel. The book is set in Babylon where ancient records are quite extensive. Daniel mentions King Belshazzar, but there were no records of such a king, and no room for him in the records. So scholars said Daniel was wrong. More recent evidence has revealed that Belshazzar was the son of King Nabonidus, for 13 years he was co-regent because Nabonidus was abroad leading army in various campaigns. As far as people at the time were concerned Belshazzar was King. The Bible says that when Daniel was elevated by the King he was made the third most important person in the kingdom. The Bible does not explain what this means, but it seems likely that this means 3rd after Nabonidus and Belshazzar.

Archaeology shows the bible to be false.
This is similar to the argument about History but mostly revolves around dates.

In many bibles, at the front or back are to be found time charts, which show the dates of events in the bible. In almost every instance the dates are taken from archaeology and not from the bible.

The particular problem surrounds the date when the Israelites left Egypt and conquered the promised land. Archaeologists said the Exodus had to be around 1250BC or 1200BC.
The bible very clearly says that the Exodus was 480 years before Solomon began work on the Temple, this implies around 1500BC.
Which should we believe?

Early in 1996 there was a series of 3 television programs on Egyptian Archaeology. The presenter was not a Christian, nor a biblical scholar. However during the programs he challenged the conventional dating of Egyptian history. As part of this he also showed how tenuous the cross dating with Biblical history is (based on one uncertain reference in the Bible to an Egyptian Pharaoh called Shishak). He suggested a new dating for Egyptian history and showed how his dates fitted perfectly with some of the things the Bible says. He did not set out to prove the Bible, nor did he believe its message, or indeed all its history.

Whether the presenter was correct in all he said, what the program showed very clearly is that archaeology is an imprecise field of study and many of the conclsions which are accepted and taught as solid fact are actually only tenuous hypotheses built on very flimsy evidence. Unless there is compelling evidence otherwise (and there is not) it is only reasonable to accept what the Bible says.

There are contradictions in the Bible.
Christians who accept the authority and God-givenness of the bible sometimes use the words ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’. These words do not mean that we have studied and examined the bible in minute detail and found that it contains no errors. Rather they represent the assertion that to say the bible is God-breathed must mean it is true. To suggest that God does not know what he is talking about or that God says one thing one day and something contradictory the next is plainly absurd. Because the Bible is God’s word, our belief about it is shaped by what we believe about God.

This said, it has to be admitted that there are difficulties with the Bible.
The person who does not believe the Bible is God’s word, will look at the difficulties and say that they prove that the Bible is not the word of God.
The person who believes the Bible is God’s word will admit that there are difficulties but also come with humility to the Bible, they will admit there are things they do not or indeed cannot know. One day all will be clear.

It is accepted that there is a certain circularity here, and that to the sceptic the person who accepts the Bible can appear closed off to reason, this is not true. In response however, we ask that everyone should be honest about their presuppositions. It should be explained clearly that we believe the Bible in the first instance because of the teaching of Jesus.

Most of the supposed difficulties actually evaporate once you read the bible with a degree of common sense and openness.
Some difficulties are caused by the fact that the manuscripts appear at times to have been mis-copied, in particular, some numbers differ from place to place, as do names.
There are however difficulties that remain. These are not formal contradictions, but usually places where the meaning of the bible is obscure to us, which does not to say it was obscure when written.

The bible believing Christian will say that we must not sit in judgement on the word of God. In this, as in all areas we should remain humble and admit that we are not all-knowing.

There is a formal theorem in logic called incompleteness - which asserts that there are always theorems we can neither prove not disprove - it was shattering to mathematicians when first proved. In our world today, this does not sound as obscurantist as it once did, reason has lost its crown and scientists too have having to admit there are things we do not and maybe cannot know.

I cannot believe in a God like that!
This is usually the response of people to the Old Testament. It has in the past been said that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgement and wrath, whereas the God of the New Testament is a God of love.

This is nonsense, as is obvious when we look at Jesus' attitude to the Old Testament.

The love and wrath of God are evident throughout the Bible, both occur in New and Old Testament as any careful reader will spot. It is in the parables and teaching of Jesus where the belief in punishment and hell is most clearly spelt out.

When someone says ‘I cannot believe in a God like that’ the question has to be asked ‘What sort of God do you believe in?’

If the bible is what God has said, the God who reveals himself to us through the Bible is the true God. Once we start picking and choosing the bits of the bible we like (which we all do to some extent) we are getting close to idolatry - that is we are making our own god.

There is no use reasoning with idolatry, it must simply be confronted. Do you believe in the God who is, or a god who you would like there to be?

The first four objections all concern truth, is the bible true or false, though in the fifth objection we strayed into feeling.
This was the realm of modernism, reason, rationality, truth - ‘has God said?’

We are in the middle of a culture shift from modernism to post-modernism. For post-modern people there is not such things as absolute truth, what is true is what is true for me. Morality will be a matter of personal choice, reason is being displaced by feeling. As part of this is the growth of new-age religion, a synthesis of ancient paganism, eastern philosophy and in some cases post-modern science.

The culture of the first century BC was very similar to the culture we are moving into. Greek culture was rationalistic but dead, the Romans imposed a new world order, the world was united under one rule, all religions were tolerated. Into this environment the disciples of Christ took the gospel and over three centuries changed the world.

The clarion call of post-modernism are the words of the Roman procurator  Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus:
‘Jesus answered ... For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Pilate said to him. “What is truth.”
And when he had said this, he went out...’  John chapter 19 verse 37 & 38.

Mere words cannot express ultimate reality.
Tied up here is the whole theory of language, the way we use words, their meaning and how they relate to what they refer to. It is a bewildering minefield.

Christians believe that God created us, He therefore gave us language, it is a medium that He invented, and He communicates with us in language. There is nothing problematical about this if you believe God made us language communicating
beings. If the Bible is God-breathed, what He has said, then the words have one and only one meaning, what God means by them.

The bible is just one story among many.
Story is a common theme of post-modernism, everyone has a story. The bible too has a story and we see where these stories intercept. Post-moderns are not concerned about the truth of the bible, that is irrelevant, what matters is how the story of the bible intercepts with our stories. Where it intercepts we may gain from it, where it does not, it means nothing to us.

Once you see through it, this language is just a variant of the serpents questions ‘has God said?’ but it is cunningly and cleverly disguised.

We can affirm that the Bible is a story, Jesus leads us to see that, the Bible is His-story from beginning to end. The trouble is that this story does not intercept with other stories, but it consumes them altogether.

The history of the Bible begins with the beginning and ends with the end. It encompasses the entirety of human history from Adam to the final judgement. The Christian claim, which will infuriate post-moderns, is that you cannot live out your story
without reference to His-story.

What is truth?
Postmodernism objects strongly to the claim of Jesus:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”   John chapter 14 verse 6

The Roman empire was just the same. They tolerated all religions, but the one thing they could not tolerate were the claims Jews and Christians made to hold absolute truth, to worship the one true and living God. The Roman empire tried to crush Christians over three centuries, in the end the empire became Christian.
In our western world today the one thing that no-one can tolerate is intolerance!

Christians claim that there is but one true God, and that he has spoken.  It is at this point that the tolerance of post-moderns will break down. We already see the signs of this today.

David Phillips  1997

© David Phillips 1995-2021