Posted: Sep 18, 2013 1:32 am
by willhud9
Scripture. The Bible. The Good Book. The Holy Word. Whatever, you call it, in Christianity there is no single document, no single anthology of history, wisdom literature, and theology than the Bible. So of course, defending its reliability is a serious task. Of course, you can have Christianity without the Bible, but as we can see the sects of Christianity that go away from the foundation of the Bible can indefinitely make even more outstanding claims without any source of fact checking. The Bible is a standard not only for individuals, but for the Christian church. It provides insight into the history of Israel and God's promises, and gives wisdom to those who seek it.

My post will consist of three main parts. The first shall be the overview of the history of the Bible, it's authorship, the various scholarly opinions held by different people. The second shall be the discussion of history and exaggeration, and why exaggeration does not discredit reliability, and the third is simply my reasoning why the Bible is reliable and therefore rational.

Part One.

When was the Bible written? By whom was it written? Many conservative Christians seek to answer that question with the Sunday school answer of : The Bible was written by God. But it wasn't. It was written by man. Even the doctrine of Biblical inspiration, does not negate that the words written were words written by man, not God or angels. Because of this, a lot of the Bible is cultural material. As I will argue in part three, this by no means discredits the Bible, but it does serve a reminder that one cannot read a part of the Bible and try to apply it as if there is no difference between 5th century BCE Palestine and 21st century America, or Europe, etc.

So what is the Bible? The Bible is a collection of writings, letters, prophecies, etc. in one anthology. In most Bibles there are three parts. The Old Testament, books written before the time of Jesus, the New Testament, letters and Gospels written after Jesus' death, and the Apocrypha, books not really accepted as canon but contain cultural information such as the book of Enoch.

Most of the Old Testament was written in its final form around the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Some scholars go as far to say that most of the books were actually conceived during this period and I think that is a weak idea at best. Historians agree that the written form we currently have was definitely a second temple era piece, but the underlying components of the books were not. For example, Leviticus comes from an era much earlier than that of Deuteronomy. The contents of Samuel and Kings are also older than the time they were finally written, suggesting either a strong oral tradition or writings we do not have.

So who wrote the various books? Traditionally the first five books were attributed to Moses, but as historians investigated, it is doubtful Moses actually wrote anything. I do not question whether or not he was a historical person, as there is no evidence to make a definitive statement either way. But the Pentateuch was most likely composed during the time of Israelite monarchy, and then latter added to in the time of captivity to reflect on the nature of disobedience to God carries punishment. The books Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings were most likely written in a similar fashion. The wisdom literature, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs, were written scattered and were finally placed in a collection of writings around the second temple era. The prophets are lot trickier to pin point an author and date. Isaiah and Ezekial, for the most part can be attributed to the name's of the writings during the age they were writing in. But in Isaiah we know a second and perhaps a third author added information at the end most likely following with the belief in a messianic figure which accompanied second temple thoughts. The minor prophets can safely be attributed to the authors of the writing because there is no major issue with the writings to suggest otherwise. Daniel is the biggest mess because a variety of authors touched and edited that book, making its authorship and date, largely uncertain. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were most likely written by Ezra, himself.

The New Testament was predominantly written by Paul and a pseudo-Paul. I actually disagree with a lot of New Testament scholars in that I have no issue with many of the epistles being considered Pauline. Timothy, Colossians, Ephesians, the language is not different enough to justify a non-Pauline author. The Gospels were written 40-60 years after the death of Jesus. While traditionally the four namesakes of the Gospels have been accepted as the authors, the reality is this is uncertain and doubtful. The only Gospel I could see written by the author attributed to it is Luke, and only because the Gospel closely follows the language used by Paul and if Luke was a follower of Paul, it makes sense. The rest of the New Testament is attributed to Peter, James, John, and Jude. Whether or not they wrote it is a matter of debate.

The apocrypha is accepted by Catholics and some Orthodox faiths, but is rejected by the Protestant faith due to the controversial nature of the texts. They were not wholly accepted by Jewish culture. As well Maccabeus, the books concerning Judas Macabeus is not accepted by Protestants for not really being a text of divine nature.

So with that brief summary of the Bible out of the way, onto part two.

Part Two: Ancient History is oftentimes exaggerated.

Whenever historians study ancient cultures, especially those surrounding Mesopotamia, they have to pay scrutinizing attention to texts because it was natural for a culture to exaggerate their accomplishments and demises. This is very much true for ancient Israel.

A culture which was mainly a shepherd, nomadic people surrounded by the Phoenicians to the west, the Assyrians to the north, Babylonians to the east, the Egyptians to the southwest, and were largely unimportant, would want to seem larger than life, considering they were surrounded by ancient giants. So in collecting their histories they exaggerated. Instead of a minor exodus from Egypt, it was a major Exodus (and there is evidence of Jews being in Egypt and hurriedly leaving). Instead of small skirmishes with the Phoenicians and other Palestinian people, it was a major military campaign. Instead of having decent, but relatively unknown kings, they had David and Solomon, kings of greatness and splendor.

In Israel's historical texts, we see accomplishments being accredited to God. It is a case of the fish was really this big. But does this mean the texts are unreliable? No. Exaggeration simply means instead of taking something at face value, we look beyond what the text literally says. We see a story of a nation surviving amidst a storm of larger cultures bonded by the faith they have in their God. As we approach the New Testament, we see a culture that has survived but is disheartened.
Part Three: Can the Bible be considered reliable then?

So with authorship and dating being unknown and with exaggerations with the text being common, how can you have anything to do with reliability? Well the fact remains that although the text may be exaggerated, on the whole the base facts match the reality. The history of Israel is largely supported via archaeology and comparing the texts with contemporary texts of Assyria and Babylon. The New Testament is largely the opinions of a man, Paul. The Gospels are written via a collection of sayings and accounts from a variety of sources and cannot be dismissed as a fabricated story as some people would have done with.

So with the accuracy of the historical nature, if not the exaggerated details, the Bible gets some validity. Again, I can catch a fish and claim it was 50 meters long, but in reality it was only 50 centimeters. Does this mean my story is unreliable? No, it simply means that you do not take the story at face value. Which is the rational thing to do.

So what about the cultural material? Well since a good portion of the book comes from a different time period, some people hold a belief that different culture had different answers and thus the biblical answers from those cultures should no longer be considered reliable, and to a degree, yes. The punishment of stoning a person to death should not be considered reliable as a punishment, but that does not mean the material of the Bible is null and void. Good advice fifty years ago such as look both ways before crossing the street is still good advice today. Lessons such as do onto others, and worry not about tomorrow, but focus on today, are all drawn from the Bible. Good lessons still applicable despite coming from a different culture.

We have here a case of do we dismiss the Bible wholesale, or do we simple put on our glasses and read the material accordingly. Both the fundamentalists and new atheists make in my opinion the largest of errors. The fundamentalists accept everything as is in the Bible and the atheists tend to reject the Bible as not needed and a bad book. Both are foolish ideas to have. The Bible is still a source of history, and still a source of wisdom, and still a source of understanding who God is.

Because of this, the Bible is necessary to a Christian faith. Perhaps not the doctrine of sola scriptura or inerrancy that many protestant fundamentalists would preach, but definitely the concept of relying on scripture for an overview of the history of Israel, and Jesus/the disciples and on matters concerning theology.

So the Bible is still reliable, and because it is reliable it is part of the rational defense of Christianity.

*I do apologize for the rush on this one. Between work and busy weekends I was hard pressed to really have time to think let alone write this. I have a feeling Byron is going to hand me a challenge in his negative post on the matter, but I await the chance to offer a rebuttal and hopefully add more clarity once I gather my wits.