The following is a email I sent to someone who liked my YouTube videos and some of my video game modding work. He asked me about spirituality and how we can trust the Bible. Here was my response:
Thank you for the kind words. I will try to respond to any questions you may have.
You expressed a sense of default skepticism in regards to our understanding of the Bible. Skepticism is a rational default position with the medley of religions in today’s world, so then the question would be how would a rational person either accept or not-accept historical accounts; how you know what you know about history.
I assume you believe that Abraham Lincoln lived, breathed and died. Have you ever examined your belief in these events; by what authority or by what evidence do you believe in the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. By what standard is any historical event to be believed? To be intellectually honest, we should apply the same standard to the Bible.
History is an odd creature. We might drive to the grave of Abraham Lincoln, dig him up, point to his bones, but that in itself will not prove it was Lincoln. It most certainly would not prove some of his ascribed actions took place. We, by necessity, have to accept most of what we know of history by witnesses. Now there are a few types of witnesses, first hand, second hand and third hand. Of course, those who see things themselves are in the best position to tell us the truth, but then they might be biased as well. In the Bible, the common standard was multiple witnesses proclaiming the same thing, and that gave validity (Deu 17:6, 19:15, Mat 18:16, 2Co 13:1, 1Ti 5:19). The more witnesses of an event, the more likely it is to have been true.
Jesus Christ himself understands this and says that he alone does not vouch for himself:
Joh 5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
Joh 5:32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
In all, the Bible has about 40 different authors across a timeframe of 3000+ years. Many of the authors detail the exact same events, some firsthand and some secondhand. They also reference others who saw the events described. Paul proclaims boldly that 500 people saw the resurrection of Christ (any enemy of Christianity would have a field day if the 500 did not exist). Christianity, since its beginning, has been falsifiable (meaning there are evidences, if true, that would invalidate the religion).
Pretty quickly after its birth, Christianity had strong critics, most notably Celsus (whose writing is largely still existent through the point by point rebuttal of Origen) and Porphyry who was a neo-Platonist (his works were mostly destroyed by the Christians). It is interesting to note that both Celsus and Porphyry do not argue against Christ’s miracles or existence, they instead try to marginalize him as being one of many “Christs”. It is obvious they had direct access to the modern books of the New Testament as they try to discredit very specific stories. Even in their rejection of Christianity, they point to its validity.
Other witnesses include the Jewish historian Josephus (c. 37AD-100AD) who tells both about John the Baptist and also Jesus. This is important because this is a non-Christian source for Christ.
One witness, that is often neglected, is archeology. The Bible describes many events which would leave massive amounts of physical evidence on earth. A global flood would result in millions of dead things buried in rock layer all over the earth. In fact we have fossilized fish eating other fish, dinosaurs fighting, animals giving birth, sea fossils on the tops of mountains and a plethora of other strange and interesting fossils around the world. Fossilization requires rapid covering, a catastrophe. Our fossil record is a record of these sudden changes.
Other events that would leave vast amounts of physical evidence include destructions of entire cities. I was watching a history channel on Sodom and Gomorrah in which the historians had found those cities, those cities had been destroyed the way the Bible had records, and the historians rejected the Biblical account. Jericho is another exciting find, with the walls fallen outwards and grain intact (raiding armies usually plundered cities but the Israelites were forbidden to raid Jericho).
My favorite piece of historical evidence is Mount Sinai, not the one identified by Constantine’s mother, but the one identified as Jabal Al Lawz. Jabal Al Lawz sports a black top (where God descended onto the mountain), a split rock with water damage (where Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock with his staff) and also an uncut stone alter (the Israelites were unique in that they did not embellish their alters like all pagan tribes). (Do a youtube search on Mountain of Fire to see this firsthand)
Of course, atheists try to discredit these where they can. Jericho is said to have the wrong style pottery and travel times are said to be too optimistic for one million Hebrews to Jabel Al Lawz as described in the Bible. But it is interesting to note how many of these criticisms recede with time or when placed in context. I visited Corinth in Greece and saw the excavation of a road with the name Erastus inscribed upon it: “Erastus, curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.” The Higher Critics had denied his existence due to the name and no historical record for hundreds of years before proof positive was actually found. Similar reversals include a lot of proper titles given to officials throughout the Bible and the existence of Biblical figures (such as Solomon). The Biblical critics keep backtracking and changing their story.
There are scientific evidences as well. Atheists do not like it, but nearly everything is contaminated with Carbon 14, even diamonds. If diamonds, one of the hardest to contaminate substances on earth, has Carbon 14 it means the contamination must have been present during its formation. Carbon 14 has a half-life of about 6000 years. These diamonds can in no shape or way be formed millions of years ago as atheists claim.
Other items which defy atheistic timeframes are protein, DNA, and other biological substances. Taken from BEL’s list of “not so old things”:
– allegedly 17 million year old magnolia leaf contains DNA (Scientific American 1993)
– allegedly 100 million year old dinosaur fossil contains protein (Science News 1992)
– allegedly 120 million year old insect fossil contains DNA (Nature 1993)
– allegedly 200 million year old fish fossil contains DNA (Science. News 1992)
– allegedly 30 million year old bee fossil contains LIVING bacteria (Science 1995)
– allegedly 600 million year old rock contains LIVING bacillus (Nature 2000).
The list is endless, but oddly enough they disrule atheistic attempts to explain the origin of life (as is living material could come from nonliving substance, not to mention the unbridgeable gulf that is consciousness). This all fits the Bible’s narrative of events.
But how do we know the Bible has not been changed and perverted by men? The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls long ago shook the foundation of those who doubt the integrity of the Old Testament. The oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament we have not only is nearly identical to the Old Testament we have now, but also these documents pre-date the New Testament. People who claimed the Old Testament was rewritten to fit Christianity were dead wrong. Likewise, the vast majority of Greek manuscripts in existence agree with each other almost always (the New Testament was written in Greek). There are about 5500 in existence and they coincide with each other about 99% of the time. Try handcopying something 1000 times and see how close to the original you have. We can be rest assure we have an accurate representation of the original documents.
Critics will always point out the oldest documents we have are the most divergent from the Majority text, but I will counter that my NIV Bible looks brand new while my NKJ and KJV Bibles look fairly wore out. They were both purchased around the same timeframe, but why would I use the NIV when it is an inferior version? Those divergent texts are still around because they were such shoddy copies that they were unused. FYI the NIV is translated based on those Minority Texts whereas the NKJ and KJV are based on manuscripts much closer to the Majority text.
I believe the Bible because the stories line up very well with science, archeology, and are internally consistent. Most of the inconsistencies fade away for people who understand the Bible and Biblical context in which things were said. Sometimes cultural figures of speech need to be understood and sometimes the original languages need to be understood as well.
Skeptics Annotated Bible has served me very well in the past when debating other Christians. It is a site maintained by Atheists who hate the Bible. They list “contradictions”, what they consider “absurdities”, and also other things they find repulsive. For example, they list contradictions as to if we are saved by works or by faith. Paul’s ministry was one of faith alone, while James, John, and Christ preached a ministry of faith and works. But Paul was ministering to Jews and Gentiles a new gospel, while James, John, and Christ were ministering to the Jews alone in an entirely different context. What seems like a contradiction is just pulling quotes out of context. This would be like me having two quotes “I am 15 years old” and “I am 27 years old” and other people claiming those statements as contradictions whereas they were just uttered 12 years apart from each other.
The biggest take-away from all this is that the Bible should be evaluated as we would evaluate any other historical document. If the evidence overwhelmingly points us in the direction that the Bible is accurate, it should be accepted.
You ask if I would consider you a Christian. It depends. Paul outlines the basic salvation gospel in 1 Cor 15:
1Co 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
1Co 15:2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
1Co 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
1Co 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
1Co 15:5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
1Co 15:6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
The gospel is that the Son of God came and died for our sins, rose again, and was seen. Paul points out that Christianity is false if Jesus did not rise from the dead. The early Christian religion could have been easily squashed by the Romans if they could only produce the body of Christ:
1Co 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
But this gospel (historical, falsifiable, and highly witnessed) is what defines Christians and Christianity. Christianity is unique in this respect, it is a historical religion centered on the truth of a historical event. It is not about people’s actions, their feelings, going to church, or any other criteria. It is based on the historical life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
I hope this answers your questions to extent you desired. There is a lot of additional information that works together and solidifies these points, but it is much too much to cover in the short amount of time I have today.
My favorite quote from BSG is during the first season when Thrace interrogates Loeban: “I know that God loved you more than all other living creatures and you repaid His divine love with sin, with hate, corruption, evil. So then he decided to create the Cylons.” It illustrates the free choice we have in all our actions, and it illustrates the corruption of mankind against God, with him choosing alternatives based on a response to his creation. That entire scene is the best in the series. [The writer had referenced Battlestar Galactica]