I can see how people might be skeptical regarding Scripture. I was, after all. At one point, I truly didn’t know much about the Bible, so the minute someone stated that the Bible wasn’t reliable, it was all the evidence I needed to convince me that the Bible wasn’t true. I didn’t do any research for myself—I didn’t even read more into the claims. Nope. I was simply sure they were right. (Though this is not the case anymore.)
While I was reflecting on the doubts that were part of my Christian growth, I decided to reach out to some friends from the church I attended in college to see what their concerns about Scripture were. By looking at what these committed Christians worry about, we can discover where and what we can study better. Whether in a group or individually, or asking our pastors for insight, it’s important to explore the possible answers for ourselves.
“Some books are accepted, and some aren’t.”
The first friend I spoke with, a double major in history and psychology, was concerned about how the Bible came to be. Her concern, when asked to clarify further, lay in why the Apocrypha exists and why those books are excluded from the canon of Scripture. She also expressed that Luther’s criticism of the Book of James, which he famously called an “epistle of straw,” leads her to question why and how only some writings are deemed God’s Word.
By studying why Luther was critical of the Book of James and then studying how the book echoes the words of Jesus, one can be clear about its place in Scripture. By taking the time to address Luther’s concerns and by testing them against Scripture, a stronger conclusion about the text can be made. Likewise, the reasons for the omission of apocryphal texts from our protestant Bibles comes down to the rest of Scripture. While we see references and quotations from all over the books of the Old Testament in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, we do not see references and quotations in the same way for the apocryphal texts. This is not to say that the books of the Apocrypha are useless or that they shouldn’t be studied; Luther thought that these were good and useful for Christians to read.
A practical way to respond to this concern could be to add the investigation of how a piece of Scripture came to be part of the Bible we know today to your study!
“What sets the Bible apart from other historical texts?”
As an education major with a music emphasis, my next friend wanted to understand more about how we can be sure the Bible is God’s Word. Her concern stems from whether the Bible is any different from other historical works. In other words, why can we be sure the Bible is special?
There is one easy answer to this: we can look at the number of ancient manuscripts that exist. When we look at how many ancient manuscripts we have for the New Testament, we see that we have around 25,000. Furthermore, the earliest copies we have were created only forty years (possibly less than that!) after the originals. In other words, there are more copies of the New Testament and less time passing between these copies than any other text from that time. For example, the number of manuscripts for Plato’s tetralogies is 210 manuscripts for seven tetralogies. The oldest manuscript of these was copied by a calligrapher in AD 895. These works were likely first written in 400 BC. That’s a 1,300-year difference. And that’s just one example!
So how is the Bible different from other ancient texts? The sheer amount and the timing of manuscripts! But this is simply one way to answer; there are many other resources we can investigate to understand Scripture’s validity.
“There are differences in the Gospels, but only in certain places.”
My third friend, a communication media major, shared a concern about whether we can trust that the details matter. When I asked him to further explain his worry, he said that he’s always heard that the differences matter and make the Bible more reliable, but he didn’t understand why the accounts differ from one another. Especially after reading other theories from internet searching about how the Gospels came to be.
Studying the Gospels in chronological order can help answer this concern. By understanding the story of Christ and how the four Gospel writers presented Him differently to their respective audiences, one can better understand why the Gospels had to be different. Even for someone who has read the Gospels a multitude of times, revisiting this section of Scripture in this way allows for a new and deeper understanding of the Gospel message and the authority of Christ.
All three of these questions have one thing in common: even committed, active Christians want to know how Scripture came to be what it is today. They also all demonstrate the need for deeper theological studies on why Christ is unique compared to other religious and historical figures. By digging into the history of Scripture—and Scripture itself—one comes away with a greater understanding of God’s Word.
Explore the differences with a chronological study of the Gospels.