I ran across a story this week that is directly related to a class I just finished teaching for my church. I gave an eight week course on Christian apologetics. The word, apologetics, is derived from a Greek word which means to defend. In other words, apologetics has nothing to do with apologizing for one’s faith; it is about offering an affirmative defense of it. While it certainly relies on Scripture, apologetics is also founded on logic and reason. Contrary to what many skeptics would like to believe, faith is anything but irrational. Scripture actually teaches reason, and encourages the believer to test everything so they can find and hold to the Truth and discard the rest. Unfortunately, too few Christians actually know and understand Scripture well enough to offer an affirmative defense of their faith, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when skeptics attack Scripture as contradictory, or violent or advocating social mores other than those they embrace. That’s what the story I found is about.
“I know of a lot of atheists who have come to their nonbelief by actually reading the Bible rather than just the fluffy stories they choose to tell you about in church,” Lauren told Winston. “Reading the full story with all its contradictions and violence and sexism, it should make you think, ‘Is this really what I believe in?’ At least it did for me.”
There is so much here that needs to be corrected, but I will offer just a few thoughts. First, the young lady in question here demonstrates that she has not read Scripture. You cannot read passages out of context and expect to understand God’s word. For example: you cannot understand that the Book of Revelation is about something first mentioned in Genesis. You have to read the entire Bible before you will understand this, and even then, many still miss it. The reason most Jews miss the fact that Christ is the Messiah is because they have not read or do not understand prophecy. However, in the case of the skeptic, I believe a large part of their confusion comes from a misunderstanding of what “inspired” means.
The Bible is not the literal Word of God; it is the inspired Word of God. Essentially, this means that God did not tell the prophets every word they were to write. Instead, He gave them the message and they related it as the human they were, and in the context of the times and culture in which they lived. It is too easy to forget that Scripture was not written just for us, but also for those who were alive at the time. In fact, it was meant most for those alive at the time it was written. However, since Scripture is inspired and not dictated, it is natural to assume that it will read differently in delivery as times change. But the essential element of Scripture is that the message does not change. This is rather unique in human history and actually affirms the authenticity of scripture. I do not know of another human work that has been written by so many different people, across so many cultures and different times that has remained as consistent in its central teachings. Nor am I aware of another work that has been copied and re-copied as often without changing as scribes work the sentiments of their culture and times into the copies they made. The oldest Qur’ans disagree on significant points, but the oldest known pieces of the Bible are essentially the same as those we have today. To the intellectually honest, this is a point in favor of Scripture.
Skeptics who attack Scripture also do not understand the cultural references. In fact, the majority of Christians are guilty of this. If you do not understand Hebrew culture, then you do not understand the symbolism, or the manner in which they relate time and events or even the way they use hyperbole. Reading the Bible today as though it were written today is wrought with peril. It is too easy to fall into the fallacy of etymology and equivocation, to name just a few logic mistakes that arise when one tries to force their cultural norms on that of another. A good example that often leads to the claim of inconsistency can be found in the way Hebrews related events. If a work of God took five years to complete, but there is a period in which no active work is being done, the Hebrews did not report those idle years. If something started and God worked for three years, then nothing happened for seven years, and the work finished in two years after that idle period, Scripture is very likely to record the event as taking five years, even though our society would count it as twelve. You will find this in Daniel’s prophecy where he mentions weeks. This brings us to another point of criticism born of ignorance. The Hebrews often referred to a year as a time, and two years as times. They might also refer to a year as a week. You see, the religious nature of their culture was intimately tied to the way they communicated, so the very act of a skeptic trying to force their non-religious interpretation on Scripture is what introduces many of the “apparent” contradictions and inconsistencies.
There are also translational problems. A good example here that also snares many Christians is found in Genesis. The original Hebrew does not say God created the world in seven, twenty-four hour days. The word that has been translated as “day” actually means an undefined period of time in which something comes to completion. There are many such translation issues in Scripture, but this does not affect the truth of God’s word; it speaks to the failure of the men translating it. They are not the same thing.
Finally, let’s address the claim of sexism in the Bible. First, that is a fallacy in that it assumes the person making the charge has the authority to judge God. In terms the skeptic might understand, this is no different than Sky Net telling humans how they should behave; it is the same as the central computer in Eagle Eye and I Robot judging their creator. What is the creation to judge the creator? It is nothing. It has no right to judge the creator, so neither do we have right to judge God. That is the essence of original sin: assuming we can take God’s place.
But more to the point: Scripture establishes monogamy as the ideal form of marriage. Nowhere in Scripture does God endorse any other relationship between a man and a woman. That it deals with the rebellion of man is a different matter, and treating them as though they are the same is not only fallacious reasoning, it reveals the ignorance of the person making the claim. I often wonder whether or not the people who claim Scripture subjugates women are aware that it teaches husbands to treat their wives as Christ treated the Church? If they understood Scripture, if they understood what this really means, they could not find a relationship where the woman is placed on a higher level anywhere in human history. In fact, Scripture tells the husband to love his wife until death. In other words, it commands the husband to die for her if necessary. It does not place the same duty on the wife.
Now, I am not the type to force my faith on others, but I have learned not to remain quiet when God’s word is unjustly maligned. These sorts of attacks are made from ignorance, but also from willing rebellion. Neither am I the type to defend my faith and assume the faith of others is wrong, or misguided. This is the primary reason I read the Qur’an, much of the Hadith, Muhammad’s official biography and the Muslim book on Shari’a law. I read them to test them, and I found they are internally contradictory. For example, Muhammad says he is the final prophet, but he also says all true prophets derive their lineage from Isaac. The problem here is that Muhammad proudly and loudly boasted that he was descendent from Ishmael. There are many other such true contradictions within Islam, which is why I reject its claims. I have yet to find similar issues in Scripture – only people who do not understand the language, times and culture.
Anyway, I felt moved to share this with those who chose to read it. Take from it what you will. I just pray it was of service to you in some way.