The Bible: Bloodthirsty Text or Solid Witness?

Posted by on Sep 1, 2015 in Blog | 5 comments

In this ‘Why Believe?’ series we’ve been engaged in a little exercise of cumulative case apologetics – not trying to demonstrate that everything that Christianity stands for is proved with one knockout blow, but cumulatively building a case for belief, one piece at a time.

The role of the Bible in building or detracting from this case is important. While arguments for theism establish that belief in a god or gods is reasonable, at some point we have to give content to the character and nature of the god believed in. While a certain amount can be ascertained from nature (what kind of god would have to exist if a world like this reflects this gods ingenuity?), a lot remains uncertain. After all, if you look at a sunset after a tranquil and glorious day, you will probably praise ‘this good god’, but if your examination takes place after a tsunami, your conclusions might be very different. How can we draw solid conclusions about the character of God if creation is our only guide?

It is why theologians usually insist that we should study two books – the book of nature and the Bible. From the book of nature we learn much that can fall into the category of general revelation (that which is available to be discerned by any fair and open minded individual), while we are dependant on the Bible to show us those things which we would otherwise never be sure of bar God’s revelation of them in the Bible – what we can call special revelation. The Bible is seen as a key (perhaps the key) source of special revelation because here God self introduces via a series of ‘God turned up’ events that reveal the plans and purposes of God for the world. These events were faithfully recorded by the various biblical authors, and led ultimately to the Bible as we have it today. In short, minus the Bible, it is difficult to give much more than the most elementary commentary on the personality or purposes of the god (or gods) theism encourages us to believe in.

In theory, then, it is not hard to understand why a book like the Bible is necessary if we are going to develop an understanding of God that is not built on the at best tentative (and sometimes highly speculative) observations gained from the book of nature.

If the role of the Bible is then to give some clarity and certainty as to the character, plans and purposes of God, is it a credible witness?

It is here that the argument gets interesting for the Christian apologist – for the Bible is a remarkable book. Indeed, it is not too much of  a stretch to suggest that it is a miraculous book.

Consider its composition. It was written over a period of approximately 1600 years by about 40 different authors, being completed around 1900 years ago. Let that sink in. If you knew nothing about the Bible and were told ‘I’d like you to read a book written by 40 people over a period of 1600 years and completed 1900 years ago’ – what would you expectation be?

Be honest. While you might be a little intrigued, your expectations would probably be low. How would such a book hold together? We struggle to make sense of books written 200 years ago by a single author. How could this multi-authored far more ancient book be relevant? Would you expect themes like family life or love or justice or the thousands of other topics that are touched on to make much sense? Probably not. You are even less likely to think that it would have much contemporary relevance. Yet ancient text that it is, and written under the most astonishing circumstances, the Bible continues as a world best seller. Why? Dead simple answer – people continue to find it relevant and helpful. Some make bolder claims, and say it is life transforming – a sure guide for faith and life.

Of course any fair investigator of history will quickly tell you that the impact of the Bible has not been limited to its outworking in the lives of pious individuals. This book has literally shaped the world as we know it. True, other faiths have their own books for which special inspiration is claimed, but if we work with the simple criterion of which has had the greatest impact, it turns into a one horse race. The Bible’s impact has no near rival.

You might be a sceptical reader – and fair enough. If so, I can hear you muttering, ‘no one disputes the impact of the Bible. But that’s the problem. Have you read the book? It is so bloodthirsty – at times barbaric, And people still hold it up as a moral guide. Perhaps it was a guide in a desperately dark and dreadful past, but mercifully we have made some progress, and the Bible’s use by date as moral guide has long dawned. We now operate with superior ethical insight which would be compromised if we allowed ourselves to be held ransom to the dictates of this dated text.’ At that point you might even throw in a reference to ones of the Bible’s more gruesome passages – and let’s face it, there are a fair number of corpses scattered around its pages. And perhaps you would think that settles the debate, and be willing to dismiss the Bible as a quaint by clearly now obsolete text.

I’d like to challenge you to a closer reading of the text. It is more penetrating in its analysis of life than you are likely to imagine. And though some make much of some of its more difficult passages, most of it reads easily and inspiringly. I read it every day, and find myself challenged afresh over and over again. You don’t have to read it for long to realise that it is in a league of its own. Its world shaping status was gained for good reason. True, as with all profound books, it helps to have a little guidance along the way. In my book The Big Picture, I speak of the importance of having orienting passages to help us navigate the various themes found in the Bible – and suggest 15 passages to help in this regard. Actually, it just so happens that on the Koorong site, the free sneak preview of the book is of this chapter (chapter 2), so click here to read it. When we allow these 15 passages to orientate our reading of scripture, most of the problems people raise quickly vanish.

So why does the Bible help us to journey towards belief? It is clearly a remarkable book, which has deeply impacted human history. It has changed the lives of multitudes. Actually, one of the claims that it makes is that God uses the Bible to speak to us deeply (Hebrews 4:12). Why not read it for yourself, and see if it makes any difference to you?

Nice chatting…

5 Comments

  1. Quick question – is it more accurate to refer to the Bible as “the Books” (tà biblía)? And there are letters and songs in there too, to make things more confusing. I often wonder if referring to it as a single book does a little more harm than good…

    • A very good point. Guess you can argue it two ways. Technically no question about it. The Bible is a collection of books and you find many different genre within its pages.

      In favour of thinking of it in the singular is that you don’t want to miss its essential unity – which in its own way is really remarkable, given the diversity of its authorship and the long period of its composition.

  2. Brian, many thanks for your blog for I enjoy your style of writing… it is most refreshing! I find the ‘book of nature’ can at times give evidence both ways concerning the existence or not of a benevolent God. For myself, it has been the way the second book, the Bible, has influenced my life that I find most profound!

    • Thanks Colin. I agree. Without the second book, there are a number of conflicting conclusions we could draw.

  3. Two suggested essays:

    “Is God Violent, Or Nonviolent?” at

    http://evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=6581

    and

    “Is God Bloodthirsty?” at

    http://evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=7195

    Blessings.

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