Several months ago, I received a letter from a childhood friend whom I haven’t heard from in a very long time. She and I were both raised in the same fundamentalist branch of Christianity (Church of Christ), and our parents are still very close. Her preacher recently did a series of sermons on evidences for Christianity, and they impressed her enough that she felt the need to mail me copies of the CDs (14 of them!) as well as an apologetics book, Surveying the Evidence, by Kyle Butt, Wayne Jackson, and Eric Lyons. I immediately wrote her back and thanked her for sending the material. After all, it shows a deep concern for my eternal well-being, and that of my family, so I know it comes from the best possible motives. It’s a caring gesture. In my response to her I promised to read the book and listen to all the CDs.
A few weeks ago, I finally finished going through all the material. The book was not very good. First of all, I’m definitely not part of its intended audience. I think it was written to be used as a classroom workbook for churches to use in their classes. The chapters are short and not very in-depth, and there are discussion topics and questions at the end of each. The information given is often incomplete, and when the views of “skeptics” and “evolutionists” are given, they’re typically presented as straw men. I’ve read one of Wayne Jackson’s books before, and I wasn’t impressed by it either. In fact, it pushed me closer to non-belief (I read it when I was still going through my deconversion). The authors of this book approach the evidence in the same way that Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell do. They insist on biblical inerrancy, and I feel that they’re forced to be somewhat dishonest in the information they present. I have far more respect for Christian authors like Peter Enns, because he tends to treat the evidence honestly — he just comes to different conclusions about it than I would.
It was evident that some of the sermons had relied heavily on the same book, or at least on material written from the same point of view. However, I’d have to say that I thought the sermons were a bit better than the book, overall. I never got the impression that the preachers on these CDs were being dishonest. I think they’ve just been too heavily influenced by people who either leave out important information, or just misrepresent it altogether.
Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested by the response I wrote to her. I’ve removed her name and the names of the preachers involved.
I finished reading the book you sent me a little while back, and this week I finally finished listening to all the CDs. Again, I appreciate your sending them to me. Both Mr X and Mr Y are obviously gifted speakers, and they present their cases well.
I actually started a response to you about a week ago, before I had finished the last few CDs, but it started to run into several pages, and I’m just not sure that that’s the best kind of response. So instead, I’m moving to something more general. To put it simply, there’s an awful lot of information that the book and CDs you sent don’t cover. When Mr X and Mr Y talk about what skeptics believe, they’re mostly presenting straw man arguments. In other words, it’s not a very accurate depiction of the reasons why people doubt the Bible, which is why Mr X and Mr Y seem to make such compelling arguments. They may not realize that their characterization of how non-believers view the Bible is inadequate, so I’m not trying to suggest that they’re purposely misleading anyone.
If you like, I can send you specific responses to many of the statements made in the CDs that you sent — that’s actually what I started to do about a week ago. But you may not want to be inundated with all that, which I can understand. So in this letter, I’ll try to cover just a few things quickly to give you an idea of the very real difficulties that make people question the Bible’s legitimacy and Christianity altogether.
First of all, let’s not get sidetracked on things like evolution and the Big Bang. I disagree with most of what Mr X said in those CDs — the evidence for the Big Bang and evolution is pretty overwhelming if you take the time to look into it. And if you’re ever curious, a good starting point is a website called TalkOrigins. That link takes you to their “Index of Creationist Claims.” Most of what Mr X mentioned as evidence for creationism can be found there, along with explanations of why they’re not accurate, and sources for further reading.
But again, I don’t think it’s useful to get bogged down in those issues. For the sake of argument, I’ll go ahead and concede that God exists. But just because a God exists, that doesn’t mean the Bible was inspired by him. So the real discussion should always be about how to defend the Bible.
Here are some things you can check out for yourself:
Read Matthew 27:3-10 and closely compare it to Acts 1:18-19. These are the accounts of Judas’s death. You’re probably already aware that Matthew says Judas died by hanging himself, but Acts says he died by falling headlong in a field, which ruptured his abdomen. Most people put these two accounts together and say something like the following: “Judas hung himself, but at some point, the rope broke, and his body fell and burst open.” That seems to tie everything together, but really look at it for a minute.
First of all, both passages are explaining how Judas died. Well, that could only have happened one way. Either Judas hanged himself and died that way, or he fell and suffered a fatal wound. If we put the accounts together, that still leaves some problems. Let’s say he actually died by hanging himself, but the rope later broke, and his body burst open when it fell to the ground. Well, he still would have died by hanging, which makes Acts inaccurate — we don’t really care what happened to the body once he was dead, after all. What if he attempted to hang himself, but the rope broke before he died, and it was the fall that actually killed him. In that case, Matthew is wrong to say that he died by hanging himself. If it really required both the hanging and the fall, then both accounts are inaccurate.
Now, ask yourself these questions: who bought the field? Can we even be sure that the field in Matthew and the field in Acts are the same, based on the details they offer? Why was the field called “the Field of Blood”? The two accounts answer all of those questions differently.
Finally, Matthew 27:9-10 says that this episode fulfilled a prophecy given by Jeremiah. But Jeremiah didn’t give a prophecy like this. The closest thing to it is something found in Zechariah, and even that isn’t a real prophecy if you go read it in context (Zech 11:12-13).
There have been all kinds of attempts to reconcile this discrepancy, but none of them make much sense. Some have said that the prophets were sometimes collected into a scroll that would start with Jeremiah, and that’s simply what Matthew was referring to. But that’s not what he says. He says that Jeremiah spoke the prophecy. Even if someone had been using a scroll, they would be able to tell when they got to the end of what Jeremiah had written, and it’s easy to see how they may have been troubled by the prophecy not being there. And if Matthew had simply attributed it to Zechariah, his audience still would have known how to look that up — in fact, it would have been much easier for them. Often, Matthew feels comfortable referencing “prophecies” without specifying the prophet that said it. He could easily have done that here as well. And since (if he were inspired) God would want this message to be understandable to all the generations that came after him, it makes absolutely no sense that God would allow this kind of mistake.
I spent a little more time on Judas than I meant to, but it’s a pretty clear place to see the kinds of discrepancies that are throughout the Bible. Another good example concerns Jesus’s birth. Carefully read Matthew 1:18 through chapter 2, and then carefully read Luke 2:1-40. I’d suggest taking notes — a column for Matthew and a column for Luke. Look for these things in particular: how did Jesus’s family get to Bethlehem? Why were they there? What kind of building was Jesus born in? Who came to the birth? How long did they stay in Bethlehem after his birth? Where did they go as soon as they left Bethlehem? Why did they go to those places? Can you combine both narratives into one account that includes all the details from both?
You might be interested to know that Matthew is the only source for the idea that Herod killed a bunch of babies in Bethlehem. No historian, not Josephus, nor any historians who lived during Herod’s reign (even those who were critical of him) ever recorded this event. No other book in the Bible references it. Also, Matthew claims that certain parts of Jesus’s life and ministry fulfill all kinds of Old Testament prophecies. I recommend you read through Matthew, and every time he claims that something fulfills prophecy, go read the passages he’s referencing. See if they actually look like prophecies. Even the virgin birth prophecy. By the way, Matthew was using the Septuagint for the OT, and we’ve discovered that the word for “virgin” in the Septuagint was misleading. The Hebrew text uses a word that simply means “young woman” or “maiden,” which means Isaiah may never have been talking about an actual virgin giving birth at all.
Mr Y spent his last two sermons talking about the canon of scripture versus things like the Apocrypha. But check this out: here’s a quote from the apocryphal (and pseudepigraphal) Book of Enoch (Enoch 1:9):
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh
Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.
Now look at this passage from Jude 14-15:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
If the Book of Enoch was not written by Enoch (as far as I know, no scholars think it was), why does Jude quote it as though it was? And if the Book of Enoch is actually legitimate and contains real prophecy (as Jude claims), why isn’t it in the Bible?
I think that Mr X or Mr Y may have mentioned these next things, but I can’t remember for sure. Because we now have so many manuscripts for the various books in the Bible, we’ve realized that the last 11 verses of Mark were not originally part of Mark. They were added by someone later. In other words, they weren’t inspired. After all, if God had originally wanted them in Mark, they would have been written at the same time as the rest of the book.
John 7:53-8:11 were also added later. They weren’t originally part of John. And this is the story of the woman caught in adultery! Where Jesus says “he who is without sin, cast the first stone”! Can you think of a more famous story about Jesus? But this wasn’t originally part of the Bible. Who added it? Why? Some apologists claim that this was likely a true story about Jesus anyway, but how could they possibly know that? Just taking these two examples, we know for a fact that the Bible contains uninspired material. What else might be uninspired?
Okay, this letter is long enough, I think. I hope that it hasn’t upset you too much, but I know that it might have. It’s hard for me to know how much to write… I’m afraid that if I don’t show you any evidence, you’ll think I’m just willfully ignoring the “clear” evidence that shows how reliable the Bible really is. But this is something that I take very seriously, and I’ve studied it quite a lot over the last several years. The evidence for the Bible is simply not as clear and straightforward as we were always told. In fact, the evidence against it is quite compelling.
Again, if you’d like to know more, I’d be happy to send you more information. You can always visit my blog, if you want, and you can always email me. But unless I hear otherwise, I’ll assume you’d rather not discuss this any further. And I totally understand that — it opens quite a can of worms. And if you’re happy with what you believe, then you may not want to dig any deeper.
I hope you and your family are doing well. Thanks again for sending me all this material — I know how much care and concern it shows.
I don’t anticipate hearing back from this friend, but if I do, I’ll give an update.