The Bible consists of a collection of sixty-six separate books. These books were chosen, after a bit of haggling, by the Catholic Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. - more than three hundred years after the time of Jesus (Spivey & Smith 1989). This collection is broken into two major sections: The Old Testament, which consists of thirty-nine books, and The New Testament, which consists of twenty-seven books. (Catholic Bibles include an additional twelve books known as the Apocrypha.) The Old Testament is concerned with the Hebrew God, Yahweh, and purports to be a history of the early Israelites. The New Testament is the work of early Christians and reflects their beliefs about Jesus; it purports to be a history of what Jesus taught and did (Spivey & Smith 1989).
The composition of the various books began in about 1000 B.C. And continued for more than a thousand years. Much oral material was included. This was repeated from father to son, revised over and over again, and then put into written form by various editors. These editors often worked in different locales and in different time periods and were usually unaware of each other (Freedman et al. 1992). Their work was primarily intended for local use and it is unlikely that any author foresaw that his work would be included in a "Bible."
No original manuscripts exist. There is probably not one book that survives in anything like its original form. There are hundreds of differences between the oldest manuscripts of any one book. These differences indicate that numerous additions and alterations were made to the originals by various copyists and editors (Freedman et al. 1992).
Many biblical authors are unknown. Where an author has been named, that name has sometimes been selected by pious believers rather than given by the author himself. The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are examples of books that did not carry the names of their actual authors. The present names were assigned long after these four books were written. In spite of what the Gospel authors say, biblical scholars are now almost unanimously agreed that none of the Gospel authors was either a disciple of Jesus or an eyewitness to his ministry (Spivey & Smith 1989).
Although some books of the Bible are traditionally attributed to a single author, many are actually the work of multiple authors. Genesis and John are two examples of multiple authorship.
Many biblical books have the earmarks of fiction (Spivey & Smith 1989). For example, private conversations are often related when no reporter was present. Conversations between God and various individuals are recorded. Prehistoric events are given in great detail. When more than one author tells a story, there are usually significant differences. Many stories - stories that in their original context are considered even by Christians to be fictional - were borrowed by the biblical authors, adapted for their own purposes, given a historical setting, and then declared to be fact (Spivey & Smith 1989).
The Flood story is an example of this kind of adaptation. Its migration from the earliest known occurrence in Sumeria, around 1600 B.C., from place to place and eventually to the Bible, can be traced historically. Each time the story was used again, it was altered to speak of local gods and heroes (Freedman et al. 1992).
But is the Bible, nevertheless, the work of God? Is it a valid guidebook? How can we know? If the Bible were really the work of a perfect and loving God, it would be obviously superlative in every respect to anything that could be conceived by human intellect alone. It would be accurate, clear, concise, and consistent throughout. Fundamentalists, in fact, hold this to be true. Using a circular argument, they say that because the Bible is without error or inconsistency, it must be the work of God, and because it is the work of God, it must be without error or inconsistency. It seems not to matter which proposition comes first, the other is thought to follow.
Notwithstanding the fundamentalist viewpoint, the Bible does contain a number of real problems. And some of these problems are absolutely fatal to its credibility. Many passages relate God-ordained atrocities; such passages are unworthy of the Christian God (Barthel 1982). Some biblical precepts are both unreasonable and unlikely since they are in obvious disagreement with common sense as well as the qualities of character that are attributed to God. Some biblical statements are absurd in that they represent very primitive beliefs. The believability of many biblical stories - stories that are crucial to Christianity - is discredited by numerous inconsistencies. The picture is further complicated by the many different and conflicting interpretations that are often given to a specific passage by sincere, well-intentioned believers (Barthel 1982).
While Biblicists are capable of offering some sort of explanation for nearly any biblical problem that can be uncovered, such explanations should be unnecessary. The point is not whether some explanation can be conceived, but rather that a perfect and loving God certainly could, should, and would do a much better job of it were he to have anything to do with the writing of a book. The evidence taken from the Bible itself demonstrates that the Bible cannot be the literal, complete, inerrant and perfect work of a perfect and loving God. It also demonstrates that the Bible is not especially useful even as a guidebook. In addition, because the Bible reflects every important belief of traditional Christianity - the foundation of Christianity itself rests on shaky ground (Barthel 1982).
Why should we believe?
Who will tell us that the Bible is what it says it is? On what or whose authority shall we believe it is the Word of God? Who will verify that fact? Who will prove it? There are three approaches we could take to this question.
1. We could believe it is the Word of God on the authority of the church.
That is the way the Roman Catholic Church answers the question. John O'Brien, in his book The Faith of Millions, says, "The declaration of the Catholic Church that the books of the NT are all inspired by God constitutes the sole authority for the universal belief of both Catholics and Protestants in their inspired character" (qtd. In Ord & Coote 1994).
2. We could believe it is the Word of God on the authority of its own excellence.
The Westminster Confession continues:
And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God. (1.5 qtd. In Freedman et al. 1992)
So, for instance, in regard to "the heavenliness of the matter," what about Genesis 1 and 2 about the creation of the world? How could any mere man tell us about that? Whether we believe in creation or evolution, no one was there to see it. And, of course, it can't be done again to find out. But the Bible speaks quite authoritatively about the whole business and simply says, "God did it" (Spivey & Smith 1989).
3. We should believe the Bible is the Word of God on the authority of God Himself.
The Westminster Confession speaks about this in an astounding way. It says:
The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (1.4 qtd. In Freedman et al. 1992)
The fact is that the Bible comes to us, itself claiming to be the Word of God, and only God can prove his own word. Even if man could go some of the way in the right direction, still, shouldn't we believe God more?
First John 5:9 says, "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son" (qtd. In Freedman et al. 1992). And that is where we find ourselves in this whole business about the Bible also. We believe the Bible is God's Word because in it God says it is his Word. To try to do anything else is to accept a lesser testimony and also is to sit in judgment upon God himself. Of course it is a circular argument, but so is every way we look at the question.
If you want to understand the Bible, read it - and read it a lot, because one bit often explains another. But the other thing to…