This is the sixth question in our series on apologetics called Redemptive Windows, where Christian Reformed Campus Ministers answer faith-challenging questions sent in by CC readers. You can view earlier articles at christiancourier.ca.
Shiao Chong responds:
I believe there are underlying questions to this question: Can I trust the Bible? How do I know the Bible is truly God’s Word? How do I know it won’t lead me astray?
The common line of reasoning goes like this: 1) God is perfect, i.e. cannot make mistakes, knows everything and does not lie. 2) If the Bible is truly God’s Word, then the Bible must be free from any mistakes, and true about everything it says. 3) For something to be true, it must be proven as factual and not contradict itself. 4) Therefore, the Bible must be factually accurate in everything it says, and cannot have any contradictions at all. To show or prove any factual inaccuracy and any contradiction is to prove that the Bible is not God’s Word, hence, not true.
This may sound reasonable but there are a few misconceptions and missing points that impair its logic.
I believe this following line of reasoning is more accurate:
- God is perfect, i.e. cannot make mistakes, knows everything and does not lie.
- We are not perfect, and in fact, very limited and culturally bound in our ability to fully comprehend all truth and reality.
- God is also all wise and gracious, knowing how best to accommodate and communicate to his limited creatures.
- If God can accommodate by coming in the flesh as Jesus, then God can accommodate his revelation to particular human historical contexts and cultures.
- If the Bible is truly the Word of a perfect God who also graciously accommodates, then the Bible should have the nature of conveying perfect timeless truths through historically accommodated human language, culture and thought patterns.
And I believe that is what the Bible is: God’s perfect Word conveyed through imperfect human words, analogous to Christ’s incarnation – the Word made flesh. Such a view of Scripture is supported by Calvin, Augustine, Chrysostom and others in church history. Any contradictions, if any, in the Bible are at the level of the accommodated human patterns and forms, not at the level of God’s timeless truths.
Before proceeding I need to clear up some misconceptions and common assumptions. The first misconception is reducing truth to empirically proven facts. Facts are a subset of truth. But not all truths are mere facts. For example, the claim that “love is better than hate” is not an empirical fact, as it is nearly impossible to measure and prove it. Yet almost all of us believe this is true, even if it is not a proven fact. The Bible’s spiritual truths are mostly truths of this kind, not empirical facts.
Secondly, we tend to confuse true statements with literal statements. Nonliteral statements can also be true. For instance, statements like “you will always be in my heart” or “money talks” are not literal statements, but we understand their intended meanings to be true. Similarly, to read every Biblical passage or verse as if it is always literal, in order to be true, is ignoring the original human authors’ intentions and meanings in their choices of genre, style, structure and the expectations of their original historical and cultural audiences. “God’s Word is a lamp unto my feet” (Psa. 119:105) is not literal but still true!
When we read Biblical passages in light of these historical, cultural, linguistic and literary contexts, most of its so-called contradictions resolve themselves. For example, the differences between Luke’s (Luke 3) and Matthew’s (Matthew 1) genealogies of Jesus are not contradictions because in their historical cultures, genealogies are expected to support theological or ideological points, not necessarily for historical accuracy. Matthew, writing to Christian Jews, was making the point that Jesus fulfills the ancestral criteria of the Jewish Messiah as a descendant of David and Abraham. And he structures his genealogy in sections of 14 generations (Matt. 1:17), fourteen being the double of seven, a number symbolizing completeness or perfection to his Jewish audience. Luke, however, was writing to a Gentile audience with different theological concerns.
As an ancient historical document, the Bible has also been shown to be remarkably reliable whenever historians and archaeologists can verify biblical accounts. Even when it can be shown to be factually contradictory or inaccurate (which are few), it is not God’s accommodation through the imperfect, culturally bound human thought patterns that we must adhere to, it is God’s spiritual truths conveyed that takes priority. Scripture’s primary purpose is to instruct us “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (see 2 Tim. 3:15-16), and I believe the Bible is true, trustworthy and transformative in that purpose.
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