I have been taking a class on early Christianity at my state college (the class is "historical" rather than "faith-based" as they put it). The professor constantly tries to pit the books of the New Testament (NT) against one another in an attempt to prove that they don’t line up. We use the other gospels of the time as sources, and we give them just as much credit as historical documents as the Bible.
As we study these documents, some of them clearly don’t fit with the canon, but others seem to make claims similar to those made in the NT. Our professor also employs the language of, “since Mark is more reliable than Luke” or “since the letters of Paul are our earliest source, we must use them as the absolute authority,” which subconsciously undermines the authority of the NT as a whole, because somehow one part is more important or valid than the others.
The terminology our professor uses and the way she says things can easily confuse you on the truth and make you forget what you were taught in Sunday school. How can we be certain of having the right Bible (is there proof other than simply trusting that God ordained it that way?), and is it important that the author attributed the book actually wrote it? For instance, my professor claims that although 1 Timothy starts out by saying Paul, Silas and Timothy, it was actually written by their followers, decades after those three were dead. I do not know whether I should say to myself that the Word is inerrant; therefore, the author attributed the book must have written it, or if it actually makes no difference who wrote it, since all we care about is the meat of the Scripture anyway.
I won’t have space to fully develop the case for the inerrancy and authenticity of the canonized Scriptures, although there are excellent resources available for the student who wants to go into more depth on the issue. One place to start is with this excellent article by Robert Verlarde, who received his master’s degree in apologetics, ethics and philosophy of religion, as I did, at Denver Seminary. You might also want to check out Focus on the Family's TrueU 2: Is The Bible Reliable? DVD and discussion guide.
Having studied and taught apologetics for years has given me the opportunity to have countless conversations about issues just like the ones you raise in your letter. One of the most important things I constantly remind myself and my students is that we are in the middle of a real high-stakes spiritual battle, and one weapon Satan uses against us is that of bringing truth into question, especially and specifically God’s special revelation of Scripture.
From Eve to Christ, whenever Satan showed up, he brought into question God’s words and character.
Why? Because it is through the Spirit-illuminated Scripture that we discover who God is and what He is about. If Satan can distort, twist, distract or in any manner bring into question these words, then we are confused about the Person who revealed them to us.
As Verlarde states in his article, no historical documents come close to the level of reliability we have in the Scriptures. Of the New Testament manuscripts, he says,
We have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments available. There are more than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions of it. In addition, we have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament. If these numbers don't seem like a lot, compared to other works of ancient history, the manuscript evidence and copies for the New Testament far outweigh manuscript evidence for other works. For instance, there are less than 700 copies of Homer's Iliad and only a handful of copies of any one work of Aristotle. So when it comes to manuscript evidence, the New Testament definitely has numbers on its side.
Similar statements can be made about the Old Testament, yet, even with such lopsided evidence in favor of Scripture, the debate rolls on, century after century. Countless scholars and historians have addressed the issues your professor has raised and hundreds others. She’s not bringing any new discovery to the table. The debate over the authorship of a handful of Paul's pastoral epistles, including the letters to Timothy, popped up early in the 19th century and was quickly settled, but it reappears in various forms and locations like a scam email story, as do so many “arguments” against Scripture.
Here is what I advise students in your situation:
First, consider the source. Scripture is very clear about the human ability to understand the things of God. First Corinthians 2:14 says, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (emphasis added).
If someone is trying to tell me about Scripture from a purely natural perspective, he won't get it right. He can’t get it right. And unless he possesses the Spirit of God, he can only bring a “natural,” and therefore very limited, understanding.
Without the Spirit of God, we’re stuck at dates and authorship and this-word-versus-that-word and seeming inconsistencies or similarities. We have no ability in the area that matters: What does this say about Truth? About who God is? About who I am?
The Holy Spirit draws us. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes. And then we see. Until then, as to the things of God, we’re just feeling our way around in the dark. If you have the Spirit of God living in you, you are a more credible authority on the things of God than any unbeliever, no matter how many scholarly degrees he or she has piled up along the way. Lost is lost, no matter how smart it sounds.
Second, we’re prone to doubt the things of God, requiring much less effort to doubt than what it takes to build faith and believe. However much time you are exposed to that which feeds doubt, you need to double or triple your time of exposure to that which feeds faith.
That’s why throughout Scripture we are told to remember what God did, and remember what God said, to go over it over and over and over. Meditate on it. Think about it. Tell the stories to one another. When we remember, faith rises. When we don’t, we forget and doubt will rise.
If you spend three hours a week hearing that Scripture is unreliable, you have to spend twice that hearing the truth. I would advise at least six hours of combined devotion, reading, praying, fellowship with believers, service and whatever else builds your faith to crush that seed of doubt being planted in your heart every week. Otherwise your faith will shrink, and your life will show it.
Finally, this is for you, personally, not your professor: You know God. It’s not a perfect analogy, but let me ask, "Could someone convince you that you had never met your roommate based on some question over when and by whom a newspaper article about him was written?" You talk to him every day. You have a relationship with him. You know him.
Yes, we need to defend the evidences of Scripture. Yes, scholarship matters. I’m an apologetics guy, and I firmly believe there is a place for that. But as for me, I know Him. I’m not saying that my knowing Him is my sole argument for all others to know Him, but I am saying that you could no more talk me out of that than my knowing my wife. If there were some debate about date and authorship over a magazine article written about her, it would make no difference at all.
It is the claim of Scripture that God can be known in that way. You and I took that claim at its word, and now we know it to be true. Remember that, and let that truth be your anchor in the raging gusts of a blind world’s chattering about all it sees.
Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.