“So you’re one of those people who take the Bible literally,” said my neighbour. We had been talking about the existence of Jesus. “It’s just a bunch of myths. I don’t know how you can believe that silly stuff.”
Today, people think that the Bible is a collection of religious myths. Stories were taken and reshaped over time by groups who were looking for meaning and purpose.
If we consider this problem, it would be strange to invite someone to church on Sunday morning and observe a group of people pouring over the details of an ancient text, spending the majority of time in a church service listening to preaching.
When people say that you can’t take the Bible “literally,” they confuse “literal” with “trustworthy.” Some parts seem historically questionable or scientifically impossible. Still others don’t trust the cultural practices of the Bible.
Consider the question of history. When it comes to the life of Jesus, Dan Brown’s theories about Jesus from The DaVinci Code have become popular, though factually baseless. In this novel, Jesus is presented as a mere human being who has great teachings but is later given the status of God by church leaders who are using Jesus’ teachings to gain political power in the Roman Empire.
But there are significant problems with such a view. First, some of the writings of the New Testament are only 15-20 years after the death of Jesus. In Philippians 2:6-11, Paul quotes an early hymn about Jesus’ humiliation and exaltation. Most modern scholars agree that Philippians was written in the late 50s or early 60s, some 25-30 years after Jesus’ death. The hymn in Philippians 2 predates the letter, most likely written by someone other than Paul, and is an early confession that the church sang. Philippians 2 contains one of the earliest confessions of Christ sung by the church some 10-20 years after his death. If Christ was a myth, it would be hard to believe that these ideas developed after such a short time after Christ’s death and resurrection.
Further, the gospels, while written later than Paul’s works, often contain eyewitnesses to the accounts. In Mark’s account, he is quick to name individuals such as Alexander and Rufus because they are still alive at the time of his writing and can verify Mark’s account. Paul also appeals to eyewitnesses in 1 Cor. 15:1-6. It would be hard to believe that a myth would be propagated by appealing to eyewitnesses still living.
Further, there are facts that would have made the good news challenging to believe, yet point to its veracity. When Mark records that the women were the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection (Mk 16:1-8), this information would not be the considered valid proof in Mark’s day since a woman’s testimony was not considered legitimate by a Roman court of law.
But Christianity had no trouble stating facts, even when the facts didn’t add to Christianity’s perceived credibility.
So when we hear people question if the Bible is trustworthy, we can know this for certain: the Gospels give accounts of Jesus that have too much information to be mere fantasy. If Christianity were a mere myth, it would have died out like other movements before (Acts 5:38-39). So we can trust the Bible and know that God has preserved these truths for us and for our salvation.
Learning to trust him more,
Missional Action Plan: Identify some questions you’ve heard that people have about the Bible’s historicity. What assumptions are they making about the Bible?
Missional Action Prayer: Lord, help me to read the Bible with eyes of faith, and help me to trust your Word more and more so that I might have confidence in talking with others who struggle to believe the Bible to be true. Amen.