Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Week 3: Can we trust scripture? (Part 2)

bible on table

Hello, friends.

It is incredible to me that I can call you friends and mean it in the truest sense of the word. My family just returned home from dinner with two of you who we first met online in January. Our friendship is young, but I believe it will last. We’re starting to get to know each other—to talk about more than what we talk about here. Russell ordered two consecutive entrees and two simultaneous desserts, and we stayed until restaurant staff glared at us. Almost two and a half years ago, I wrote a letter to a believing acquaintance. That led to a family friendship, and ultimately to a blog community and a growing local community. Months ago, my vulnerability in this online setting led me to meet with two internet strangers. Suddenly, they’re across the table from me over a spontaneous Thursday night meal planned only 2 and a half hours before—because we’re friends. We’ve made other friends, too. Two other former internet strangers have become precious to us. He finalized his will before they met us in person for the first time months ago—just in case we were dangerous. One week ago, they made me smile when I didn’t think it was possible. Somehow, vulnerability has made me less vulnerable. Taking a risk made me safer. Letting my guard down over recent years and months has made me feel invincible.

Perhaps that is why I attend a Wednesday night discussion group at a Baptist church. My vulnerability—both with believers and non-believers—has been hugely rewarding. I’m now addicted to the thrill of taking risks and winning big. The thought of one risk still makes me tremble—the thought of being completely honest before my parents and siblings. I know the day must come, and I gather strength for it through all of you here—and perhaps someday through new friends who can enter my life as I tear down my walls. When I attend discussions on Wednesday night, I’m not there to say “You’re wrong.” I’m there to say “This is who I am. Will you love me? Will you stand with me?” Seeking safety by taking risks. Perhaps it will backfire on me someday. Even still—it is a privilege to call you friends.

What follows is Week 3, part 2 of a local church’s Wednesday evening discussion group over The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. This week’s discussion is on the trustworthiness of scripture. You can catch up on part 1 of week 3 here and you can read about the first two weeks’ discussions on my husband’s blog.

“Do you want to rely only on what you can see and know around you, or do you want to put your faith in this book that the God we trust has given to us, whether we agree with it all or not?”

No one answered her question. The pastor moved on and showed a video clip from the previous week’s sermon to introduce a new question for discussion. He spoke of the Bible’s composition—66 books, 40 known authors, and one divine author. He asked why we stand on this book and why we consider it holy. This led to the question for discussion—the question Christians hope no one will ask: “How can you base your faith on one book?”

As one who asks questions, I was surprised to hear that this is one Christians would rather not encounter. That question has never occurred to me. If anything, scripture would be easier to accept if it were one coherent book. If skeptics are asking this question, they can do better. If Christians are using this question in preparation for engaging skeptics, they can do better. I didn’t speak up, and enthusiastic answers followed. If anyone is interested in the transcript, I took thorough notes and can provide it by email—I actually typed it out with my thoughts and decided not to include it here. I personally don’t enjoy using the line-by-line response tactic my husband often employs.

The discussion following this question initially centered on the composition of the Bible, with the consensus being that we can trust it because so many people (presumed to be eyewitnesses) gave such a coherent message. We can trust it because so many of these authors said the same thing without collaboration. We can trust it because of prophecies fulfilled.

I had unspoken responses to each of these reasons to trust, and I did not offer them—I’m not sure why I was silent. The conversation did move quickly and with passion. If I had responded, I would have said that, to my knowledge, there is not a scholarly majority that suggests that scripture contains any eyewitness accounts of Jesus (beyond Paul’s claim). Furthermore, evidence that is tangible and repeatable would mean more to me than testimony. I also would have said that I question that the Bible does not contain collaboration. We see many examples of exact wording used in different books of the Bible. Is plagiarism so miraculous? And what of prophecies fulfilled? The words “to fulfill what was spoken” give me pause—the writers of the New Testament had access to the prophecies and likely the motivation to make them apply.

At the end of the discussion following the video clip, the pastor made a statement that seemed almost like a retreat, although I don’t think this was his intent—he heard no opposition to these claims about scripture and wouldn’t have had a need to step back from his support of it. He said, “The truth is, we don’t base our life on the Bible as Christians. We base it on Jesus Christ. The Bible points us to him, but our lives are based on Jesus Christ—who affirmed the authority of scripture.”

So even if we can tear scripture apart, we still have a solid foundation in Christ. But why? How do we know him except through these words I cannot trust? I wish I had spoken—but I fear rejection, and I fear it far more than being wrong. Even worse, I fear silence. What if there are no satisfactory answers? Do I risk hopelessness if I ask?

For the next question presented, I made a personal vow to speak up. I’m all in, even at the risk of losing my reputation—and even at the risk of losing my hope. Tomorrow, I’ll write about the last part of this week’s discussion—the part where I found my voice.

I’m taking a risk with my honesty there. This one thought presses me onward: Perhaps keeping my struggle to myself for fear of rejection or unsatisfactory answers is a way of choosing hopelessness—and I would much rather risk it than choose it.

Image courtesy of © Phatthanit | Dreamstime.com – Bible On The Wooden Table Photo

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14 thoughts on “Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Week 3: Can we trust scripture? (Part 2)

  1. We’re very glad we wrote that will up! (and also glad you two aren’t dangerous 😉 ) Thank you for adding so much to our lives!

    You are very brave for speaking up, J. Back in the day, I only spoke up in very small groups. Fear of rejection definitely can be very intense.

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    • I’m not dangerous, but your confession of finalizing the will before meeting us did make me feel a very satisfying sense of power 😉

      It doesn’t require as much bravery as you might think—these are precious people, and it is a privilege to be welcomed among them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So, next time–three entrees and three desserts? :0) We must set goals…

    I wish I knew how to even begin to participate in gatherings like the one you and Russell describe. I tried once, at Tammy’s church, a couple of years after going my own way. It was led by a grad school friend of mine, at a fairly liberal church, and I thought it might be more my speed than attempting to infiltrate a Sunday School class. I tried that, too, but unfortunately opened my mouth and gave myself away. I quote: “When God closes a door, break a window.” Strangely, not well taken. One half thought I was a heretic; the other half just didn’t get it.

    Anyway, in the course of attending these Wednesday night affairs, I made an interesting discovery: I have outstripped even the most liberal of Christians in my personal journey. They were debating based on a certain formulation of God; I wanted to debate the formulation itself. It was like speaking in two different languages.

    Which is to say, if you can engage in these conversations fruitfully, my hat is off to you. Sometimes I wish I had a better idea of how to do it myself…

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    • “They were debating based on a certain formulation of God; I wanted to debate the formulation itself. It was like speaking in two different languages.”

      At times I feel as if something like this happens with Russell and Pascal 🙂

      It has already been fruitful for me in this case, but I can imagine that it won’t always be. I hope I can have the wisdom to know the difference.

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  3. I do think that one of the greats myths that has cropped up in Christian culture is that of the miraculous nature of the Bible. I was reading today Paul Davidson’s analysis on the story of David and Goliath.
    https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/the-men-who-killed-goliath-unraveling-the-layers-of-tradition-behind-a-timeless-tale-of-heroism/

    He provides a brilliant analysis of the two separate stories that were combined to form the story in 1 Samuel 16-18. The fact that the LXX version contains only one strand of the story provides compelling evidence that the final version of the Hebrew text was not written until after the LXX was translated into Greek around 200 BC.

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  4. Reblogged this on russell & pascal and commented:

    My wife continues her recap of “The Table” last Wednesday evening.

    Gorgeous – thank you for taking the time to share this!

    Friends, if you have thoughts, please share them with the community here or on her excellent blog! 🙂

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  5. A couple reactions… The first of which is that, while I understand you are making a different point, I find the word ‘plagiarism’ anachronistic to the culture within which the gospels and epistles of the New Testament were written. It is commonly thought, under the two-source hypothesis, that the Gospel of Mark and another lost collection of the sayings of Jesus were used by Luke and Matthew as sources for their gospels. That does, however, leave the Gospel of John independent of historically evident sources, along with the Gospel of Mark, the lost ‘Q’ source, and the Epistles of Paul. Secondly, you undermine the ethos of Paul when you disregard his ‘eyewitness account of Jesus.’ Keep in mind that Paul clearly had some kind of epiphany on the road to Damascus, evidenced by his change of heart toward Christianity. When I say ‘change of heart,’ I suppose I refer to his reputation as the most avid persecutor of Christianity to its most ardent proponent. If his vision of Christ wasn’t true on a material level, it seems appropriate in his case to consider the possibility of a transcendent source of ‘truth.’

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    • Hello, and welcome!

      My comment about plagiarism was not intended to imply that there are no independent sources. I’m just trying to clarify a misconception from the meeting, where they seemed to believe that the “mirror image” of parts of the text between synoptic gospels was a result of consistent divine inspiration. They failed to acknowledge that this was more likely a result of shared sources.

      I also do not mean to “disregard” Paul’s eyewitness account—I mentioned it as the exception to the lack of eyewitness accounts, so I’m not completely sure what you were referring to. I do not disregard his account, but I am skeptical of it as one should be with any singular eyewitness episode that is not testable. I have acquaintances who have claimed to have similar encounters, and a changed life is indeed powerful testimony. But perceptions can be life-changing—even if not consistent with reality. This occurs across cultures and religions, and perceptions are interpreted within the context of each.

      I do want this to be true. Transcendent truth? Okay, sure. My point is not to say that this cannot be true. My thesis is simply that many believers argue as if it’s laughable to question the reliability of scripture—and my brief statements in my post (in response to their claims of no collaboration, eyewitness testimony, etc.) were included to demonstrate that it’s not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Then it seems that I am with you on all points. I am similarly frustrated when fundamentalists who have no understanding of paleography interpret these verbatim passages in the synoptic gospels as evidence of their veracity. As for Paul’s eyewitness encounter claim, it is interesting that there are explicit contradictions in the book of Acts. Twice the encounter is referenced by Luke, and in each case the story is told a bit differently. In one case, the people accompanying Paul did not see Jesus but heard his voice. In the other account, they who accompanied Paul did see the light. I suppose, though, that if my point is that Paul was not alone at the time of his conversion, it is undermined by the discrepancies within Luke’s accounts. It remains important, nevertheless, that Luke was very aware of these discrepancies himself, so his inclusion of both accounts as they were reported to him is a testament to his honesty as a historiographer.

        Regarding your determination to speak up at these meetings, a bit of introspection is necessary. You must consider whether your motivation is to reveal your intellectual superiority or, more genuinely, to see if your doubts can be satisfactorily dealt with by the pastor or someone in the group. I have been likewise tempted to abandon silence for verbosity in the company of my fundamentalist acquaintances, but I always recall a passage from C.S. Lewis in which he recounts his experience in a church of less intellectually sophisticated believers and considered himself unworthy to tie their shoes. I can only guess what he meant by that statement, but it always humbles me. Moreover, we must wonder the effect it will have on those who hear you. Should you succeed in revealing the fallacies of their presumptions, simple minds have a much harder time projecting subjective meaning onto the world they live in, so, with their religious views debunked, they can only turn to a life of vain pursuit of pleasure or, more often, depression.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I completely agree. The introspection you write about has been very important to me. The truth is, I don’t feel intellectually superior. With my same intellect, I once believed the same things they believe. My friend Pascal (at http://www.RussellandPascal.com) is a strong believer with an intellect that far surpasses mine, and I know others like him.

          So why do I speak up? To provide justification for my doubt, to be authentic with where I stand, and to hear how others have dealt with similar doubt and survived with faith intact. I do want to believe.

          I do also wonder about the effect it could have. I cannot forget the effect my husband’s and others’ doubts had on me. Yes—incapacitating depression. I haven’t really admitted that openly, but that’s what happened. It’s getting better, but I would never wish it on someone else.

          You write skillfully, and I’m glad you’re here.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Week 3: Can we trust scripture? (Part 3) | The Counterfeit Christian

  7. Pingback: The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Week 4: Suffering // My Deepest Fear and the Greatest Risk | The Counterfeit Christian

  8. Sorry to be so late reading your posts. I’ve been so busy of late! Interesting discussion. The quote from your pastor was interesting…but a bit odd. As a Christian, I base my life and faith on God and my experiential relationship with God. It pretty much has always been the case for me. According to the bible, Jesus came to point us to the father. I don’t remember him affirming the authority of scripture but rather he seemed to use it as a way of meeting the minds of those he was teaching.

    Another note: Not all Christians take the bible literally. In fact traditional denominations and Catholic priests don’t. I am currently reading a book by a Franciscan Priest called Scripture As Spirituality. You may find it as refreshing as I do, although I am still at the beginning of it.

    The bible as a whole isn’t a story about God but a story about the history of man’s beliefs in God. The truths it gives us are bigger than historical evidence. Although personally, I feel it a shame that I have to read some of the ugly human bits in order to find the pearls.

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