In high school a friend told me, “You can’t trust the Bible! It was translated from Hebrew to Greek, from Greek to Latin, then from Latin to English.” I already had a low view of the Bible, so my friend’s statement just gave me further justification. Though I had never really investigated the Bible, I was convinced it was a bunch of made-up stories designed to manipulate people.
Let me share a few things I wasn’t aware of in my “Beware of the Bible!” days.
The Bible is Trustworthy
The Bible isn’t a book, technically. The Bible is a collection of narratives, laws, poetry, historical accounts, prophecies, songs, eyewitness stories, and letters. The oldest parts of the Bible (the Old Testament) were written in Hebrew, the newer parts (the New Testament) where written in Greek, along with a little Aramaic. You can buy Bibles in these original languages today.
Though the Bible’s original manuscripts likely decayed (or were stolen by time bandits) there are so many copies of New Testament manuscripts which can be examined and compared, as well as evidence of careful copying of Old Testament manuscripts – there is little to support the claim that the Bible has been altered or fabricated. The parts which are in question are obvious and hold no significant difference in meaning. Most Bibles note these areas, so you know what they are.
People Don’t Suffer & Die for Something They Know Ain’t True
Most founders of religions gain wealth, power, and status within their community. The New Testament, early Christian, and early non-Christian writings tell us all but one of Jesus’ closest followers were killed because they believed Jesus physically rose from the dead – ROSE FROM THE DEAD. Why would they suffer and die for what they knew to be a lie? And not only a lie but a lie that totally flew in the face of their people’s understanding of God and of their culture. Such things include Jesus being God, the sabbath day being observed on Sunday instead of Saturday, an abandonment of Jewish ceremonial customs, and women being the first witnesses to Jesus being resurrected from the dead. (A woman’s testimony was considered worthless.) The original followers must have experienced something extraordinary in order to suffer persecution, torture, and death for what they believed.
Historical Context is Key to Understanding the Bible
The Bible is easy to misunderstand because it was written by people who lived in a culture very different from ours. You may have heard several weird ideas which originate from this misunderstanding. It’s important to realize none (zippo, zero!) of the Bible’s many original audiences had an American worldview, therefore they were living in very different stories. If we can understand their stories, their specific beliefs, it will unlock the Bible for us. When reading the Bible it’s important to ask, “What did this mean to the original audience?”
I enjoy listening to debates by a famous atheist. He constantly uses the story of God asking Abraham to kill his only son in order to illustrate how barbaric the Bible is. In this story God stops Abraham from killing his son at the very last second.
This radical story needs to be understood in a cultural context where people believed gods wanted their children to be sacrificed as proof of devotion. Today we read this story and think, “Wow! How could God do that? That’s awful!” The original audience would hear this and think, “Wow! This God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our children to prove our devotion? That’s awesome!” The intense drama of the story drove the truth home, and kept many an ancient neighbor from calling Child Protective Services!
We Have Culturally Defined Expectations of What the Bible Should Be
I expected the Bible to have floated out of the sky from God, and if that didn’t appear to have been the case I said, “Look how messed up this is!” I gradually discovered this was an unjustified, modern expectation I held due to my own narrow cultural understanding.
I’ve researched dozens of apparent contradictions to find they have satisfying answers which have greatly increased my respect for the Bible. Sometimes the answers can be something simple, like events being organized by theme, rather than chronologically, in order to communicate something important. Other times the answers require research into the language and customs of the original audience. I’m consistently impressed by the high degree of continuity a series of books have which were written over the timespan of 1600 years.
In our post-Enlightenment, information soaked culture – with an American justice system and American journalism – we are concerned with the details and sequences of events. Ancient cultures of Biblical times were concerned with what do events mean. With this in mind, reading and understanding the Bible can be a more meaningful experience.
Explore Your Perspective:
- What parts of the Bible have you read?
- What has most influenced your view of the Bible?
- What do you find confusing about the Bible and what makes sense?
If you find it difficult to believe in a source of absolute truth, read the article What Zen Taught Me about Truth.