At this point in the conversation Terry has a few choices to make. Will she listen to Mackenzie’s questions and doubts with compassion and curiosity, or will she jump to conclusions, assume the worst, and monologue her way out of relationship with Mackenzie? Will she double down on “The Bible is true because it says it’s true”? Or will she take a more subtle and sophisticated approach?
Before she speaks, Terry needs to do two essential things. She’s already done the first: she has listened. And importantly, she’s listened for the questions behind the questions. That’s where she will learn the fears revealed in the questions. Second, she needs to discern the best place to start.
If Terry listens carefully she will discover that Mackenzie isn’t afraid of losing the Bible. She is afraid of losing her faith. Her doubts about the trustworthiness of the Bible are the presenting issues that have churned up fear. But her angst has taken root in questions regarding the trustworthiness of the Scriptures but her fear is much more foundational.
Terry might be tempted to begin her response by using the Bible as the primary source to prove the Bible’s reliability.
The Bible is bluntly honest. It records the moral and spiritual failures of those whose story it tells. Such candor is important. Potentially embarrassing reports written about one’s own family, friends, or group tend to be treated as an indicator of authenticity.
Jesus endorsed the Bible. He made it clear that he believed the Old Testament was more than just national history or religious fable (MATTHEW 4:1–11; 5:17–19). He believed that the Scriptures were about him—they told the story of God’s love and promise of a coming Messiah (JOHN 5:39–40).
The Bible describes itself as more than just a human book. Its timeless influence is therefore grounded not merely in the opinion of its readers, but in the claims it makes for itself (2 TIMOTHY 3:16; 2 PETER 1:16–21).
Those who accept that the Bible is true and trustworthy often find these features of Scripture to be compelling proofs for the veracity of those Scriptures. Such arguments are called internal evidences—using the testimony of the Bible itself to make their point. Internal evidences often reassure the faith of a believer, but just as often they fail to convince those who doubt that the Bible deserves to be trusted.
Suppose Mackenzie’s college professor believes newspapers are an inaccurate and untrustworthy source of information. Mackenzie disagrees with this assessment and sets out to build a case for the trustworthiness of newspapers by saying, “According to the New York Times, newspapers are fifty percent more likely to be accurate than Internet or television news sources. Last year the The Times of London ranked the top fifty news sources in the English–speaking world, and The Times of London topped the list as the globe’s most trustworthy news source.”
Would this line of reasoning be convincing? Would she be able to change her professor’s mind based on this evidence? Probably not. Why? Because these arguments are based on an authority that her professor doubts.
In the same way, when those who believe the Bible set out to prove its trustworthiness using only the internal evidences, they can quickly lose credibility with those who are skeptical. This does not mean that the internal evidences are not valid. It simply means that when talking with those who doubt the reliability of Scripture, we should begin in a different place.
For many, the Bible describes a world they have never experienced and cannot accept. They read about supernatural events that don’t fit the laws of nature as they understand them. This is one of the key points in Mackenzie’s professor’s attack on the reliability of Scripture. It involves ideas about knowledge and truth as concepts and the ability of humans to possess knowledge and to experience and know truth. What is knowledge? Can we know something? Can we know something we are not certain of? Is there objective truth? If so, how can I know it?
It is often an unquestioned assumption that scientific inquiry is the most reliable basis for knowing anything about our world. Some might even say it’s the only reliable basis. If you cannot prove it scientifically or experientially then you can’t know it. Add to this underlying belief, the general mistrust of institutions, experts, and authorities that seems to permeate our current culture and you have the perfect cocktail of skepticism and mistrust.
There is no doubt that scientific investigation has been an important means of opening up our understanding. But there is disagreement about whether it is the only or even the best way to discover truth. Some believe the Bible is true and trustworthy even when it makes supernatural claims that cannot be scientifically tested. Others are convinced that scientific methods are the best or only way to understand reality and determine truth. They insist that it doesn’t make sense to embrace both scientific inquiry and the Bible as sources of truth. Their worldview makes it impossible to believe the stories in the Bible that bend or break natural laws: a virgin giving birth, a man walking on water, a person rising from the dead, or a small amount of bread feeding thousands of people.
But while scientific inquiry gives us knowledge and measures some truth claims, can we assert that it is the only way we know and experience truth? Are there things we know that cannot be tested scientifically? Can we say we know …
• When we love someone.
• That a sunset is beautiful.
• That justice is better than injustice.
• That the earth is spherical and not flat.
• That Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States of America.
No doubt, questioning this last statement sounds silly, but think about it: How do we know that the sixteenth president of the United States was Abraham Lincoln? We know nothing about Lincoln from firsthand experience or scientific inquiry. We’ve never met him. We didn’t vote for him.
“No,” you might say, “but we have documentation—books, letters, photos, and other historical records that tell us he was the sixteenth president.”
What if, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I refused to accept that “Honest Abe” was president of the United States from 1861 to 1865?
In this scenario, is my doubt rational? Is it reasonable for me to hold this belief even though we cannot prove today from firsthand experience (seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, or hearing) or by an appeal to scientific inquiry that Abraham Lincoln was president? We have good reasons to believe that he was the sixteenth President of the United States. We have mountains of testimonial evidence that he was elected in 1860, reelected in 1864, signed the emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, and was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. This is just a sampling of the historical evidence from many reputable sources of the 1850s and 60s that makes it ludicrous to deny that Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States. We only know these things about President Lincoln insofar as the source material we engage is a reliable and faithful witness to true events.
To refuse to believe the Lincoln presidency because of a few inconsistencies in accounts and possible contradictions in the reports of his whereabouts, thoughts, and political and sociological views would be irrational. Why? Because while it is possible that the Lincoln presidency was an elaborate hoax, it is highly improbable.
The difference between the historical record for the Lincoln presidency and the story of the Bible is clear. The record of the Lincoln presidency doesn’t include claims for supernatural events as does the story of the Bible. It is the claims of the miraculous that cause so many to discount the Bible as reliable.
Given this, is it reasonable to claim that the Bible is trustworthy? Is there enough evidence to support the view that the Bible is a trustworthy witness of true events—even the miraculous ones? Is there any external evidence that supports the internal claims of the Bible?