When it comes to the truth of the Bible, our world has found plenty of reasons to reject it. We are bombarded with a dizzying variety of objections. So much so, that the average believer is quickly overwhelmed.
It’s a bit like being in a fight with multiple opponents at the same time. You might have a chance in a one-on-one contest, but it is disorientating when punches are coming from all sides. You can’t block them all.
One helpful way to address this problem is to learn how to separate these varied objections into distinct categories. This simple step allows us to organize our thinking. This helps us get a clearer picture of what particular opponent we are dealing with.
So, here are the three categories of Bible objections. Indeed, I might argue that just about any objection falls into one of these three categories. Our purpose here is not to answer the objections but just to explain them.
The Bible’s Origins
The first category has to do with where the Bible comes from–i.e., its historical origins. Objections abound in this category: Who wrote the Bible? How did they get their information? Why should we trust them?
In addition, scholars have raised questions about whether the biblical books were really authored by the names attached to them. What if they were forgeries? What if they were written by someone pretending to be someone else?
On top of this are questions about the biblical canon. Why just this number of books? Who decided these were the right ones? And what about the “other” books out there that didn’t make it into the canon?
So, there’s plenty of fodder for discussion in this first category.
The Bible’s Transmission
But, even if we conclude that the biblical authors are legitimate and trustworthy, and even if we have reasons to think we have the right books in our canon, there is still a second question to be asked: Do we actually have these books? Or, put more precisely, do we actually have the words of these books?
Even if, say, John wrote the Gospel that bears his name, and even if he is reliable, there’s still the question of whether we actually have what John wrote. Were biblical books reliably copied? Who were the scribes? Did they make mistakes? How many mistakes?
Of course, this sort of objection has gained new traction in recent years with the writings of Bart Ehrman. He has put his sights precisely on this question of whether these books have been reliably transmitted to us. And he says they have not:
How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly?
The Bible’s Content
It is worth noting that the objections thus far have very little to do with what the Bible actually says. They have been more about the history of the Bible or the transmission of the Bible.
But there’s a final category to consider, and this is a big one. Many people know nothing about the Bible’s history or transmission. Indeed, they may have never even thought about it. But, they have read the Bible. And they find what they read to be deeply problematic.
There are several objections people make to the Bible’s content. Some think the Bible contradicts itself (or at least they have heard that it does). For others, the Bible makes historical errors–it claims something happened a certain way when it didn’t. And still for others, the Bible contains things that are just not possible (seas parting, people rising from the dead, etc.).
But a major reason people object to the Bible’s content is on moral grounds. They find the teachings of the Bible to be bigoted, misogynistic, judgmental, or offensive.
In short, they just don’t like it. For more on moral objections to the Bible, see here.
The purpose of this post has been simple, namely to lay out the three major categories of Bible objections. I am convinced that just about any sort of objection can fall into one of these three areas.
It has not been my purpose here to answer these objections, but merely to help people understand them. And understanding them is the first step to responding to them.
Thanks Michael, I agree that it is very helpful to organize our thinking so that we can be better prepared ahead of time for common objections. I know your purpose was not to provide answers to the objections but if you were to recommend, say, three resources to help believers dig deeper and understand some of the answers and how to articulate them, what would you recommend?
Thank you for laying it out in a simple way. This helps in organising thoughts.
Evan Jackson says
A good rule of thumb: when someone tells you there are contradictions in the Bible, challenge them to show you one without using the internet to look it up. Most often, they can’t. If they haven’t put enough energy into the Bible to know their objections themselves, maybe they shouldn’t criticize it so harshly.
If they do come up with an “contradiction,” read it directly from the text and see if you can come up with any possible way that the two things can work together. The burden to prove a contradiction rests with the person who made the objection – if he can’t prove that there’s no reasonable way for the two pieces of text to work together, it isn’t a contradiction.
While I get the apologetic intention here, I would argue that this is primarily a debate tactic designed to point out flaws in a skeptic’s memory or research, but does little to move the actual conversation forward – especially for intellectually curious persons who are truly troubled by this topic.
Better, in my mind, to challenge a questioner on their assumption that a book worthy of the title “Word of God” (i.e. the Bible) would show no signs of the development of thought over time (and the internal tensions or debates that come with it). Perhaps the problem lies more with our expectations of what the Bible should be as conditioned by our modern viewpoint?
Michael, could you recommend a book or two for dealing with these objections?
Warren Lamb says
Michael, thanks for placing frequent Bible objections in three general categories. This is a useful method in developing responses that might be effective. In addition, I have found that personal stories of one’s own journey of faith to be meaningful to people who question the Bible and faith in Christ. I appreciate your daily blog and have included a link on my early Christianity website.