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Is The Bible True ... Really?
A Dialogue On Skepticism, Evidence, And Truth
By Josh McDowell, Dave Sterrett, Paul Santhouse
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2011 Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
All rights reserved.
"HOW MANY of you all—or should I say y'all—grew up in Texas?"
About half of the hands in the classroom went up.
"Good, glad to see it. My wife and I have enjoyed living here for almost twelve years now. We've learned a few things too. For example, here in the South, especially right here in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible Belt, we dare not question the historical authority of the books of the Bible, or we're damned to hell!"
A few chuckles echoed across the small auditorium. Dr. William Peterson, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and a renowned expert on ancient textual criticism, was well known for his views. Smiling wryly, he continued, "Honestly, I appreciate the concern these fundamentalists, Catholics, and evangelicals have for our souls, and I believe they are genuinely sincere—just sincerely misled."
* * *
Nick, a freshman at Opal University, listened intently as Dr. Peterson went on. "Conservative Christians are quick to judge those of us in academia for our views, but my question for them would be, 'What is the historical basis for believing the Bible really is the inerrant Word of God?' I want to know what persuades them to actually believe that the copies of the Bible translated today are even close to what was originally written down? It sounds good and faithful, but what are the facts? That's what we're here to explore. Are you ready for the facts?"
The room fell silent as the professor paused for effect. "Here are the facts that leading scholars all across the country agree upon. We don't even have the words that these fundamentalist Christians tell us God inerrantly inspired. That's right. All we have are words copied by scribes—sometimes correctly but certainly not always. We have error-ridden copies that are centuries removed from the originals and different from them in thousands of ways."
Nick's heart raced as he listened to the professor contradict what his pastor back home at Park Springs Community Church had taught the congregation. He sensed in his spirit this was his time to be bold for Christ and take a stand for the Lord. "That's not true!" he declared. "How dare you question God's Word."
The professor, somewhat taken aback by the student's interruption, responded kindly. "Very well, why don't you tell us what is true. What's not accurate about what I just said?"
Nick, now feeling a tad embarrassed and put on the spot, raised his voice. "Well, I'm a Christian and I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I accept it as the Word of God by faith! Hebrews says, 'Without faith it is impossible to please God,' and since God is sovereign and we are just human beings, who are we to question His sovereignty? Also, the Bible says, 'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that everyone will always be prepared to give an answer.'"
Dr. Peterson smiled and nodded. "I admire your personal faith and concern to quote portions of Hebrews 11 and 2 Timothy 3. Would you remind me of your name?"
"I'm glad you're in this class, Nick. I remember memorizing those same verses myself. Looking back, I think it was when I attended Calvin Christian Academy during my early teens." Noting Nick's look of surprise, he continued, "By the way, Nick, I think 2 Timothy 3 ends by saying, 'so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.' Perhaps, you were conflating it with 1 Peter 3:15, which mentions giving an answer or defense. That's okay, and really beside the point. What I was saying earlier, Nick, is that we really can't be sure the original book of Hebrews and the letter of 2 Timothy actually said the words you just quoted and that we both memorized. We don't have the 'original' of the Bible. The Bibles that you and I own have been radically changed over the past two thousand years."
"I don't believe that!" Nick blurted out.
"Oh? Would you care to educate us then?" asked the distinguished professor. The rest of the class murmured their annoyance at this rude, outspoken Christian.
"Well ... um," Nick stumbled. "You can't, uh, I mean it's not only about the words, Professor. God continues to change lives. I experience the presence of Jesus in my life every day. And ... um ... oh yeah, I remember—when I went to youth camp in Tyler we had this former atheist speak to us and he told us his testimony and shared that we have archeological evidence and old historical manuscripts, or copies of the Bible, that verify God's Word. Professor, this former atheist is now a Christian!" Nick asserted this last part with confidence, believing the Holy Spirit had helped him finish stronger than he started.
"Nick, it certainly is true that we have manuscripts or copies of the early letters and gospels written, but what type of manuscripts is the question! I've looked at some of these manuscripts myself, Nick, and the number of variants, or differences, between various handwritten copies is in the hundreds of thousands!" The majority of scholars in the country have come to recognize these facts. For example, a man I respect, Bart Ehrman, the head of the religion department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has published some excellent academic works on textual criticism."
Dr. Peterson took a few steps closer to his students and sat on his stool near the front row where Nick was sitting. "Nick, I admire your sincere faith and I respect your religion, but the purpose of this class is to study religion historically. Class, let me ask you a question. Where is the original Bible that God inspired? Is it located in some museum? Does anyone know? Nick? Anybody?"
The class was silent, and by this time Nick was speechless as well.
"Come on, class, join the conversation. Anyone can speak up and help Nick out!" After a few awkward moments, the professor continued, "It's okay, Nick. Nobody knows. Listen to me, class. We don't have the original. There is no evidence that a 'God' inspired these letters. If this God of the Bible existed and was all-powerful, don't you think He would have cleared up the confusion for us all? For example, if you grew up going to church like I did, or like our friend Nick, your Bible probably has four gospels in the New Testament. But did you know there were many other gospels that were not included? What about the Gospel of Thomas, or the gospels of Philip or Mary Magdalene?
"Students, I care about your personal beliefs. But I also care about your intellectual honesty in all areas—including the history of religion. I wish I had time to explain all of this to you today, but we'll get to it as the semester progresses. The message of Christianity is nothing new or unique. When I began studying biblical literature in graduate school, I discovered that stories of dying and rising gods, virgin births, and miracle workers were already widespread throughout the known world when the gospels were written. We'll look into these things in more depth the next time we're together. Class dismissed."CHAPTER 2
THE CARUTH HAVEN COFFEEHOUSE
NICK STORMED OUT of class furious and frustrated. As he walked by the science hall he heard a familiar voice. "Nick! Nick! How are you?"
He turned and saw Andrea, a biology major he had met the first day of orientation, cutting across the lawn to catch up with him.
"Hey, Andrea," Nick said.
"Nick, are you okay? You seem really upset."
"I'm all right, Andrea. It's just that my religion professor, Dr. Peterson, said some things I don't agree with."
* * *
"You have Dr. Peterson? I loved his class when I had him last year! What did he say?"
"It's hard to explain. He and I just don't see eye to eye on some things. Man, he's got some strange ideas!"
Andrea smiled. "Nick, that's what you told me the first time we got into a spiritual conversation, remember? I'm sure it will be okay. We're still friends, right? Look, I'm headed over to the Caruth Haven Coffeehouse to study for a few hours. Why don't you come with me so we can talk about it?"
Nick looked at his watch, and then nodded. "All right. I've got some time before my next class."
Later, at a table by the window, Andrea took a sip of her caramel macchiato and looked at Nick. "So, what's on your mind, Nick? What did Dr. Peterson say?"
"Andrea, you know I have a personal relationship with Jesus, right? I believe Scripture is God-breathed and Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But Dr. Peterson told us the Bible has been changed, and that the Bibles we have today aren't even true!"
"Nick, I understand that this is hard for you, but I took his class and I'm pretty sure that Dr. Peterson is right."
"Here we go again," said Nick, sighing.
"Nick, the Bible has been changed, but I still think it's an inspiring book like the works of Homer, Virgil, and Plato. I understand what you're going through, though. It was hard for me to accept until I started reading other religious books outside of my own circle. When I attended St. Mary's Academy in high school, not one of my theology instructors told me how the Catholic Church chose what books to put in the Bible. They also didn't tell me the copies of the Bibles used today by both Catholics and Protestants have been drastically transformed throughout history, sometimes intentionally by religious leaders. It makes sense though since they've been copied over and over for more than two thousand years."
Nick stared out the window, chewing on his stir stick.
"There's another thing, too," continued Andrea. "My church never once told me that the Christian story plagiarized and borrowed from pagan myths that were around long before Christianity!"
"Hey, Dr. Peterson said something about that too! What's that all about, anyway? Is that what Dan Brown was talking about in his novels?"
"Nick, it's history. Dr. Peterson told us numerous other stories: Mythras, Appolonius, Sabbati, and others. Have you seen that YouTube video called Zeitgeist, The Greatest Story Ever Sold?"
"Okay, check this out."
Andrea turned her MacBook around so Nick could watch the clip. He plugged his headphones in, hit play, and heard about religious leaders throughout history who had similar life characteristics to Jesus. The video implied that Christianity simply plagiarized from other religious stories that were circulating years before Jesus' birth. Names like Attis of Greece, Krishna of India, Dionysus of Greece, and Mithra of Persia were included in the video. The narrator described how, based on astrology, each of these religious leaders was born of a virgin on December 25, discovered by a star in the East, was adored by three kings, began teaching at twelve, was baptized into ministry at thirty, had twelve disciples, performed miracles, was known as the "Lamb of God" and "The Light," and was crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day.
Nick was speechless during the entire video except for the one time he rolled his eyes and said, "Noooo waaaayyyy."
At the end of the clip, Nick looked at Andrea. "Hey, regardless of what Dr. Peterson and that stupid YouTube video say, I still believe that the Bible is God's Word, by faith!"
Nick didn't want to admit it to Andrea, but for a few seconds he had questioned the truthfulness of his Christian beliefs.
"Andrea," Nick continued. "God's Word is not going to come back void and I trust that His Spirit speaks through me when I don't know what to say. Even when I don't have all the answers, God is sovereign and is changing lives through His Spirit. Besides, that video is probably just a hoax. I'm out of here, Andrea. I need to get to class."
Andrea watched him fill his backpack.
Before leaving the table, Nick asked, "Hey, are you going to that party on Friday?"
"The one at Jessica's," responded Nick.
"Yes! I'm there, but what about you? I didn't think you were the drinking type."
"I'm not. But you know, God has called me to be salt and light. Even Jesus came eating and drinking with sinners like you, Andrea! Just kidding, but Jesus did say, 'It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.'"
"Nick, you're goofy, but I like you. You may hold some old-school views of the Bible, but at least you're genuine."
* * *
As the weeks passed and Nick got to know Dr. Peterson better, he began entertaining doubts about his faith. In some sense, he still sought to be a "Christian witness" and to share a message of repentance and trusting in Christ, but sometimes he got discouraged. Not only were there no "converts," but he also found it difficult to reconcile his beliefs with what he was learning in class. Gradually, as he talked less about Jesus and learned more about the unreliability of the Bible, he began to drift from the conservative faith he had grown up with.
One night at another of Jessica's parties, Nick drank a few more beers than he anticipated. Before long he was getting physical with Jessica. It started with grinding as they danced closely to an old Jay-Z song, then progressed to making out in the hot tub after some of the others had left. Three weeks and several dates later, he did something that would certainly disappoint his parents and former youth pastor if they found out. He lost his virginity. For most nineteen-year-olds, this might not have seemed like such a big deal, but for Nick it was huge. He was smitten with guilt and felt like he had turned against God. Years ago at a church youth conference Nick had pledged not to have sex until marriage, and now he had broken his word and violated his commitment.CHAPTER 3
STRUGGLING WITH FAITH
THE FOLLOWING WEEK Nick called Duane, the youth pastor from his church back home. When Duane was leading Nick's accountability group the previous summer, Nick used to confess to him after missing a "quiet time" or struggling with lust.
"Duane, I need to talk to you about a couple things."
"Sure, Nick. What's up?"
"Duane, do you really believe the Bible we have today is true?"
"Of course, Nick."
"Why do you believe that?"
* * *
"Are you serious? The Bible is the most amazing book in the world. The Bible provides wisdom and my life is living proof that it's true."
Nick had heard this before and used to tell people the same thing.
"Yes, but how do you know it's reliable, Duane?"
"Don't you remember what I taught you during the summer? The Bible is true because of faith. Jesus said that without faith you'll never enter the kingdom of heaven. Regardless of circumstances, God's love is unchanging. You've got to just believe it and press on! Don't let the Devil pull you away, Nick!"
"Duane, I used to think that way, but lately I've had a lot of doubts. I've even reviewed the verses we learned last summer, but they don't mean anything. Dr. Peterson, my religion professor, has studied some of the oldest copies of the Bible available and he says there are hundreds of thousands of differences in the copies. He also says there are other gospels written by people like Thomas, Mary, and Judas, and that most of Christianity is borrowed from pagan mythology. Do you know about all this?"
Duane didn't respond right away. "Nick, Christ hasn't called us to be perfect or to know all the answers. He calls us to be genuine and authentic. Keep trusting Him and He'll show you the way."
"Maybe you can pray for me, Duane. For the first several weeks I was here I felt like I was walking the narrow way, not drinking alcohol or looking at pornography, but recently I've been doing both, and ... well, I met this girl and spent more time with her than I should have."
"Did you sleep with her?"
Nick hesitated. "Well, not right away, but we sort of clicked and things went pretty fast and ... I slept with her a couple days ago. I only did it once, and I feel really bad about it, but I'm also having some serious doubts, Duane."
"Nick, I'm sorry to hear that, but remember this—God loves you. I certainly don't know all the answers, but the Bible says that 'if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.' I can tell you're struggling, so don't forget that God calls us to struggle well. We're not perfect; we need to confess our doubts and sins. You confessed it to me, and God will reward your honesty. If you feel tempted again, call me and we can pray together. Keep reading the Word, by faith, even if you don't understand! As a matter of fact, let's go to the Lord right now in prayer."
After Pastor Duane prayed, Nick felt encouraged and hoped he could press on in faith. He also decided his sexual mistake with Jessica wouldn't happen again, but that resolve was short-lived. In the weeks that followed, Nick found endless excuses to be alone with her, and several times they were sexually intimate again. Whatever guilty feelings he'd had at first were now being repressed, and it all seemed so good in a new sort of way. He had never known a girl so beautiful or felt such powerful longings. His drinking habits now included hard alcoholic beverages, and he drank on a regular basis with Jessica and their friends. Yet, even when consumed with Jessica on Saturday nights, he would occasionally attend the nearby Catalyst Fellowship Church on Sunday evenings. It made him feel better and gave him something spiritual to tell his parents when they called.
Excerpted from Is The Bible True ... Really? by Josh McDowell, Dave Sterrett, Paul Santhouse. Copyright © 2011 Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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