Why believe the Bible?

I rely on the Bible. Often I do not think of it as “the Bible,” but as a part of myself or of the universe. It is. It has no distinct, quantifiable nature than can be analyzed. But like other things that simply exist in my life, such as my right hand, the Bible actually can be considered as a distinct thing, and sometimes I do consider it so.

If you take the time to think of it, the way your hand moves according to your whim is a very perplexing thing. There is no logic to it. Lay your hand on the table and think, I want to raise my index finger. Just think it, speaking the words to yourself, and nothing will happen. Try to raise your finger and lo, it works. But there is nothing logical about it. It cannot be analyzed, by your own mind, as a process of causative thought and physical reaction. It happens when you want it to, yes, but not in discrete rational instructions. The complex symphony of motions involved in plucking a spoon out of a drawer would take ten minutes if you thought your way through it.

I find myself facing the same sort of inscrutable operation when I consider the veracity of the Bible. I can doubt it, think about it, talk about it, and analyze it, but I cannot touch my assumption of its basic veracity. To overload the analogy, we have all had trouble with our hands at some point, fumbling things, and if it were not so we could all be surgeons. Likewise I can have difficulty with points of the Bible. Its essential character, though, cannot be truly doubted any more than a normal healthy person truly doubts that his fingers obey him.

The credibility of the Bible can be questioned on many grounds. Stories in it are repeated with facts changed; numbers change, names change, context changes. Moral imperatives seem to change, laws and rules seem to adapt like fluid to the circumstances. Descriptions of events ostensibly happening at one time seem to strangely match the circumstances of some other time—and I am not talking about prophecies, which in their nature are supposed to describe times not yet present.

Many of these inconsistencies are easily and fairly dismissed. If you are counting people, the number might come up differently depending on whether you include women and children. If you are counting days, the number might change depending on whether you begin a “day” at evening or morning, or in the middle of the night as we perversely do. If you are counting years of a king’s reign, the number might change depending on whether you start the “year” with the first day of the king’s reign or the first day of the “calendar year” the way we would; and it can change if the king reigned as a deputy to his father or independently, and how you factor that in.

Names changed much more freely in much of history. Dialect could easily change a name, since it was not fixed in a concrete, widely-practiced system of writing such as we have today. American pioneers were a more literate population than the ancients, but even their spelling and grammar fluctuated in a way that today would be scandalous. And people had a way of picking up new names, helped along, no doubt, by the way names used to have meaning.

There comes a point, though, when a contradiction is too plain to be resolved. Even if some lawyerly technicality can be found to resolve the problem, the conscience objects to the injustice. The plain-faced honest meaning here seems to contradict the equally earnest meaning there. What to do?

Of course the rational answer is to prefer the one that has more collaboration or seems to make more sense. There is nothing wrong with letting reason cooperate in understanding the Bible, but once it begins arbitrating—choosing one bit over another—bloody anarchy follows. Reason, left to its own devices, must reject prophecy, resurrection, miracles, and anything else of substance in the Bible. The rational mind has an aversion to saying “I don’t know, I don’t understand,” and leaving it at that. People who rationally reject this or that aspect of the Bible but adhere to the rest have simply found a point were they don’t mind arbitrarily overlooking reason.

It is disheartening to see so many vigorous scholarly defenders of the faith and of the Bible agree that this or that can’t be so; that the evidence belies this story, or that it makes no difference whether the author is being honest so long as he is telling the truth. (Any time you say that a book of the Bible is not written by and for the stated people, and in the time claimed, you must be saying that the author is not honest; and then if you are a “believer” you must also be saying that the author is telling the truth. Quite the arrangement.)

The dirty secret hidden from those who prostitute themselves on scholarship is that everything else in the world is subject to as much criticism as the Bible, if people spent half so much effort criticizing it. It seems that today’s histories and doctrines are much more sensible only because we are familiar with the jargon of our own times. In two thousand more years speaking of demon possession may seem no more ridiculous than speaking of humanitarian aid. Given how much cultural context and collaborating evidence we have lost, the difficulties understanding the Bible in its own terms are not surprising.

The drift of this argument is of course the foundation of post-modern and deconstructionist criticism, so you can pick up the argument in that context if you are interested. And many Bible believers understandably oppose deconstructionism and post-modernism, thinking that it undermines the essence of truth and of God.

Obviously, saying that everything can be discredited does not do anything to accredit the Bible. In fact it can only lead you to some sort of nihilism. The delicious irony of the post-modernist insight, though, is that the brightest minds of post-modernism also realize that it is impossible to be nihilistic. Everyone has values, and as far as reason is concerned, everyone’s values are arbitrary. People’s stated values can often be explained, but they always go back to some premise that is arbitrary: for instance, that it is good to be alive.

This brings us to the point where if I say that my belief in the Bible is inexplicable, I am doing no worse than anyone else. That falls far short of defending the Bible the way a believer feels it should be. To let the credibility of the Bible depend on each person’s own arbitrary premises seems to contradict the whole nature of a sovereign God.

It really is just a quibble on the word “arbitrary.” I do not think people’s stubborn, unjustifiable beliefs are “arbitrary” or caused by meaningless circumstances. The “arbitrary” fundamental beliefs each person has reflect what God has done in their hearts. “Hardness of heart” is a classic Biblical notion, appositional to having “eyes to see” or “ears to hear,” and it relates to the idea of having certain basic beliefs that support further theological conclusions.

I am willing to agree that the Bible and its philosophy are more consistent with reality than anything else out there; but for that statement to have any meaning, we must agree on what reality is. One of the most common and fundamental disagreements about reality is whether sin and evil is as inevitable as death or if it is as much a of a choice as eating junk food. Those who think that sin is a bad thing that we all sometimes indulge in will never agree with my understanding of reality, so it is meaningless to ask if we both agree that the Bible reflects reality.

As many sensibilities as this may seem to turn on their heads, belief in the Bible goes along with deconstructionism, accompanied by the belief that we cannot satisfactorily explain everything about God’s created reality unless we use his language of creation (which obviously we cannot). The quandary of predestination is no worse than the quandary of the post-modernist. When philosophy reaches to the most basic questions it becomes confounded and crippled, and must, among other things, insist that you have no right to think that there is any relationship between your mind and your body. A real philosopher cannot so much as lift a finger.

But we live, and we must deal with the inevitabilities of our life such as moving our fingers and believing the Bible. I believe the Bible, we may say, and then there is really no cause with which to support it; except, perhaps, because God caused me to believe.