Chuck Answers a Skeptic

MAKING EXCUSES

I recently saw this question posted on Quora.com, a site that allows readers to ask questions and others to answer those question.

Doesn’t a religion that takes a fundamental and literal approach betray a certain primitiveness, whether it is Christianity or Islam?

What differentiates human beings from primitive beings is the ability to decipher metaphors, for example, such as art, works that abstracts from reality. Religion that stays glued to literalism would indicate a certain first-order primitiveness, no? Surely, everything involves context.

This is my answer:

I would first question your premise that the ability to decipher metaphors is what separates primitives and more advanced human beings. If that is even a partial answer, I would think it is only a small part of the differentiation.

Be that as it may, let me try to address the question behind the question, “Can we trust the trust the scriptures?” I cannot speak to the Islamic scriptures, as I am woefully ignorant concerning them. I will say that the Islamic scriptures, to a certain degree, were derived from Christian and Judaic scriptures, so it is possible that they contain some truths as well, though I suspect the truth would be somewhat twisted.

As for the Christian and Jewish scriptures, there are reasons we can trust what they say:

1. Scholars, including unbelievers, affirm that the scriptural texts that were handed down from the past have been reliably transmitted. We have greater reason to trust that the manuscripts that were used to produce the Bible are reliable than we do for, say, those of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, written about the same time. We have thousands of manuscripts for the former and less than ten for the latter. The earliest for the New Testament are less than 100 years after Jesus’ resurrection. While, for the Gallic Wars, the earliest is around 800 AD.

The Histories of Tactitus, written just after Jesus’ time, originally consisted of 14 volumes. However, we only know of four and a half volumes today. The rest are lost to history. However, no scholar questions the authenticity of the Gallic Wars or the history of the Caesars. No one doubts the life of Socrates or Caesar Augustus, and yet, there is only scant evidence for either compared to the overwhelming trove of manuscripts substantiating the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The prophecies of the Bible attest to its authenticity. The prophets of the Old Testament accurately predicted the establishment of the nation of Israel, their conquest and exile to Babylon, the rise of the Persian empire, the return of the exiles to Israel (under Cyrus the Great, mentioned by name), the rise of Alexander the Great, the Roman occupation, etc.

Of course, the greatest prophecies were those of the messiah. Some skeptical scholars dismiss many of the prophecies mentioned above by postulating that they were written down after the fact. Instead of being predicted before they happened, they surmise that the writers were actually writing the history of the events after they occurred and somehow expected their readers to believe they were written well before the events happened.

Because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have definitive proof that the messianic prophecies were written well before the life of Jesus. However, they predict an accurate account of his life. They even present a detailed description of the crucifixion well before it was devised as a punishment. It is impossible that anyone could actually order the events of their life to match all the prophecies made about Jesus, yet he fulfilled them all.

Skeptics scoff at the prophecies of the end times. A hundred years ago, their smirks may have been more justified, but as we move closer in time to these events, who could deny that they seem to be unfolding just as it was said they would happen? Modern Israel existed only in the imagination of the Jewish people a hundred years ago. Today, it is a formidable power in the Middle East. A hundred years ago, to suggest that the world would end in a fight over the land of Palestine would have been laughable to unbelievers. Today, even secular politicians warn that this is the inevitable outcome unless we somehow avert it.

3. The greatest reason for believing what the bible tells us is the testimony of Jesus, himself. In a dispute with religious leaders of his day, Jesus tells them, “But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” – John 5:38-40 NKJV

Jesus affirmed that God created men and women in Matthew 19:4. He gave credibility to the story of Noah’s flood in Luke 17:27. He verified the story of Jonah (and Solomon) in Luke 11:29-32.

After his resurrection, Jesus explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the scriptures were about him. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” – Luke 24:27 NKJV. He also explained these things to the eleven remaining apostles. “Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:44-45 NKJV.

You may be willing to say that you know more than Jesus did. You might think his death and resurrection was a hoax (This post is already too long for me to get into the evidence for that argument right now.), but that is not something I am willing to concede. That is the hilltop I am willing to die on.

How would you have answered the question? Let us know what you would have said in the comments below.

 

Comments are closed.