This might be my first time writing you, not sure, but regardless, I’m jumping out there and contacting you. I feel like God’s put it on my heart for a while to contact you and seek out some help for some questions I’ve been having lately. I know you are very busy, but I would love any thoughts you might be able to contribute.
Basically, I’m having a hard time trusting the validity of the Bible. I know this isn’t the first time someone has told you this, but it still feels like a weird place to be in. Our entire faith and eternity is based, or at least mostly based, on the Bible. I know faith and personal experience are extremely important in our walks with the Lord, and I’m grateful to have had a solid ground to stand on based on my faith and personal experiences with the Lord.
I’m just wandering if there is a book or something that you could point me towards in my search for answers. I’m not the most intellectual person so something not too difficult to understand would be helpful, but I’m really just wanting the truth.
I know most people know why they believe what they believe, but it hit me the other day that maybe a sermon series on this topic would be helpful for our congregation (or at least for me :).
We really appreciate and are grateful for your care and hard work in pastoring our congregation Geno. Thank you for your service!
I have needed to do some research to figure out which book (or books) to recommend to you. One of the things that is tricky about trusting the Bible’s validity is that there are at least three ways the Bible’s veracity is challenged. Let me explain and give examples.
1) Transmission–this word refers to how the various books of the Bible were copied and passed on through the centuries. Canonicity–this word is a subset of the idea of transmission and it refers to the reasons why the particular 66 books were chosen to become part of the Bible, and thus, authoritative for those who follow Christ. The challenge to canonicity and transmission is often posed this way, “The Bible is full of errors because it has been translated thousands of times down through the ages.” Or, “There are lots of books contemporary to Jesus and the apostles that got left out of the Bible because they simply did not agree with the party line. But they are just as authoritative. Who gets to say which books are holy and which ones are not? Isn’t this just the victors writing history?”
2) Historicity–one of the key challenges to the Bible’s validity is that it is said to contain major historical errors. Most of these challenges continue to be erased by ongoing archeology, so a background in world history and archeological digs becomes helpful. This question is often posed this way, “Was Jesus really a historic person?” Or, “We cannot get close to the real Jesus because the church has corrupted the data.” Or, “There never was an ‘exodus’ from Egypt by 3.2 million people.” So those who defend the Bible as trustworthy must come up with explanations as to why its historic factuality can be trusted.
3) Scientific Inquiry–those who hold to a closed universe and thus deny miracles a priori, believe the Bible and science cannot co-exist. So one needs to develop a way of understanding both the Bible’s message and the findings of science such that they can, in fact co-exist. This question is often posed this way, “How can an ancient book with a clearly pre-scientific view of reality be taken seriously today?” Or, “Did God really create the universe in six days?”
With that explanation as background, let me review a few books for you that I think you’ll find helpful. The reason I need to review several books is that there is no one book which answers the question(s) you have raised. I must warn you that you will have to work as answering these questions you have–which are legitimate and, I believe, worthy of some time invested. I’ll rank the books in my own order of helpfulness.
A) Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning, by Wayne Grudem, John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner and J.I. Packer, Crossway, 2012. I think this is the best, single book to begin with. It really is a series of articles written for the ESV Study Bible collected into a separate book. It has sections on canonicity, reliability, and archaeology. The only area it doesn’t really touch on is the intersection of science and the Bible. If you only buy one book, this is the best overall.
B) How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, Zondervan, 1993. This book was first published in 1981. I came across it in the mid-1980’s while teaching college students how to study the Bible and found it immensely helpful. While the book doesn’t deal with issues of canonicity, historicity or science, it does help tremendously with how to understand what the Bible is teaching. Sometimes our problems with the Bible can be traced to our lack of understanding HOW to understand and interpret what it is saying. This book helps us on that point.
C) Knowing Scripture, by R.C. Sproul, IVP, rev. 2009. Sproul originally penned this work in 1977. It is short and to the point. It’s goal is to get someone to actually read the Bible. Sproul touches briefly on matters of canonicity and historicity, but his main thrust is on 11 principles of Bible interpretation or hermeneutics. I like this little book very much indeed. However, I like Fee’s book better. Sproul’s is shorter, though, so I have often used it to teach folks how to understand and interpret the Bible.
D) The Canon of Scripture, by F.F. Bruce, IVP, 1996. This book first came out in 1990 and won two prestigious theological awards. This is the gold standard in the popular press for tracing the canonicity of the Bible. However, it is not an easy read and it is 350 pages long. However, by the time you get to the end you’ll be willing to die for the authenticity of the Bible. It is available in Kindle format.
E) The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible, by Randall Price, Harvest House, 1997. This book is written for the non-specialist as an introduction to some of the disputed areas of Bible history and how archaeology is propping up the Bible’s record. Recommended for one’s library as a good reference. Only available in paperback.
F) Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity. By James R. White, Bethany House: 2004. This book is helpful, but difficult to read. The author uses the technique of a dialogue to make his point(s), but I find it difficult because he throws in much information through the course of the imagined conversations. It thus comes across as confusing and disorganized to me. However, some have found it very useful.
G) Science and the Bible, by Henry M. Morris, Crossway books, rev. 1986. Since Dr. Henry Morris first published this work in 1951 he has been recognized as the founder of the creation science movement as has served as the president of the Institute for Creation Research. Morris introduces his readers effectively to how science and the Bible intersect. You may not agree with his conclusions, but you will be challenged to think more scientifically about the biblical text. I like this book for its wide-ranging grasp and for its undying support of the Bible’s veracity. Others have written on this topic, but none have yet done it as well as Dr. Morris.
P.S. A great blog that deals with matters of theology and apologetics which I’ve come to enjoy is Stand To Reason. You can find their blog at www.str.typepad.com.