Does Christianity Need the Bible?
by Doug Beaumont
Atheistic attacks on Christianity typically focus on philosophical issues concerning theism, or evidential attacks on the Bible. It occurred to me the other day that the latter plays upon a certain view of Christian theological methodology and ecclesiology that is flawed.
The issue, as I see it, is that these attacks are relying on an unspoken assumption that Christianity is relying on the Bible for its existence. This assumption is certainly fair, as it seems that many Christians think along the same lines. Even if Christians of this persuasion are not in the majority, it is without doubt that this is the case with popular Christian apologists. It is not much of an oversimplification to say that the two most popular approaches for defending the faith either begin by defending the Bible (Evidentialism), or conclude with its defense (Classical). The biblical text is then used to support Jesus’ claims / the gospel / the resurrection etc.
But what if the Bible could not be demonstrated to be trustworthy? I do not think that this is the case, but it is worth thinking about for at least these two reasons: (1) most skeptics think the Bible has not been defended sufficiently, and (2) even if it has been or can be, the case for Christianity will be even stronger if it can survive the failure of these biblical defenses.
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When a skeptic argues against the Bible it is not usually the book(s) that are being attacked per se. Rather it is the ideas communicated by the book(s). Skeptics do not, for example, typically attack the wisdom sayings in the book of Proverbs or the basic morality of Jesus’ sermons. And I don’t think many skeptics really are concerned over how many generations there are between Adam and Jesus, or how many angels were at his tomb. What skeptics want to call into question is Christianity itself. Since the Bible is assumed to be the foundation of Christianity, calling its historicity, manuscript transmission, scientific awareness, etc. into question is seen as tantamount to calling Christianity into question. Two popular responses have been made by modern Christians.
The first is to dig in and affirm the absolute inerrancy of the Bible and fight tooth and nail for every biblical affirmation no matter its nature (e.g., historical, scientific, moral), sometimes even down to use of correct grammar. This is necessarily joined by an equally fervent defense of a trustworthy manuscript tradition – for as all (except perhaps some confused folks in the KJV-Only crowd) acknowledge, inerrancy only applies to the original manuscripts (which we do not have). The copies of those inerrant original that we do have do not agree perfectly with each other, however. Thus, even inerrantists must concede the fact of transmission distortion. Their apologetic strategy, therefore, usually concerns limiting the significance of these distortions (e.g., that the quantitative and/or qualitative aspects of these distortions are inconsequential). This approach can be appreciated for its theological respect for, and upholding of, God’s word – but it also paints a large target on the Bible for skeptics fire upon…
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