(no subject)

Bill Hamilton (whamilto@mich.com)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 20:29:18 -0400

Glenn has raised an important question:
"If the Bible is not a historical document, why should we believe it?"
[loose paraphrase] Glenn reasons that actual experiences establish the
credibility of Scripture:

"I agree with you. God is the basis for Biblical authority. But part of the
authority for the Bible must come from the fact that it is TRUE in a
metaphysical and empirical sense. You can see what I mean by looking at how
God has dealt with mankind. God expects faith from us, but it is not a
faith divorced from events in our lives. "Consider Abraham: He believed God
and it was credited to him as righteousness." NIV Galatians 3:6. What did
Abraham believe? That Abraham would have an heir. This actually did occur
in history and in Abrahams lifetime. The fulfillment justified Abraham's
faith. But do you think that if Sarah had died, and Abraham reached his
deathbed and there were no heirs, do you think Abraham would still have
beleived God during the final few weeks or days of his life?"

Of course it's really difficult to argue by considering what Abraham would
have done in a hypothetical circumstance. Still, some Biblical figures
experienced nothing but disappointment their entire lives. Not one person
listened to Jeremiah. Yet he is recognized in the "Hall of Faith" in
Hebrews 11 (My understanding is that Jeremiah was the one who was sawn in
two, according to tradition) A number of prophets received the promise of
Jesus Christ and prophesied His coming, yet never saw Him in their
Granted: if Isaac had never been born, Abraham would have rightfully had
real problems. But Isaac was born. The larger context of Abraham's belief
is that he believed that the Savior would come from his progeny, and He
believed that promise even though it referred to an event many years in the

It seems to me there are two issues here:
1) The absolute truth of God's revelation
2) Human perception of that truth

Glenn is asking how we humans can believe in the Bible if we cannot tie its
prophecies to real events, and If we cannot tie its narrations of past
events to real events. His concern -- and it's justified -- is how we as
humans can perceive the truth of Scripture by relating it to the knowledge
we gain of the world around us from our own investigations.

But Scripture doesn't seem to be overly concerned with addressing every
human whim about revelation. How then do we know Scripture is true? Here
are some quotations from well-known Christian sources about the nature and
credibility of Scripture:

"The bible speaks authoritatively and so deserves to be believed and
obeyed. This authority does not depend on any man or church but completely
on God, its author, who is Himself truth. The Bible therefore is to be
accepted as true because it is the word of God". Westminster Confession of
Faith 1:4

"We may be influenced by the testimony of the church to value the Bible
highly and reverently, and Scripture shows in so many ways that it is God's
word; for example, in its spiritual subject matter, in the effectiveness of
its teaching, the majesty of its style, the agreement of all its parts, its
unified aim from beginning to end(to give all Glory to God), the full
revelation it makes of the only way of man's salvation, its many other
incomparably outstanding features, and its complete perfection. However,
we are completely persuaded and assured of the infallible truth and divine
authority of the Bible only by the inward working of the Holy Spirit, Who
testifies by and with the word in our hearts." Westminster Confession of
Faith 1:4 (This closely parallels Calvin's discussion in the Institutes of
the Christian Religion, Book I Chapter VII)

"The Bible is a book of redemption. It is that or nothing at all. It is
not a book of history, or of science, or of anthropology, or of cosmogony.
It is a book of salvation and deliverance for lost mankind". _The scarlet
thread of redemption_, W. A. Criswell. In _The open Bible_, 1979,
Nashville, Thomas Nelson, p1281ff

Calvin and the Westminster Confession seem most concerned with the absolute
credibility of Scripture. "If you don't recognize the credibility of the
Scriptures, it's your problem," they seem to be saying. This is somewhat of
an unsatisfactory answer from a human point of view. But Scripture pretty
clearly points out that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables us
to understand the Scriptures at all. It is good to bend our efforts toward
understanding Scripture and relating it to all of life, but it is really
the work of the Holy Spirit to convict us of the truth of Scripture. We
might object because the apparent lack of credibility of the Scriptures may
keep unbelievers from the faith. But again it is the work of the Holy
Spirit to draw them.

Criswell is more concerned with the _purpose_ of Scripture, and perhaps
sheds some light on the reason Scripture may not always provide a fully
verifiable historic record: The primary subject matter of the Bible is
redemption. (Other commentators (e.g. the Westminster Confession ) might
say the primary purpose is to give glory to God.) In any case, there is a
primary purpose which is not the teaching of history, science or any other
of men's disciplines. Like it or not the truth of the Scriptures does not
depend on any man or church.
In a closed canon there has to be some prioritization of objectives.
If God had included enough material to permit full historical and
scientific correlation, we might have wound up with a Bible so massive,
people would not have carried it around with them, and might have felt
intimidated by its sheer size and the difficulty of finding what was really
relevant (the plan of salvation) for most people, since it would be
interspersed (diluted?) with so much physical and scientific data.

So then, do I believe the Bible is historically inaccurate? May it never be!
I believe events such as the flood are real, historical events.
However, it is not obvious to me that we have now or will have in the near
future the means of correlating exactly between an event like the flood and
geology. To believe otherwise -- that we ought to be able to relate all
events in Scripture to real, historical events is to exercise too much
confidence in human capabilities, I believe. The Bible warns against
pride. As I've said before, I think both sides of the origins debate make
this mistake. A Dawkins claims there is no empirical evidence of God,
therefore no God. A Duane Gish believes that if we cannot explain
something, then it must be an act of God. Perhaps it is, but it will
remain an act of God whether or not we can explain it. And Gish's position
implies that perhaps we ought to stop investigating phenomena we don't

It may seem I'm suggesting that when we can't reconcile a passage with
science, we should just label it difficult and forget about it. That's not
what I mean.
I don't think we have the right to drop investigation of what we don't
understand. What we don't understand ought to be our highest priorities
for investigation. Places where existing paradigms break are frequently
the most fruitful places for investigation.

What I am suggesting is that we should not be overly hasty in trying to
reconcile difficult passages. We need to be willing to label a passage
"Difficult and being actively studied." -- and of course be actively
studying it.

What might we lose by not insisting on full correlation between history (or
biology. or geology) and Scripture? Obviously if nearly everything was
labelled unresolvable people might charge that Christianity is
But, there are a number of findings that would falsify Christianity:
1) Evidence that Jesus was never crucified, never resurrected, never
existed, or that some other doctrinally important event in Scripture never
2) Evidence that a miracle related in Scripture never happened.
Certainly there could be problems with apologetics: We might worry that
some people will fail to consider the claims of Christ because they believe
the book that relates them is not scientifically or historically accurate.
While evidence certainly might dispose an individual mentally to consider
the claims, Scripture tells us that only the Holy Spirit can draw a person
to Christ. So we must avoid putting too much credence in what is humanly
perceived as evidence. Evidence as perceived by humans is important but
not crucial from a salvific point of view. We are called to be
evangelists, but it is not our evangelism itself that wins people to
Christ. It is the Holy Spirit acting through our obedience. On the other
hand, apologetics would be helped by an honest attitude of being willing to
admit we don't know everything when our efforts to reconcile Scripture and
science fail. We might fret that God is lying. I reject that of course.
He doesn't lie. However, He may let us deceive ourselves if pride rules
us. Furthermore He may not have gifted us with the ability to investigate
certain kinds of evidence, or even to conceive models which would allow us
to investigate certain issues.

It seems to me that when we are unable to reconcile Scripture and science
on some issue, we should be willing to
1) keep working on the reconciliation issue without jumping to conclusions.
And 2) we should be glad that He has given us glimpses of a truth that is
-- temporarily or permanently -- beyond our powers of investigation

William E. Hamilton, Jr., Ph.D.
1346 W. Fairview Lane
Rochester, MI 48306
(810) 652 4148