The Reason for God

Timothy Keller

Chapter 7: You Can't Take the Bible Literally

Doubt: The Bible’s teaching is historically inaccurate and culturally regressive (women, slavery, etc.)

  • For a long time the view that NT scripture was relatively recent and had been manipulated by the early church grew in influence.
    • But for the past thirty years, this view has been crumbling, despite attempts such as The DaVinci Code to revive the older view.
  • Christian faith requires belief in the Bible.
    • Many “arguments” for Christianity depend on Biblical reliability.
      • Think CS Lewis’ “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” which only works if Jesus is not Legend!
  • Keller says he personally takes the whole Bible to be reliable not because he can somehow “prove” it all factual, but because that was Jesus’ view of the Bible!
  • So what are the main areas that support the Bible?
    • The timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends.
      • Paul’s letter come from 15-20 years after the death of Jesus – and Philippians shows Christians already worshipping Jesus as God.
      • Numerous eye-witnesses were still around to challenge the reports – supporters and critics.
      • The Gnostic Gospels all date from much later (eg. Gospel of Thomas 175 A.D.).
    • The content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends.
      • If the Gospels had been written to support the church hierarchy, why all the information which puts early Church leaders – and even Jesus - in such dubious light?
    • The literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend.
      • CS Lewis, who read myth and poetic literature all his life, found the NT totally different.
      • In modern novels, details are added to create the aura of realism – but not in ancient times.
      • For a contemporary understanding of the state of Biblical scholarship see Craig Blomberg’s, “Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?” in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus , Wilkins and Moreland, Zondervan 1995.
  • But can we trust the Bible culturally?
    • This objection has moved over the last decades from science and history to slavery and women.
    • Slavery: Moderns typically see the Bible in terms of American chattel slavery. But slavery in Rome when the NT was written was very different.
      • Slaves were not slaves for live – often released within 10-15 years.
      • They received wages and could accrue enough personal capital to buy their freedom.
      • They were generally not segregated from the rest of the society. [I like to say that in Rome, your accountant and secretary were likely your slaves!]
      • The Bible condemns kidnapping and trafficking in slaves (1 Tim 1:9-11).
      • Anti-slavery sentiment began to appear in Christian writing shortly after the fall of Rome.
      • New World slavery was instituted over Papal 0pposition.
      • New World slavery was eradicated due to efforts by Christians of all social strata.

Further considerations for those who are offended by the Bible.

  • Keller urges people to consider that their problem with some texts might rest on unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others!
    • Remember we began with a challenge for each side to examine its beliefs.
    • To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned!
  • To reject Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you.
    • Put another way, if the Bible is God’s word for all people for all time, wouldn’t you expect it to rub against you worldview at some point? If it didn’t, what would be it’s purpose?
  • And besides, doesn’t it make sense to distinguish between the major themes and messages of the Bible and the less primary ones?
    • So don’t worry about gender roles until you’ve grasped essential teachings. Focus on the deity of Christ, his death and resurrection and you will be safe!
  • And finally, if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage) you will know you have hold or a real God.
    • So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God, but a preconditions for it!

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