Skepticism and the Bible
A skeptic once posed the following question: How do you reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the latest scientific conclusions and psychological insights?" Without hesitation, the believer replied: "I haven't seen this morning's paper. What are the latest conclusions our scientists and psychologists have come up with?"
Is the Bible worthy of trust?
Some people think that headlines are more relevant to their daily lives than the Jewish Scriptures. They see the Bible as archaic and replete with contradictions and distortions. They regard Bible events as bobemayses (old wives' tales) which are useful for instructing children in moral and ethical values, but not much else. A popular belief is that the Bible will not stand up to the scrutiny of modern science. Yet, when the Bible skeptics' evidence is examined in the light of recent discoveries in archaeology, history, and linguistic data, the opposite is true.
History and the Bible
Let's begin with a look at some Bible passages and evaluate whether they stand up to the skeptics' charges. Chapters one and two of Genesis relate the story of creation. We notice that Genesis one calls God by the name "Elohim," whereas in Genesis two, He is called by the Ineffable Name. Before the rise of modern archaeology, it was assumed by many that on that basis, the accounts had to have been composed by two different writers—each with his own name for God. The conclusion was that Genesis was not written by Moses, but was a patchwork from the hands of numerous people, some of whom added their "portion" as late as the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E.
Yet ancient Egyptian documents demonstrate that ancient writers frequently employed, in the same piece of writing, different names for their gods and kings—sometimes even when the kings were referring to themselves. And it is important to realize that those Egyptian documents are dated, by reliable scientific methods, to the time of Moses and earlier.1 Moreover, inscriptions by Semitic miners under Egyptian employment in the turquoise mines of Serabit el Khadim, dating from 1500 B.C.E., indicate that even the lowest classes of Hebrews in the pre-Mosaic age could read and write2—clear evidence against those who said that not only was the Pentateuch written by multiple authors, but that Moses could not possibly have been one of them, because the Hebrews were illiterate in his time. Consequently, there is no reason for doubting that Genesis could have been written by Moses himself, and every reason to believe that it was!
Validating biblical writers
The charge of multiple authorship has also been leveled against the book of Isaiah. This charge betrays an anti-supernatural bias. The skeptics say that although chapters 1-39 may well have been Isaiah's work, chapters 40-66 had to be written by someone other than he because those chapters deal with the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.E.) and the subsequent return of the exiles (539 B.C.E.); events which occurred after Isaiah's time. Since Isaiah lived in the eighth century, and since the skeptics do not believe that he could prophesy future events, they are left to conclude that two authors, one early, the other late, must have been involved. They point to one who lived before the Exile (Isaiah) and another Isaiah who lived during it.
In fact, the evidence points to a single author. For instance, Isaiah chapter six is universally accepted as Isaiah's own writing, and yet in it, the prophet discloses a foreknowledge of the Babylonian exile and restoration (vv.11 -13). If the skeptics are to be consistent, they ought to at least say that chapter six is not from the hand of Isaiah either.
Geography and the Bible
We can examine the evidence from a geographical perspective as well. If the second half of Isaiah is to have been written in Babylon, then it seems peculiar that the prophet mentioned vegetation that is more appropriate to Israel.
For example, cedar, cypress and oak trees are mentioned in Isaiah 41:19 and 44:14. Likewise, if chapters 40-66 were written after the return from Babylon, why does the prophet speak out against widespread idolatry, when, in fact, history indicates that idolatry ceased to be a problem after the exile to Babylon? (Post-exilic writers of Scripture such as Malachi make no mention of idol worship when listing the sins of the people.) This clearly indicates a pre-exilic authorship of the latter half of Isaiah. Linguistically, other post-exilic writings such as those of Ezra and Nehemiah show an influence from Aramaic and contain some Babylonian terms. However, Isaiah 40-66 is pure Hebrew, akin to the first 39 chapters.
Stylistically, the use of certain vocabulary and terminology in both halves of Isaiah binds these halves together and testifies to their single authorship. For example, the phrase "Holy One of Israel" appears twelve times in chapters 1-39, fourteen times in chapters 40-66, yet only five times in all the rest of the Jewish Scriptures. There are over forty sentences or phrases that appear in both portions.
Fulfillment of prophecy as validation
The fulfillment of Biblical prophecy is another evidence of the Bible's reliability. Ezekiel, writing circa 590 B.C.E., predicted the destruction of the city of Tyre (see Ezekiel chapter 26).
These were some specific details he outlined:
- Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Tyre.
- Many nations would come up in battle against the city.
- The site of Tyre would be reduced to rubble, swept clear, and the debris thrown into the sea.
It would become a place where fishermen would spread their nets.Once so destroyed, the mainland city of Tyre would never be rebuilt on that site. Amazingly, Ezekiel's words came true to the letter. In 573 B.C.E., 17 years after Ezekiel had predicted the siege, Nebuchadnezzar did indeed destroy the mainland city of Tyre, leaving only her island colony in the harbor intact.3 Two hundred and forty years later, Alexander the Great sought to conquer the island.
He mustered a naval force from amongst the nations he'd already conquered, but was unable to take the city by ship. He then ordered his men to build a causeway from the mainland to the island city. For building materials, they used the rubble remaining from Nebuchadnezzar's previous destruction of the mainland city.4
In addition, they swept the site clean, casting the soil and rubble together into the sea. Thus, the ancient site was swept bare to bedrock level and to this day remains a place where fishermen spread their nets.Although there is a city of Tyre in modern Lebanon, it is not located on the ancient site. That now bare location remains uninhabited and undeveloped as the prophet predicted 2,500 years ago.
Fulfilled prophecy can also be seen with regard to the city of Sidon (Ezekiel 28), Samaria (Hosea 13 and Micah 1), Gaza-Ashkelon (Amos 1, Jeremiah 47, Zephaniah 2) and others. Fulfillment of prophecy in this day and age is thought by many to be exhibited in the establishment of the nation of Israel and the return of our Jewish people to the Land. In Leviticus 26, written between 1520-1400 B.C.E., we read that the Land and the sanctuaries would be made desolate; Israel would be inhabited by enemies and the people would disperse and suffer persecution.
In Ezekiel 36, written between 592-570 B.C.E., the prophet foretold a time when our people would return to the Land, developing it into a garden of Eden instead of wasteland. He also related that the ruined cities would be fortified. There are numerous other prophecies about the restoration of the Land and its people found in Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah,etc. We need only read the newspaper or modern history books, or look at photos of the Negev desert with its plush green vegetation to wonder, if just maybe, the prophets' words are being realized in our lifetime.
Truth, existential concerns and personal relevance
The Bible would be merely a book suitable for coffee klatch curiosity if it dealt only with fascinating predictions of historical events. However, it also addresses itself continually to modern existential concerns:
- Who am I?
- What are my rights?
- What makes right to be right and wrong to be wrong?
- What should I believe?
- How should I live?
- What is the goal of human life?
The Bible provides answers to these difficult questions on meaning and truth, and their effect on human relationships and behavior. However, the Bible is not only interesting, helpful and relevant: it is true. In evaluating its truthfulness, there are certain objective criteria we can use. One such criterion is that of cohesion:
- Does the Bible stand together as a unit?
- Are all the parts related to the whole?
- Does it present a unified picture of reality?
One would have to read through the Bible, of course, to see if this is so. Many of those who have done this have come away convinced that the Bible does indeed offer such a picture. It tells how God created man to have a personal relationship with Him; of how man chose to turn from God, thereby bringing alienation and suffering into the universe. It tells how God then began the process of restoring things to their original state, first by creating the nation of Israel and finally by bringing the Messiah. Indeed, Scripture might be compared to a vast symphony where ideas and themes, and even phrases are repeated. An example of this is the one declaration, "I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt." It is echoed in whole or in part 125 times in the Jewish Scriptures.5 The editors of the Jewish Almanac write, "The whole of the Torah seems preoccupied with a single theme: the unique title and responsibilities of Israel as a people of God and steward of the Holy Land"6 One could say as much for the entire Bible.
References to reality
Another test of truth is the "correspondence test." Does the Bible correspond to what we know of the real world? We've already said something about its historical and geographical accuracy. The Jewish scholar Nelson Glueck goes as far as to say that, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference."7 Dr. Leah Bronner, senior lecturer in Hebrew Studies at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg goes even further: "The uItimate aim of the Biblical archaeologist is Truth. Indeed, archaeology has illumined the dark past and has realized the word of the Psalmist that 'truth has sprung forth from the Barth' to illustrate the living world of the Bible."8
Does it work for you?
The third and final test of truth is the "pragmatic test": Does living by the Bible actually work? Some have taken the step of deciding to live their lives by the Scripture. This has not meant, as is commonly assumed, to live "nicely," following the "golden rule" or "obeying the ten commandments." What is involved is having a priority system where what God expects of you is more important than any earthly consideration. His Word, the Holy Scriptures, clearly outlines those expectations. When priorities have been thus reordered, people have found their lives transformed. In finding reconciliation with God, individuals have found reconciliation with one another. Marriages which were falling apart have become stable and fulfilling. Broken lines of communication between children and parents have been restored. In all facets of life, the individual can increase the quality and substance of what is accomplished. The Bible works!
The relevance and truthfulness of the Bible should be experienced in order to be adequately understood. Jeremiah the prophet expressed this clearly when he said, "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy end my heart's delight.."(Jeremiah 15:16) Investigate the Scriptures for yourself. In such matters, attitude is all important. One can scarcely improve on the attitude expressed in these words from the Union Prayer Book:
"O Lord, open our eyes that we may see and welcome all truth, whether shining from the annals of ancient revelations or reaching us through the seers of our own time."
Note: This content was adapted from an earlier Jews for Jesus article.
1. K.A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978), pp. 117, 125-129.
2. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), revised ed. pp. 167-168.
3. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1970 edition.
5. Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an OId Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), p. 34.
6. Erik Auerback, quoted in The Jewish Almanac (Bantam Books, 1980), p. 404
7. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 31.
8. Leah Bronner, Biblical Personalities And Archaeology, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1974), p. 10.