The Bible is the foundation of Christianity. Without the Bible, Christianity would not exist. When I make statements like this, some Christians remind me that Christianity started with Jesus and his disciples, not the Bible.
Certainly Christianity started with Jesus and his disciples, but we must not forget they had a foundational religious text, the Old Testament. All of the Abrahamic religions have foundational religious texts. While an argument can be made for there being multiple Christianities in the Bible, be it the Jesus sect or the Paul sect, all of them find their roots in the soil of the Bible. I can not imagine any way Christianity exists apart from the Bible.
There is an increasing number of people who call themselves Christians that want to hang on to Jesus but reject the teachings of the Bible. Some reject the parts of the Bible that offend their moral sense, others reject the Bible completely, I am at a loss to understand how it is possible to believe in Jesus and not accept the Bible, to some degree or another, as a divine, authoritative text.
While I think people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, I question whether a Christianity without the Bible is Christianity at all. At best, they have a spiritualized Jesus but, again, what kind of Jesus is this without the Bible?
Evangelical Christianity is a text-based religion. The sixty-six books that make up the Christian Bible is the foundation of Evangelical Christianity. Remove this foundation and the Evangelical house comes crashing down.
When Evangelicals deconvert it is almost always due to a loss of belief in what is claimed for the Bible. As I have said many times, my deconversion came about because I came to see that the Bible was not what Christianity claimed it was.
What claims do Evangelicals make for the Bible?
All Evangelicals believe the Bible is inspired by God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2 Peter 1:20-21 says:
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
The phrase, given by inspiration of God , is one Greek word, theopneustos (heh-op’-nyoo-stos). The word inspiration means, God breathed. The Evangelical believes the Bible was breathed out, given life by Jehovah. Therefore, the Bible is considered a supernatural book spoken forth from the very mouth of God. It is a book unlike any other book ever written. It is the only book written by God himself.
Evangelicals hold varying opinions to “exactly” what is inspired by God. Some Evangelicals believe only the original manuscripts of the various books of the Bible are inspired. However, the original manuscripts no longer exist. The extant manuscripts are copies of copies of copies of the original manuscripts, or so the theory goes since there are NO originals to compare the copies to.
When Evangelicals read the Old Testament they assume they are reading a text that dates back to the beginning of the human race, six thousand years ago. Little do they know that the Old Testament text is not as old as they think. As you can see from the Wikipedia table below, the extant Old Testament manuscripts are dated thousands of years after God supposedly created Adam and Eve.
The New Testament fares no better. As Wikipedia makes clear, most of the extant manuscripts of the New Testament were written a thousand years after the death of Jesus. :
Parts of the New Testament have been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian. The dates of these manuscripts range from c. 125 (the John Ryland’s manuscript, P52; oldest copy of John fragments) to the introduction of printing in Germany in the 15th century. The vast majority of these manuscripts date after the 10th century. Although there are more manuscripts that preserve the New Testament than there are for any other ancient writing, the exact form of the text preserved in these later, numerous manuscripts may not be identical to the form of the text as it existed in antiquity. Textual scholar Bart Ehrman writes: “It is true, of course, that the New Testament is abundantly attested in the manuscripts produced through the ages, but most of these manuscripts are many centuries removed from the originals, and none of them perfectly accurate. They all contain mistakes – altogether many thousands of mistakes. It is not an easy task to reconstruct the original words of the New Testament….”
No two manuscripts are the same. It is estimated that there are over 400,000 variations among the manuscripts. There are more variations than there are words in the New Testament.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, what Scripture did he have in mind? It couldn’t have been the New Testament because it didn’t yet exist. Paul was clearly speaking of the Old Testament when he wrote of a God inspired text. While 2 Timothy 3:16 is used as a proof text for the entire sixty-six books of the Bible being inspired by God, such a claim can not be sustained if the verse is understood in its historical context.
Many Evangelicals attempt to address the above mentioned problems with inspiration by saying that God has supernaturally preserved the Bible through the centuries. This is a faith claim since there is no evidence that God preserved the text of the Bible. In fact, based on the extant manuscripts and the plethora of Bible translations, it could be argued that God deliberately tried to hide or obfuscate his inspired words.
On the extreme end of the Evangelical spectrum are Christians who believe a particular translation of the Bible is inspired, having been preserved by God down through the centuries.
One of the most amazing testimonies to Scripture’s truth is its preservation over thousands of years, despite sometimes intense efforts to destroy it.
Jesus Christ made an amazing prophesy about this preservation of His Word: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mark 13:31; also Matthew 24:35). He believed that God’s Word is indestructible (“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle [small mark in Hebrew lettering] of the law to fail” Luke 16:17).
Moreover, Jesus believed His words would spread around the world: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14); “the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (Mark 13:10). And that is what we find today. God’s Word has been preserved.
The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 confirmed that we still have the same Old Testament as they did at Jesus’s day. The survival of thousands of New Testament manuscripts confirms that the New Testament writings were also providentially preserved. The question among textual scholars is not whether some words are missing, but which variant readings, in a few minor cases, are the correct ones…
…The Bible has not only been preserved, but translated into over two thousand languages (both ancient and modern). Many of the earliest surviving manuscripts include translations, such as Syriac versions, showing that God’s Word was spreading from the very beginning, and the words of its message have been preserved in many languages.
John Burgeon, a 19th century defender of the Bible wrote:
If you and I believe that the original writings of the Scriptures were verbally inspired by God, then of necessity they must have been providentially preserved through the ages.
Jack Moorman, a British defender of the King James Bible wrote that believing in the preservation of the Bible requires faith. Moorman states:
Like all other Bible truths, the Scripture’s teaching on its own preservation is to be in the first instance accepted by faith. Edward F. Hills in his outstanding book, The King James Version Defended calls it “the logic of faith.” The facts and evidence of such preservation will then follow.
What Moorman seems to be saying is this, if you look at the inspiration and preservation of the Bible solely on rational grounds, it will not make sense, but if you have FAITH it all makes sense.
In other words, just take our word for it.
Most Evangelical church members believe the Bible translation they read from and their pastor preaches from is without error. Pastors are quite dishonest when they do not tell church members that this is not true.
Outside of pastors who are King James Only, most Evangelicals pastors believe the original manuscripts were inerrant and the translations we now have are faithful and reliable but not inerrant.
Many Evangelical pastors will make a claim of partial inerrancy. They believe, when it comes to salvation and the core doctrines of the Christian faith, the translations now in use are indeed inerrant. Any errors found in the Bible do not affect the core teachings of the Bible, so the errors are not a concern to them.
Of course, Evangelical pastors have no way of knowing this. How can they know what is inerrant and what is not not? This is a faith claim that usually comes down to inerrancy being applied to whatever part of the Biblical text the pastor thinks is important.
Is it the pastor or the professor’s place to decide what is important and not important in the Bible? If the Scripture is God-breathed, is it not the height of arrogance for a pastor or professor to suggest that some parts of the Bible are less inspired, less important? If God is perfect in all his ways, it stands to reason, that a perfect God inspired a perfect text and that this perfect text would say exactly what God meant it to say.
I can think of no way to maintain the integrity of the Evangelical belief about the Bible and, at the same time, say a verse or passage of Scripture is errant, fallible, mistaken, or not important. Is this not tantamount to what the Serpent said to Eve in the Garden of Eden, Yea hath God said. (Genesis 3)
The authority for everything the Evangelical believes and practices rests on the notion that the Bible is the inspired, preserved, and inerrant Word of God. Without this belief, the entire Evangelical house comes crashing down.