Can We Believe in God but not in the Bible? Responding to Doubts about the Bible's Divine Nature
In the fall of 2005, a question came up in class about how to respond to a person who says that “I believe in God, but not in the Bible being the Word of God”. I think most of us have probably found ourselves in this situation (I hear it quite often), so I’ve written a couple of articles to assist us in forming a response. In this article, we’ll examine some of the issues and motivations surrounding the person making this statement. The other article, Overview of Bible Apologetics, is an summary of the basic issues involved in contending for the truth of the Bible. For simplicity, I’ll use masculine pronouns to refer to the doubter, but in reality, he or she can be either male or female.
How to Respond to Doubt about the Bible
So what do you say to the person who says that he believes in God, but doesn’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Rather than dive right in with our Bible Apologetics 101 arguments, we should first consider the first part of the person’s statement, his claim to believe in God. Our first question to this person should be:
Without an object source to objectively reveal the true God (or more accurately, a source in which the true God reveals Himself), a person is left with a god of his own creation. This god often turns out to be a seeker-friendly wrathless god who ignores sin, a heavenly bellhop who submits himself or herself as a servant to man, or a god created in our own image rather than the One Holy Triune God, Creator of heaven and earth, who sent His Son to redeem us from sin, and lives within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Believing “in” or “about” the True God?
Next, we must understand that, even though others may have a relatively accurate perception of the true God and state that they believe in Him, many only believe certain facts about Him, but don't actually “believe Him”. The Greek word used for believe (pisteuō) means “to trust, commit to, and rely on” rather than mere intellectual assent. The Bible generally refers to an “unbeliever” not as one who doesn’t believe that God exists (James 2:19 states that even the demons believe in God’s existence), but as one who does not trust and rely on Him (does not possess saving faith). A true believer is sometimes referred to as one who not only believes “in” God or “in” God, but “believes God”. In most cases, the person who does not believe the Bible to be the inerrant inspired Word of God is not a true believer. Since the Bible is God's self revelation to us, we can't truly believe God without believing His Word.
Motivation of the Questioner
Before offering evidence of the truthfulness of the Bible, we should next attempt to determine the motivation of the person, that is, why he or she made the statement. Is the person’s mind closed, or are they sincerely seeking the truth? Is his doubt an intellectual or a spiritual issue? Many people deny the inerrancy of the Scripture because they don’t want their thoughts and deeds to be in subjection to it. I usually ask if I can convince the person of the Truth of the Bible beyond a reasonable doubt, will he believe it. If he says no (and many will), you know he has a spiritual problem rather than an intellectual problem. Referring to scoffers, Jesus said not to give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs (Mt 7:6), so we should just keep praying for them and leave the conversation open in such a way that it can be continued later. The Holy Spirit will need to work on them a bit before they're willing to listen.
Typical Objections and Some Responses
For those who truly have an intellectual problem with the Bible, the most common objections raised are “the Bible is full of errors” and “the Bible was actually written by men, not by God”. We’ll discuss these and other objections further in our Bible Apologetics writings, but we first want to find out if this person has actually read and studied the Bible, or is he just repeating what he’s heard from someone else (who may not have read the Bible either and is also passing along someone else’s opinion ad infinitum). To do this, I usually respond to the first objection by politely saying something like “I’ve heard that many times, but have not actually been able to find an actual error. I wonder if you can point out one to me so we can analyze it.” In the rare cases that the person will be able to find one, we can explain the alleged error or research it further and get back with him.
Most disputes can be traced to such difficulties as language (not only translations, but also Hebrew slang changes from generation to generation, as anyone with teenagers can identify), presuppositions (many people automatically reject any miraculous event), historical facts or ancient customs (most have been cleared by new archaeological discoveries), or an inexact Bible translation (using a loose paraphrase such as the Message or New Century Version). It can also be that the person’s interpretation is flawed. The most common causes of this are taking a passage out of context and/or reading our biases into the text rather than letting the author’s intended meaning speak for itself. In general, some critics tend to classify any difficulty (anything not understood) as an error, but these complexities actually point to the divine origin of the Bible. If the Scriptures were written by humans apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these authors would surely have simplified the writings and attempted to work out any difficulties so that it could be fully understood without faith, and without divine illumination.
To the charge that the book was written by men apart from divine inspiration, anyone who has done any serious Bible study should be able to rule this out. Although the personalities of the human authors were woven into their writings, the words were divinely constituted. The primary evidence against the Bible being written by men is the unity and the vast amount of fulfilled prophecy. The 66 books of the Bible were written over a span of about 1500 years, on several continents, in 3 languages, by dozens of authors from all walks of life. Only by divine inspiration could the scripture be in such harmony. There have also been approximately 2000 prophecies fulfilled without a single error (including over 300 by Jesus). Odds are astronomically past the point of impossibility of this happening at random. We’ll elaborate further on these and other objections in An Overview of Bible Apologetics.
We should next explain to the person what we mean when we
say that the Bible is the “Word of God”. The Bible
itself claims to be inspired by God (Gal 1:11, 2Tim 3:16,
2Pt 1:20-21 etc), and since God can’t lie (Titus 1:2, Heb
6:18), inspiration guarantees the inerrancy of the
Scriptures (see What
do We Mean by Inerrancy for a definition and discussion
of this crucial doctrine). In addition, the Bible is
not simply a written record of God’s revelation to us, but
the source of God continuing to speak to us today. It
is not just a list of rules and regulations, but reveals, to
the extent that we can grasp, the very nature of God.
The Bible being the Word of God also means that its message
carries the same authority as if God was audibly speaking
directly to us. Disbelieving or disobeying the
Scriptures is equivalent to disbelieving or disobeying God.
This authority of the Bible is not intrinsic, but derives
from the fact that its Author is the triune God, that is,
God is exercising His authority through His written word.
We can then turn our conversation to Christ by asking the person “Do you believe in Jesus, that He is God the Son and Lord of your life”. Anyone who believes in the true triune God will answer “yes” to this question. We should then ask the person “How does Jesus exercise His Authority and Lordship over your life”. At this point, any honest and intelligent person must admit that the only correct answer is “though the Scriptures under the illumination of the Holy Spirit”. While He will speak to us through circumstances, thoughts, consciences, pastors, teachers and other Christians, we must have a divine foundation to discern if what we're hearing is from Him. Our inclination these days is to appeal to human reasoning and to trust our own feelings. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Pr 14:12). Without the Bible, we have no basis of the knowledge required for a proper relationship with God.
On a personal note, I don't see how anyone can do an honest open-minded serious study of the Bible and not believe that it is the Word of God. We've all heard of many atheists, who have taken up a study to disprove the Bible, only to end up being converted into an apologist for the true Word. As mentioned earlier, very few people claiming not to believe the Bible have actually spent much time reading it. A great method to get them started is to challenge the person to read the Gospel of John (a chapter a day should take about a month). Strongly (but politely) suggest that they pray beforehand something like, “God, I’m not sure if this is your Word or not, but if it is, please reveal yourself to me through these readings”. Make yourself available to encourage them and answer questions as they progress through the book, then meet with them for further discussion after they finish. Above all, remember that it is the Holy Spirit that will ultimately convince them, not our own assertions (1Cor 2:10,14).
See our Bible Apologetics Overview for additional information on defending the veracity of the Bible.
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