Lesson 6: Common Criticisms

Part II: The Weaknesses of Criticisms of Christianity

Lesson 6: Common Criticisms

We’ve already examined the evidence supporting the trustworthiness of the biblical text (Lesson 2). We found that Bible is historically verifiable, accurate and trustworthy. Whether one examines the Bible’s historical, archaeological or manuscript evidences, he will find little to discredit the Bible’s claims. Such an examination in fact lends great credibility to the Bible.

However, there are still many critics of the Bible. In today’s lesson, we’ll be examining some typical criticisms of the Bible, and we’ll find that most criticisms lack substance.


Common Criticisms of the Bible and Their Weaknesses

  1. The Bible is full of myths, legends and old-wives’ tales.

This criticism is brought up because of the Bible’s many miracle stories. Such accounts, to the modern mind, are surely mythical and not factual. Miracles like those described in the Bible just don’t happen. We see no evidence of them happening today. Further, some Bible stories, like Noah’s ark and the flood, are very similar to the fables from other cultures. The stories in the Bible are of the same mythical quality.

Liberals and others who deny the Bible would agree with the above criticism, but suggest that it’s not important whether the stories are actually true. The point or moral of the story is what’s important. But those who uphold the validity of Scripture deny such a suggestion. There are several reasons to believe that the miraculous stories of the Bible are true, not mere mythical fiction:

  • If God exists, it is not irrational to reason that He might occasionally intervene in various ways and upset the normal flow of events. Those who deny the existence of God obviously would also deny miracles. But if God exists, miracles are not out of the question.

  • Biblical accounts are usually sober and restrained rather than frivolous and bizarre. If one compares the fables and myths from other sources with biblical stories, he will notice a marked contrast. Biblical stories don’t sound like typical myths and legends. We see no half-man, half-beast creatures, no worlds supported on tortoise’s backs, or individuals springing from the head of Zeus or the like in the biblical record.

  • The biblical writers come from a tradition with a solid commitment to truth. The authors of the Bible are men of profound ethical integrity who were willing to die for the truth of their claims. One would expect the truth from them. It makes no sense to suggest that accurate historians would include myths and legends in their otherwise factual accounts.

  • The fact that certain biblical stories share similar themes with mythical stories should not surprise us. For example, if the flood really happened, it’s not irrational to suppose that we would find evidence of it in the stories of pagan cultures.

  • Christianity is not irrational or absurd. Christians do not believe in things that are patently untrue, mythical or legendary.

Note the Quote: Christian faith does not aim to affirm what is absurd, reveling in irrationality. Such a thought misconstrues the nature of faith as it is presented by the Bible. The Christian notion of faith—unlike most other religions—is not an arbitrary leap of emotion, a blind stab of commitment, a placing of the intellect on hold. For the Christian, faith (or belief) is well-grounded.1

  1. Science has proven the Bible to be untrue.

Two hundred years ago, most people in western cultures believed the Bible to be an accurate record of actual events. Today, however, after the Enlightenment and the rise of rationalism and naturalism as the predominant ways of thinking, most westerners have rejected the Bible. Science and technology have been able to explain most phenomena that used to be thought of as the mysterious ways of God. We no longer need God to explain why things happen. The Bible teaches a view of reality that is out of sync with the assured results of modern science.

  • Science depends upon the ability to verify a hypothesis by repetition and testing. The events described in the Bible are non-repeatable and untestable. They are the subject of history, not science. A biologist or paleontologist may give you his ideas about how things came about, but it’s impossible for him to say how things did indeed happen. He wasn’t around to observe them, so he really doesn’t know.

  • The Scripture describes things as they appear to the naked eye, how they appear on the surface to the casual observer. The Bible is not a science textbook. This is not to suggest that the Bible is inaccurate, but simply that one should not impose modern scientific standards upon the Bible. For example, we know that the sun does not really rise or set. The use of such language does not invalidate the Bible’s claims.

  • The “assured results of modern science” are not so assured as we are led to believe. Every so often, science experiences a major upheaval which throws out the old ideas and replaces them with new ones. Today there are many scientists who disavow traditional scientific naturalism. Even the venerable theory of Darwinian evolution is not without a significant number of critics within the scientific community.

  • Science tells us that miracles simply don’t happen. One cannot break the laws of nature. However, such an argument assumes that God does not exist, or that if He does exist, He is unable or unwilling to intervene in nature and suspend the natural order of things. But if God exists, it is not unreasonable to suppose that He could occasionally interrupt natural laws.

  • Science may claim to have the answer for everything, but it clearly does not. One of science’s major problems is explaining how mindless forces give rise to minds, knowledge, sound reasoning, and moral principles. Further, science cannot tell us how matter arose from nothing, why the big bang (supposedly) happened, or why life is meaningful if random forces are really in control. Science also can say nothing in regard to morality, decency and virtue. A world governed by pure naturalism would be a savage, inhuman place indeed.

  1. The Bible is full of contradictions.

Skeptics and critics commonly assert that the Bible is full of contradictions. Not just a few, but hundreds, even thousands. Lengthy books have been written detailing the supposed contradictions in the Bible. In a normal storybook, contradictions wouldn’t make much difference. But when a book claims to be inspired and inerrant, the very words of God, contradictions, if genuine, would present a major problem. We would expect there to be no contradictions and no mistakes in God’s Word.

How should we respond to this accusation?

  • We must from the outset admit that there are a few apparent contradictions and problems that have not yet been satisfactorily resolved. But such are few and far between. To say that the Bible is “full” of contradictions is a serious overstatement.

  • Most critics use the word “contradiction” very loosely. Two accounts that seem not to correspond are not necessarily contradictory. A genuine contradiction must assert that something is true and false at the same time and in the same respect.2 For example, the Bible commands, “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet God tells the Israelites to kill the Canaanites and others. The Bible even supports capital punishment, the killing of a guilty criminal. Is this a contradiction? No, because the Fifth Commandment deals with murder, not the killing associated with warfare or capital punishment. The word “kill” is used in a different sense. No genuine contradiction exists here.

  • Some supposed contradictions result from two or more different perspectives on events, such as the varying accounts in the Gospels. For example, one writer mentions only one angel at Jesus’ tomb while another writer says there were two. There is no contradiction here. Had the first writer said that there was only one, then a genuine contradiction would exist. But he doesn’t say that.

  • Some supposed contradictions arise from a copyist’s error. Because the Bible was copied by hand for many years before the printing press, it was inevitable that small typographic errors crept into the text. By comparing texts, scholars are able to weed out these mistakes most of the time. Some of the apparent contradictions are likely due to an error of this sort. Such errors are not true contradictions.

  • The problem of outstanding discrepancies in the Bible becomes smaller as time goes by. As scholars study the manuscripts and dig around in the Middle East, these problems yield to close examination and solutions arise. Such has happened many times in the past and continues to happen today. There is less reason today to believe that the Bible is full of contradictions that at any time in the history of the church.3

  1. The manuscripts (MSS) of the Bible have been corrupted and changed over the years so that we cannot be sure what was originally written.

The OT was written primarily in Hebrew and the NT in Greek. We have no original MSS, only copies of copies. Sometimes these copies are quite far removed from the time of original writing. Thus, critics assert that many scribal errors and mistaken readings have made the text of the Bible unreliable.

The critics are simply wrong in their contention that scribal errors and multiple copies over many centuries render the text unreliable. Scribes were fully capable of making very accurate copies of manuscripts, and the copying process has not degraded the text to the point that it is no longer trustworthy.

See the two articles on the subject in the Additional Material. Also available at http://www.lbcantigo.org/resources.htm

  1. The Bible is full of historical errors.

As we saw in Lesson Two, there is good reason to believe that history as presented in the Bible is accurate and trustworthy. Archaeological discoveries have supported the sequence of events as reported in the Bible. Many of the supposed errors reported in the Bible have proven to be accurate historical accounts. The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research.

  1. Some parts of the Bible are offensive to modern, secular “values.”

There are many statements in the Bible that people find offensive. A God who pours out His wrath upon sinners is simply unacceptable to the modern mind. God should be loving and forgiving, not strict and “terrible” as the Bible makes Him out to be, especially in the OT. Further, it would be narrow-minded and downright mean if God allowed only one way of salvation. For God to prohibit the majority of the people in the world from being saved is reprehensible to our pluralistic culture. God ought to at least give them a chance to be saved. Also, God surely could not have meant for the Israelites to kill all those innocent people when they conquered the Promised Land. And the whole idea of eternal punishment in hell is certainly not acceptable.

All such sentiments are the result of both misunderstanding God and substituting worldly, human “wisdom” for biblical thinking.

  • God is the creator; Man is the creature. The ways of God are not subject to the uninformed judgements of sinful man. God is under no obligation to explain His reasoning to man. Man is in no position to judge God.

  • God’s ways are often unsearchable and beyond man’s intellectual grasp (Rom 11:33f). The fact that man cannot understand God’s ways should not surprise anyone.

  • God and His Word give us the standard by which we judge the morality of any act. There is no higher standard independent of God. God doesn’t have to measure up to what unsaved people think is right.

  • All sinners rightfully deserve God’s wrath and judgement. It is purely an act of mercy and grace that God chooses to spare believers. The fact that God presents people with a means of salvation is a clear display of His lovingkindness.

  • The people the Israelites killed when they conquered the Promised Land were by no means innocent. Their cultures were exceedingly inhumane. The Israelites spared many of the Canaanites, who in turn became a major stumbling block for them.

  • Eternal punishment is the reasonable and just reward for those who have offended a holy God. If there’s a heaven, there must surely be a hell.

  1. Christianity, like all religion, is man-made.

Karl Marx, one of the founders of communism, is famous for his statement alleging that “religion is the opiate [i.e., drug] of the masses.” He asserted that the rich use religion to exploit the poor and keep them from rebellion. Because it emphasizes virtues such as industry, service, humility and obedience, religion keeps workers in line, thus protecting the interests of the rich minority. Religion promises the oppressed “pie in the sky bye and bye,” milk and honey and streets of gold for those who behave themselves in this life. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, suggested that man created religion to help him deal with the problems of life. Uncontrollable forces surround man, and religion helps people deal with things they can’t understand. According the Freud, religion owes its origin to psychological needs rather than the actual existence of God. People want gods to exist, so they invented them.

Scholars teach us that monotheism evolved from animism (the belief that spirits inhabit all things) and pantheism (the belief in many gods). Ancient people attributed human characteristics to the forces of nature, which led to the belief that spirits inhabited physical things. This led to the belief that many gods existed. Eventually, someone suggested that his god was better than all the rest, and this led to monotheism. Religion evolved just like many other aspects of life.

How should Christians respond to such criticism?

  • Christianity does not somehow drug believers into a mindless stupor. As we’ve already seen, Christianity emphasizes logical, reasonable thought. It’s not a blind faith or a leap into the dark.

  • The fact that religion meets a psychological need in people does not imply that religion is the result of such a need. While faith does help people psychologically, that is not its primary goal.

  • Although Christianity teaches a blessed future existence, it also teaches the necessity of justice and fairness in this life. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles were very critical of powerful, rich people who were oppressing the poor.

  • If man had invented God, he certainly would not have invented the One whom the Scriptures reveal. A man-made god would be much more human-like, less wrathful, less judgmental, and far easier to please than the biblical God. Attributes such as holiness, omniscience, sovereignty, omnipotence, and immutability actually make God more of a threat to man than a “crutch.”

  • There is no archaeological or historical evidence suggesting that monotheism evolved from any other religious practice. A fully-formed monotheism is evident from the very beginnings of Judaism.

  1. The church is full of hypocrites.

A hypocrite is a play-actor, one who lives a lie. Our culture has had its fill of liars and frauds in positions of authority. The government, education, the military and even organized religion have provided us with many examples of people who say one thing but do another. Critics loudly declare that the church is filled with such people.

We must admit that the church is full of sinners. In fact, the church is one organization that requires its members to admit that they are sinners. But “sin” is not necessarily synonymous with “hypocrisy.” In one sense, the church has fewer hypocrites than other organizations because church members admit their sinfulness. They don’t claim to be perfect. Even pastors and other leaders, those who should be the least guilty of hypocrisy, are not perfect. Everyone falls short of the glory of God, including mature believers. One should not expect perfection from anyone. For a pastor to preach a higher level of holiness than he himself has achieved is not hypocrisy. In order to proclaim the whole counsel of God, preachers must exhort people to do what they may fail to do. But such is not hypocrisy.

There is a sense in which all people are somewhat hypocritical. They present an image to the public that is not a true reflection of themselves. However, the assertion that the church is “full” of hypocrites is an inaccurate exaggeration. Every church has a few in it, but there are many good churches “full” of sincere believers who are actively seeking to life holy lives as well. The fact that church members have not achieved perfection does not imply that they are hypocrites. Further, even if it is true that churches are full of hypocrites, that fact should not prevent a sincere seeker of God from participation at church. One should not allow the shortcomings of others to hinder his own spiritual development.

Christians are fortunate in that their Lord was no hypocrite. Jesus is the perfect example for believers to follow. Rather than looking at the failures of believers, critics ought to examine the life of Christ. Christianity must be judged, not on the basis of the lives of Christians, but on the life of Christ. He was no hypocrite.

  1. Christianity is a crutch for weak people.

People often state that they feel no need for religion. Everything is running smoothly in their lives without it. Perhaps those who are psychologically weak find it helps them feel better, but well-balanced, educated people don’t need it. Such people are indifferent to Christianity—they never think about it and never sense a need for it. Further, some suggest that the virtues that Christianity produces, such as integrity, industry, and kindness, need not be rooted in faith at all. People are basically good, and one need not religious to be virtuous. Given the right set of circumstances, people are fully capable of virtuous living without the threats and rewards of religion.

However, one’s sense of need for a certain thing, or a lack of need for it, does not validate or invalidate that thing. Christianity is not based on how people feel about it. God’s existence is not determined by whether or not anyone believes in Him. For someone to allege that Christianity is invalid simply because he does not find it personally necessary is the height of arrogance.

Man is not basically good; he is basically evil. The unsaved person is dead in trespasses and sin, unable and unwilling to please God. Man may reform himself by “turning over a new leaf,” but he cannot redeem himself or restore his relationship to God by self-effort. Man is a fallen creature in need of grace.

Man does need to be religious in a sense. He needs that genuine religion which fully depends upon God’s grace. Repentance from sin and faith in Christ are not unnecessary options with God. Christianity is not a crutch; it’s the solution to man’s primary problem, a problem he cannot solve by himself.

  1. Christianity is just one of many legitimate religions.

Our pluralistic society tells us that Christianity is just one option among many. If it “works” for you, then fine. People have the right to believe whatever they want. All religions are equally valid. In fact, all religions are simply different ways of accomplishing the same thing. All religions are basically true even if they differ on the details. One should focus on the similarities instead of the differences. Each religion is like a separate road up a mountain—they all lead to the same place even if they seem to be going in different directions at times. No single religion has all truth locked up within itself. One should not make narrow, exclusive claims for his own faith or criticize the faith of others. God is not so narrow-minded that he provides only one way of salvation.

The problem with such a view is that Christianity is in clear contradiction with other faiths. If what Christianity alleges to be true is indeed true, then all other faiths that contradict it are false. Christ makes many exclusive claims for Himself and His way of salvation (e.g., John 14:6; Acts 4:12). If He’s right, then all contradictory faiths are invalid.

We’ve already learned that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. So it is with Christianity and other faiths—they cannot all be true. They could all be false, or one true and the others false, but they can’t all be true because they contradict each other on many points. One could simply ignore these contradictions, suggesting that they are mere nonessential, minor details, stripping Christianity of its distinctives and watering down its doctrines, but it could no more be called Christianity. To contend that Christianity does not really contradict other religions is to descend into irrationalism. While irrationality is not a problem for some faiths, it definitely is for Christianity. Thus, it’s impossible to hold that Christianity and other faiths are equally valid. Such cannot be the case.

If God does not exist, and if all religions are simply man-made traditions, then all religions would indeed be equal—equally empty and futile. But if God exists and if man is able to enter into a positive relationship with Him, there must be appropriate and inappropriate ways to approach Him. Christianity asserts that it is the one and only way to God. Thus, all other ways are invalid.

Conclusion: Christianity has plenty of critics. But many of the criticisms leveled against our faith are quite weak, unreasonable, and empty. Believers must be ready to give an answer to criticisms whenever they have the opportunity.

Discussion:

      1. Why is it reasonable that we find similar themes in the Bible and in mythology? 1. In some cases, the Bible and mythology are treating the same event, e.g., the flood; 2. Both the Bible and mythology deal with similar issues, e.g., life, death, families, tragedy, etc.

      2. Why can’t science prove that a historical event happened? Science cannot prove history. Science proves things thru observation and replication. History is not the object of science. Historians can gather evidence that a certain thing happened, and they can do so in a scientific way. But the best they can do is to give an educated guess as to what happened.

      3. Define a genuine contradiction. You must have two statements that cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Both a and –a must be alleged to be true.

      4. Why is it impossible for both Christianity and Islam or Buddhism to be equally valid? Because of the law of non-contradiction. Contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. These religions contradict each other at many points.

1 Greg Bahnsen, “The Problem of Evil” in Always Ready (Covenant Media Press, 1996), p. 196.

2 The Law of Non-Contradiction states “not both A and – A at the same time and in the same sense.” In other words, a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. A genuine contradiction exists only when two statements are both alleged to be true when they cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

3 Sproul, Reason to Believe, p. 26.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Part II: The Weaknesses of Criticisms of Christianity Lesson 6: Common Criticisms […]

Speak Your Mind

*