|Moses Breaking the Tables of the Law
We have been challenged numerous times on this blog by one of our most faithful (an antipun?) commenters to explain how we can accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God when other religions can make the same claim for their sacred books. Are not all claims equally valid? And since they cannot all be valid, equally worthless? Is not the real reason I hold the Bible in high regard the fact that I was conditioned to do by my own culture? Would I not feel the same way about the Qur'an if I had been born and bred in an Islamic culture?
The question is a fair one and deserves a candid answer. Admittedly we do have a bias here, and yet the question itself is far too important simply to leave it as a matter of personal preference. As human beings faced with our own mortality we have a vital interest in knowing the truth, no matter what that may turn out to be. Our eternal destiny rides on the outcome. And so we must examine the competing claims of the various religions and evaluate them as objectively as possible.
First of all, what exactly does the Bible claim for itself? The short answer is contained in II Peter 1:21: ". . . for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (NKJV). To read the descriptions of the phenomenon of prophecy in the Old Testament, sometimes God would speak directly to the prophet, as for in example the case of Moses. Sometimes the prophet would see visions, hear voices, or dream dreams. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would simply descend upon the prophet and speak through him. By whatever means the Holy Spirit communicated the message to him, the prophet would then put it down in writing. The Bible we have today is the collection of what they wrote.
But, our interlocutor might say, exactly the same claims have been made for the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon. How can we say that the Bible is true and the other two are false? How can we tell who, if any, is telling the truth? Shouldn't we simply dismiss them all?
The problem is analogous to a courtroom trial. Suppose that you are sitting on a jury in a criminal trial. The attorneys for each side produce witnesses to support their respective cases. But both sides cannot possibly be right. The defendant is either guilty or he is not. How would you decide who is telling the truth?
What is not an option is simply dismissing the whole case as nonsense. The defendant's name, freedom, and possibly even his life are at stake. The court has the responsibility to make a determination. Somehow a way must be found to arrive at the truth. The evidence must be sifted through and weighed carefully.
The prosecution presents the first witness. The first thing we would want to consider is the witness' credibility. Does he appear to honest and sincere? Is there anything in his background that would cast doubt upon his character? Is there any apparent conflict of interest? Was he in a position to have first-hand knowledge of the case?
Secondly, we would want to weigh the testimony itself. Is it self-contradictory? Does the witness keep changing the story?
But perhaps more importantly, are there corroborating witnesses? Are there others who saw the same thing?
Now I cannot said that I have read every piece of religious literature that has ever appeared in the world, but I am fairly familiar with the Bible, and have read sections of the Gnostic gospels, the Qur'an, and the Book of Mormon. I have also available to me general information about several other major world religions. What, then, do we make of all of this?
The Book of Mormon can really be dismissed at once. Not only was it written by a single author, but it was an author who had a reputation for dishonesty. He claimed to be translating tablets which were then taken back by the angel Moroni. Much of the material appears to have been plagiarized from other sources, including the King James Bible. Our conclusion, then, is that Joseph Smith is hardly a reliable witness.
As for the Qur'an, it too has the problem of having been written by a single person whose testimony is impossible to corroborate. Moreover, when we examine the content of the Qur'an, it too looks suspicious. Much of it is bitter invective directed at Mohammed's critics and enemies. In some cases there are outright misrepresentations of the facts, such as when Mohammed accuses the Jews of being polytheists (9:30). Moreover it grants Mohammed himself special exemptions from the rules that apply to everyone else, such as the number of wives he was allowed to have (33:50). In short, the Qur'an looks as though it were the self-serving product of a single author.
|Tintoretto, Transport of the Body of Saint Mark
But what is even more striking is the content of the message itself. In vivid contrast to all of the other cultures of the ancient Near East, the Hebrew prophets alone proclaimed that there is only one God, and that He is the sole Creator of the universe. Moreover the Scriptures a lofty standard of ethics and morality that stands in stark contrast with the rest of the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world. The Bible paints a dismal picture of human nature, and apart from Christ Himself all of its major characters are deeply flawed individuals. The Bible makes no attempt to flatter humanity. How likely is it that such a book could have had a purely human authorship?
And at the heart of the Bible's message is the proposition, still held in disbelief today, that mankind needs a Savior, that only a Person Who is both God and man at the same time could fulfill the role, and that He would die on a Roman cross to atone for our sins That Person was Jesus Christ, and His deity was attested by miracles He performed and by His own resurrection from the dead, all of which were public events and seen by numerous eyewitnesses.
But there is also a more personal reason why I believe the Bible. When I read it, it speaks to my conscience and soul. It has the ring of truth to it, and it imparts wisdom and understanding. It is truly "a lamp to my feet / And a light to my path" (Ps. 119:105).
In short, there is no other book in the world like the Bible.
For related blog posts see:
!s the Bible the Inspired Word of God? -- click here, here, and here.
Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?
Who Wrote the Gospels?
Science and Scripture