For several years of my life I was a closet agnostic. What that means is that although I attended a church, I didn’t really perceive having a relationship with God as being feasible or even realistic at all. If God was out there, he was unknowable. Christianity seemed to be a blind shot at the moon that would simply give people cheap hope of an afterlife with no empirical evidence for the validity of any of its serious claims. That being said, it’s part of my nature to be skeptical. There’s a scene in the movie The Santa Clause were the psychiatrist Neil, played by Judge Reinhold, mentions that he quit believing in Santa after he didn’t get what he wanted (a wienie whistle) for Christmas as a child. “I was three years old. Christmas came, and no wienie whistle… and that’s when I stopped believing.” I’m a lot like Neil. I quit believing in Santa around the age of 4. I was never really interested in fairy tales or mythology—I want you to give it to me straight so that I can move on with my life and stop pretending. At this time I had not heard any arguments against the validity or reliability of the Bible. That wasn’t necessary. My own inborn skepticism kept me asking questions that pushed me further and further into disbelief. Certainly Christianity was a complete shot in the dark. Faith was a mechanism for the credulous.
But is that really true? And does the Bible promote blind faith as a requirement to be a Christian? Now certainly, there are more than enough Christians who believe what they believe because Christianity is just part of who they are. Perhaps they grew up in the church, or they feel like this particular religion suits their moral and ethical inclinations. Whatever the case may be, as a closet agnostic, I was furious when my conversations and thoughts were met by these kinds of arguments:
Me: “But how do we know that the Bible is really true?”
Christian: “We just have faith.”
Me: “Yeah but what if it’s all wrong? How can we trust it?”
Christian: “You’ve just got to believe.”
At this point I wanted to slam my head into a brick wall. That answer was insufficient! I can’t believe in something “just because!” I need truth! If the evidence goes against the validity of the Bible, then I’m checking out. So when I would hear the word “faith,” I would instantly think of a similar scenario to the one above. “Just believe to believe.” The truth is—this isn’t faith—its blind faith. And there is a tremendous difference between the two. Faith is rooted in evidence, blind faith is believing in something just to believe in it. So does the Bible call for faith or blind faith?
Take a look at this passage from Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The words assurance and conviction are especially important here. They allude to the fact that there must be a reason to put your faith into something. You can’t have assurance for something that is void of evidence. Assurance is built upon the trust of experience. You can’t have true conviction without a reason. If your conviction is without a reason, then it isn’t your conviction, it belongs to someone else. The Bible is not asking for blind faith; it is asking for faith built upon evidence and reason. This of course seems difficult. After all—believing that man preformed miracles and rose from the dead seems to go against reason. Normally, this would true. However if this man possessed divine attributes, then the doors of possibility fling wide open. Of course, arguing the divinity of Jesus is another post for another time. However, the proof lies in the evidence of the resurrection. Paul understood this when he made the comment in 1 Corinthians 15:19 were he states (I’m paraphrasing) that “Christians should be pitied of all people if Christ did not rise from the dead.” All of Christianity and the claims of Jesus Christ are contingent on the resurrection. If Christ did not rise from the dead then there is no reason to put any trust in him what-so-ever. In fact, if Christ did not rise from the dead then it would disqualify him from even being a good, moral teacher. Good, moral teachers do no lie to their students. Christ continually made the claim that he was God and would die a specific death and rise again and be seen. If the latter wasn’t true, the former is a hoax, and this man would not be worth your time or my time.
The first thing we must do is establish whether the New Testament has any validity at all. If the story is fabricated then we’re out of the race before the commencement of the gunfire. Beginning with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), our task is to determine if these accounts have any historical validity. Here are two basic criteria for establishing the validity of a historical document: 1) The earlier the account, the better. 2) The more numerous the manuscript, the better. This is common sense. If I tell a story to my child, who then tells the same story to his child, who then tells the story to his child, who then tells the story to his child, who then tells the story to his child, you can bet that information will be lost or distorted. The further from the date that the original story was told, the more likely aspects of it are to be incorrect. Furthermore, if I create a document, and have 50 of my friends retype the original document, and they have their friends copy the copied document and so on, then the odds of me getting documents that are closest to the original without typos and grammar errors will be higher. However, if I give a document to one friend, who then copies the document and gives it to one other friend, and this goes on for hundreds of years—the odds of a friend carelessly messing up a document are significantly higher, and therefore the odds of getting the original document (as I wrote it) are not likely, and I have no way of comparing the validity of the manuscripts in the event that the first couple generations of manuscripts are destroyed.
So how reliable are the Biblical manuscripts that we have? Let’s first take a minute to give a side-by-side comparison of other documents. The first two biographies of Alexander the Great were created by Arrian and Plutarch over 400 years after the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. Nobody questions much the authenticity of the claims made in these documents. The gospels on the other hand, were written within the first generation of Christ’s death. Even secular scholars place the dating of Mark as early as 70 A.D., just 40 years after the death of Christ. That is remarkable for any document of antiquity. To take this a step further, we have about 650 Greek manuscripts from Homer’s Iliad, whereas we have over 5,600 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This means that because the gospels were written so close to the original event, and because we have so many manuscripts stretching back to the original autographs, that no other document in antiquity is as reliable as the accounts of the gospels.
Now as a skeptic, this might not seal the deal for you to trust the claims of Christ. I understand that. But it’s something to investigate. It is evidence to the Bible’s validity as a historical document. As a Christian, this should be very encouraging to know. There is an abundance of evidence for validity of the Bible, and we must be diligent to learn and understand why we believe what we believe in the first place. The entire point I have been trying to make is that faith is built upon evidence. Blind faith has no foundation. We cannot be lazy students of the Bible (I’m guilty of this.) If you claim to be a Christian, then the claims that you make are too serious to accompanied by slothful study. If you claim to have the truth, you must have a reason to defend that truth (1 Peter 3:15). Too often do people think that they are making basic truths about the Bible without any evidence to back it up. This is damaging. If a Biblical claim is made, it should be accompanied by a verse that has been carefully studied. Do your homework. Be diligent. The 18 year-old Zack Locklear would be grateful as well as the millions of others that need reasons for the hope that is to be found in Christianity. Step out of blind faith into true faith. Learn truths for yourself. Do not be afraid to ask difficult questions—you aren’t likely to learn the answers until you ask the questions. My question, “Can I trust the Bible?” needed a sharper answer than, “Yes.” When we face difficult questions, we must have thoughtful answers. Perhaps not all questions have answers, but we are not called to be lax students of scripture. Listening to a sermon twice a week won’t cut it. And too many times do skeptics encounter Christians in the church who promote blind faith. This is a turn off. As Christians, it is paramount to understand what it is that we believe, and to understand why we believe it. If the Word of God is a sword (Hebrews 4:12) it is not used to cut down people, but it is used to cut through lies to the truth. If we do not diligently study, we will not know how to wield this sword (Ephesians 6:16). We will then use it incorrectly, and we cannot afford this.