In an 1822 letter to theologian James Smith, American founding father, third president of the United States, and principal author of its Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, wrote,
“Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.” (emphasis mine)
Had Jesus made no miracles in his lifetime, do you think his apostles would still have followed him? Had he not been truly resurrected by God, do you think that Christianity could have possibly taken root in the Roman Empire? Remember that he was crucified as a revolutionary and given the death penalty (like the modern electric chair) by the state. So, you see, your faith too must be based on facts and reason.
We, Christians, have a tendency of quoting a verse from the Bible assuming it is the truth. We believe the Bible to be infallible because we assume it is God’s Word. Fine, but what evidence do we have that it was indeed written by God himself? What if it was not? Then, our faith would be built on sand, no? We do not even know who wrote about 97% of the Protestant Bible. Catholics and Protestants cannot even agree on the number of books that constitute the Bible, not to mention the Jews who are the original authors of the Bible (the Old Testament). Doesn’t that tell you something? We only know for certain that Paul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) wrote only 7 of the 13 letters attributed to him. The other 6 letters were written in his name posthumously, and their doctrine contradicts that of the previous 7 because times had changed by then.
We know, from his own account in these seven authentic letters, that Paul was a staunch Pharisee who persecuted Christians: by “persecuting,” I mean he used to kill them. But then, suddenly, something happened to Paul (we don’t know exactly what): he tells us that God “revealed his Son,” Jesus, to him. Paul even tells us that he knew Jesus died crucified, and yet, he personally saw the resurrected Jesus. So, thank God, we have a skeptic who turned believer in the blink of an eye. We thus have solid evidence by a skeptical eyewitness that Jesus died and was indeed resurrected. There is hardly any doubt that Jesus died crucified: we even have testimony of it outside the New Testament scriptures. Besides it passes the criterion of dissimilarity: it is not something a follower of Christ would invent out of the blue, unless it was true, because it would be detrimental to a Christian’s cause; so it has the ring of truth. But had it not been for Paul’s writings and his emphatic testimony in those writings, Jesus’s resurrection would have sounded like an old wives’ tale to us twenty-first Christians.
Yet the account of Paul’s own conversion does not jibe with that given by the evangelist we refer to as “Luke” who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. I wish I had enough space to show this clearly here, but you can check it out yourself: compare the details of Paul’s conversion in Galatians 1:13–20 with that in Acts 9:1–22, and see if you can possibly reconcile them. Paul says he did not see or consult any Christians for three years while Luke says he was taken care of by Christians while he was blinded for three days; meanwhile, Paul doesn’t even mention anything about his being blinded.
Paul swears, before God, that he is telling the truth in Galatians, but it does not really matter for biblical inerrancy believers who is telling the truth, one of the two accounts is false (if not both). So now, I pose this question to you: If one of the two accounts of Paul’s conversion is false, how can we still believe that the Bible is God’s Word? Is all the Bible false? Certainly not! But we need to be careful when quoting from the Bible. The Bible authors, like every one of us I presume, tried to find God, but they did not always get things right.
I am positive biblical inerrancy believers think I am talking nonsense here: maintaining that there are no apparent biblical contradictions that cannot be reconciled. So, I shall quote from New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. (For starters, notice the subtitle of his book.) Now Ehrman was initially a staunch biblical inerrancy believer, but he changed his mind after going to a seminary and obtained a doctorate in biblical studies. In his Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman writes,
“We have seen lots of discrepancies in the New Testament in this chapter, some small and relatively inconsequential, others important for understanding what the different authors wanted to say. Some of the discrepancies could probably be reconciled if sufficient interpretive ingenuity were brought to bear; others appear to be flat-out contradictions. … The discrepancies are significant because they show that the view of the Bible as completely inerrant appears not to be true.” (p. 59 emphasis mine)
If you’re not yet convinced that there are contradictions in the Bible, consider this. The Old Testament in Isaiah states that there is only one God: “I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God, besides me.” (Isaiah 45:5) While the New Testament, in John’s gospel states that “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) So, according to the Bible (the Christian Bible rather) there is more than one God. These are two statements that go diametrically opposite our reason.
It is of significance to note that it is only John’s gospel that claims Jesus is divine. In fact, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus telling a rich man, “Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God.” (Mark 10:18) Note that this meets the criterion of dissimilarity; it is not something a follower of Jesus would write out of the blue unless it really happened: it means he probably did say it—it has the ring of truth. Indeed, even John’s gospel concedes that Jesus is not exactly divine for he also portrays Jesus saying, ” The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) If Jesus were truly God, no one could possibly be greater than him. The Son of God par excellence, yes, but God, no.
So, why did the evangelist we refer to as “John” claim that Jesus was divine? Because he wanted to make him greater than the Roman Emperor, who was considered divine and was even worshiped. The Romans’ reasoning regarding the emperor’s divinity was axiomatically simple. In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes, “Their logic was flawlessly simple. Gods run the world. Caesar runs the world. Therefore, Caesar is a god.” (p. 20) John’s gospel, written around 100 CE, was the last of the four gospels written; it is therefore the least reliable: because writers tend to mythologize their heroes (like Robin Hood or Zorro) later in time when there are no eyewitnesses left to challenge what they wrote.
Assuming every verse in the Bible to be God’s revelation (and therefore infallible) is one of the factors that led the church to declare the “mystery” of the Trinity. However, in his book AD 381, ancient Greece and Rome historian Charles Freeman shows that, in an effort to unite the Roman Empire in its religion, the emperor Theodosius forced the church to declare what he personally believed regarding the nature of God. In his introduction to the book, Freeman writes,
“The story, as this book hopes to show, is well documented, but an alternative narrative, that the Church itself came to a consensus on the nature of the Godhead, is still the dominant one in histories of Christianity. The ‘consensus’ approach glosses over the violent antagonisms the debates over doctrine aroused and the pre-eminent role the [Roman] emperors played in their resolution.” (p. 2, emphasis mine)
The mystery of the Trinity would be no mystery at all if one were to let go of the untenable “axiom” that the Bible is infallible. In fact, although Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe in the infallibility of the Protestant Bible, they do not believe that Jesus is also God. In their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, they work around this biblical contradiction by rendering the first verse of John’s gospel as, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god (or ‘was divine‘).” (John 1:1, emphasis mine) However, according to the Bible Hub: Interlinear website, the Greek original uses the same word (except for the ‘case’: i.e., subject, object, etc.) for both “God” and “a god” (or “divine”). (See: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1-1.htm.)
Consequently, we can only hold on to what is tenable in the Bible. So then, do we pick and choose what we like from the Bible? That is very dangerous if not irresponsible. But if you follow your reason: what your inner self tells you is true or false in the Bible, then the Bible becomes a source of inspiration to you—but in the ordinary sense. If we were truly made “in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:26) that would not be in our bodies but in our intellect. Deuteronomy tells us that God’s law is not far from us, in the sky or across the sea, that it might be difficult to obtain and know about; no, it is hardwired to our inner being—it is God’s signature in every one of us:
“This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee: Nor is it in heaven, that thou shouldst say: ‘Which of us can go up to heaven to bring it unto us, and we may hear and fulfill it in work?’ Nor is it beyond the sea: that thou mayst excuse thyself, and say: ‘Which of us can cross the sea, and bring it unto us: that we may hear, and do that which is commanded?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14)
Bible Hub: Interlinear. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1-1.htm.
Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315.)
Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061173936.)
Freeman, Charles. AD 381. London, UK: Pimlico, 2009. (ISBN: 9781845950071.)
Jefferson, Thomas to James Smith, 1822.
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. New York, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013.
The Holy Bible: Douay Rheims Version. Challoner Revision, 1752.