Top 10 Myths about the Bible

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Last year I wrote an article called Top 10 Reasons the Bible is True. To my surprise, it got more than 10 times the response of anything I’ve ever put on this blog.

Most of the responses were positive. But there were a few who strongly disagreed.  I especially appreciated these because they gave me an insight into how people perceive the Bible. 

Since then I've reflected most on the negative responses and realized they all fell into a few patterns. So I went looking for the best responses I could find to these common misperceptions about the Bible.  Here, then, are my Top 10 Myths about the Bible (and why they’re bogus!).
  1. The Bible was created by church officials to maintain their own power. “The content is far too counterproductive…to promote [the church] policies, consolidate their power, and build their movement. If this popular view is correct, we would expect to see many places in the gospels where Jesus takes sides in debates that were going on in the early church …However, we do not find this.” Timothy Keller in The Reason for God.
  2. Modern translations of the Bible obscure the original meaning. “The only kind of sanctity which Scripture can lose (or, at least, New Testament scripture) by being modernized is an accidental kind which it never had for its writers or earliest readers… We ought therefore welcome all new translations (when they are made by sound scholars).” C.S. Lewis in Godin the Dock.
  3. The Bible as we know it omits other Gospels that tell a different story about Jesus. “The vastly exaggerated claims made on behalf of these gospels are more revealing about what contemporary scholars and writers would like to find about the first Christian ages, and how these ideas are communicated, accurately or otherwise, to a mass public. The alternative gospels are thus very important sources …for what they tell us about the interest groups who seek to use them today; about the mass media, and how religion is packaged as popular culture…” Philip Jenkins in Hidden Gospels: Howthe Search for Jesus Lost Its Way.
  4. The Bible was written centuries after the events it describes supposedly happened. “The great majority of the New Testament books were penned between A.D. 50 and 100.” David F. Payne in New InternationalBible Commentary.
  5. The Bible's view of God is inconsistent: in the Old Testament he's mean and angry, in the New Testament he's loving and forgiving. “The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil... Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.” A.W. Pink in The Attributes of God.
  6. The Bible advocates things we know are wrong, like slavery. “While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favors slavery is patently wrong. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites, the law of jubilee, and in New Testament applications of Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles.” Ravi Zacharias, “Does the Bible Condone Slavery” in Slice of Infinity (http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/does-the-bible-condone-slavery/).
  7. The Bible is against proven science. “Science and religion … are friends, not foes, in the common quest for knowledge. Some people may find this surprising, for there’s a feeling throughout our society that religious belief is outmoded, or downright impossible, in a scientific age. I don’t agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if people in this so-called ‘scientific age’ knew a bit more about science than many of them actually do, they’d find it easier to share my view.” Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne in Quarks, Chaos and Christianity.
  8. The Bible has been discredited by modern archaeology. “Now, however, it is no longer possible to reject the substantial historicity of the Bible, at least as far back as the time of Abraham, because of the remarkable discoveries of archaeology.” Henry Morris as quoted by Roy Mills in Truth—Not Exactly: A Book for Truth Seekers and Those They Care About.
  9. The Bible is full of errors and can't be trusted. “We can be sure that copyists worked with great care and accuracy on the Old Testament, even back to 225 B.C. At that time there were two or three types of text available for copying. These types differed amongst themselves so little, however, that we can infer that still earlier copyists had also faithfully and carefully transmitted the Old Testament text. Indeed, it would be rash skepticism that would now deny that we have our Old Testament in a form very close to that used by Ezra when he taught the Law to those who had returned from the Babylonian captivity.” From an essay by R. Laird Harris, “How Reliable Is the Old Testament Text?”, in the book, Can I Trust My Bible?
  10. The Bible may be great literature but it's not "inspired by God. “The word ‘inspired’ … refers not to the writers, but to the words that have been written… A further indication that the Bible is the Word of God is in the remarkable number of fulfilled prophecies it contains.” Paul E. Little in KnowWhy You Believe.
I hope this list helps you be a better advocate for the reliability of God's Word.   And if I left out any myths you've encountered, please add them in the comment section below.  I'd love to hear from you! 


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Should You Read the Entire Bible in One Year?

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In the current issue of Christianity Today, I was asked to comment on the following question, "Should Christians read through the entire Bible in one year?" It may surprise you but I came out on the "no" end of the spectrum.  Now hold on. Before you get on my case, let me explain my reasoning.

Because Christianity Today only had space for a small excerpt of my response, here's the full answer I gave them... 

"I’ve never been a big fan of reading through the Bible in a year. I know that makes me seem like a spiritual weakling. All my life I’ve been taught that the strongest Christians use the 'snow plow method;' they start in Genesis at the beginning of the year and plow all the way to Revelation by the end. The problem is most people never get past February, which I call Bible Bail-out Month; that’s when they hit Leviticus and give up. 

The truth is reading through the Bible in a year is a good thing; I’ve done it several times myself and believe it should be on the spiritual bucket list of every Christian. I just think we should avoid making it our default methodology. So regardless of which Bible reading plan we use, let’s agree that the most important thing is not how much Scripture we read every year. It’s how much Scripture we apply every day."

So what do you think? Should Christians read through the entire Bible in one year?  Feel free to add your comment to this blog.  Thanks!

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Ivory-billed Faith

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"What's the big deal?"
I've always wondered why Jesus scolded his followers for their lack of faith. For example, when the disciples cried out in the storm, or when Peter stepped out of the boat.  It wouldn't have encouraged me to hear, "O ye of little faith" at such times. But a few years ago I think I figured out what Jesus was getting at and the odd thing is, to this day no one believes me.

In December 2002, my wife Carol and I were vacationing in Florida and decided to go bird watching in the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Honestly, birding is not my thing, but Carol loves it so I went to make her happy. We rented kayaks and slowly paddled through the mangrove swamps. Carol was hoping to add to her lifetime list of species. I was just hoping to avoid "Woody," a big alligator the kayak manager warned us about.

After a long hour, I was lagging behind when I noticed a bird that looked different than the others. I took out my binoculars to get a good look. When I caught up with Carol I described what I had seen. She whipped out her bird book but couldn't identify it, so when we returned our kayaks we went to the office for some help.

The ranger spread out a big chart with all kinds of birds and asked me to point to what I had seen. "That one," I said, tapping the bird I saw. The room got quiet. I looked up wondering if I had offended someone. The ranger said, 'Are you sure that's what you saw?" "Yeah," I responded casually, "that's it." The ranger then informed me I was pointing to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a rare bird that was extinct. As we left, he chuckled and assured me there was no way I could have seen that bird in his swamp.

Then in 2004, there was a reported sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas and it made a big stir in the birding world. But when I heard about it I thought, "What's the big deal? I saw that thing two years ago." Now whenever I'm around Carol's birding friends, I tell them about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. They just roll their eyes.

So what does all this have to do with faith? Simply this: if you don't believe something is possible, you're not likely to see it. And I think that's what Jesus was getting at. Faith is not guaranteeing what God will do. Rather, faith is being certain that "with God all things are possible." That's the kind of childlike faith Jesus wants us to have every day.

The truth is, I'm not experienced enough to know exactly what I saw in the mangrove swamp. But I do know this. That ranger will probably never see the Ivory-billed Woodpecker because, unlike me, he still believes it's impossible.

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Candy Crush and the Bible

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I’m embarrassed to admit this, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Candy Crush.  It's a mobile game that's become a worldwide sensation.  The game has been downloaded 500 million times and played more than 150 billion times.  But the reason I’ve been thinking about it is not what you’d expect.  You see, I believe Candy Crush has a lot to teach us about Bible reading.

I had never heard of Candy Crush until I read the recent article about it in TIME Magazine.  Intrigued, I downloaded the free app to my iPad and iPhone.  Soon I was lining up sets of three fruit candies and enjoying the deep-voice affirmation when I progressed to the next level, "Sugar crush!"

But what does a mindless mobile game have to do with Bible reading? It turns out the secret to the success of Candy Crush, according to developer Tommy Palm, is the habit-formation principles he incorporated into its design; things like keeping the process simple, providing positive feedback and encouraging players to connect on Facebook.

That fascinated me because ten years ago Scripture Union studied habit formation and the Bible. Instead of making daily devotions a heavy-duty study, we asked, “What would make Bible reading an enjoyable, repeatable behavior?” With the help of author and psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown of the Harvard Medical School, we looked at lots of habit-formation research. In the end, the principles that seemed most effective in the devotional life were: a) setting achievable goals, b) making a personal plan of action, c) using a pre-determined schedule, d) tracking one’s progress, and e) having the “soft accountability” of reading the Bible with another person or group.

We then built these principles into our E100® Bible Reading Challenge and the program took off. To date, over 2,500,000 people in dozens of countries and 20 languages, have participated. We’ve partnered with the American Bible Society to distribute E100® to the US Military. And we’re working with national youth leader Doug Fields on a youth edition. Honestly, E100® is growing faster then we ever imagined.

But in the end, the secret to regular Bible reading is not some kind of Candy Crush trickery. It’s what faithful Christians have known for centuries: meeting God in his Word is what brings you back to the Bible every day. SU is now building that approach into all its programs. As the Psalmist said, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2). That's what people truly crave.

After a week of playing Candy Crush (and progressing to level 23), I permanently deleted the game from my iPad and iPhone; I was wasting too much time on it.  But the good new is I’m still experiencing the joy of meeting God in the Bible every day, and I don’t plan to stop.  Bible crush!

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The Bible in the Real-time Arena

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Piers Morgan interviewing Rick Warren on CNN
Lately I've noticed two trends in the media.  First, more interviewers are questioning the traditional view of marriage.  OK, that's not new.  But second, most of the questions are biased. Shouldn't there be marriage "equality"?  Shouldn't we be allowed to "love" whoever we want?  The agenda is obvious, but that's not what bothers me.  What bothers me is that in all the hubbub, Christians are missing a great opportunity to promote the Bible.

Recently Rick Warren was interviewed on CNN's Piers Morgan Live.  When Warren was asked, "How can you say you're for equality of all people if gay people can't get married?" he referred to the Bible.  Morgan pounced, "Yes, but there are many things in the Bible that just wouldn't fly today."  Warren did a masterful job of standing up for the biblical view of marriage, and even got applause when he said, "I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval, or the disapproval of society." 

But it was at this point that Warren could have turned the tables.  Imagine if he would have said, "So let me ask you something, Piers.  On what basis do you determine right and wrong?"  Simply dismissing the Bible as "anachronistic," as Morgan did later in the segment, is not a good answer.

As followers of Jesus, we should always be respectful of others.  So when people casually dismiss the credibility of the Bible we shouldn't blow up.  But we shouldn't let it go, either.  Instead we should ask about their reference point for morality and truth, and then guide them back to ours, the Bible.

What if Rick Warren would have added, "You know, Piers, a lot of people say they don't agree with the Bible but they've never read it," then turning to the camera, "so I'd challenge every one of your viewers to get a Bible and read the Gospel of John.  It'll only take about 30 minutes.  Then you can decide for yourself if it has the ring of truth"?

I'm thankful for leaders like Rick Warren who defend the Bible in the real-time media arenas of today.  But all of us will have opportunities to defend the Bible in our day-to-day conversations, so maybe it's good to remember what Mark Twain once said, "It ain't those parts of the Bible I can't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand."

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Bible Paranoia

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Why are those most committed to the Bible sometimes the very ones who put up the biggest roadblocks to getting more people reading it?

I'm not talking about Christians who don't always live by what God's Word says. We all have that problem, including me. No, I'm talking about a more recent phenomenon: Bible paranoia.

A few weeks ago I got a call from an assistant pastor of a large, Bible-focused church.  I thought he might want to talk about our E100® Challenge program and I was excited to think that such an influential church might "take the challenge."  But he had something else on his mind.

"One of our members gave me a copy of your Bible Guide..." Uh, oh.  I was back in the principal's office.  "It has a quote from The Message," he continued.  "Does Scripture Union endorse that translation?"  It felt like a trap, but I told him our policy.  "No, Scripture Union doesn't endorse any specific translation of the Bible," I said.  "Sometimes we include a short quote or phrase from a classic or contemporary version, but our material is usable with any translation."

That wasn't good enough.  "Well, we don't want our people reading The Message," he said.  "I've been instructed to bring your answer back to our elders."  We had a friendly chat for a few more minutes and I assured him that whenever people ask about translations, we refer them to their pastor, minister or priest.  "Like I said, we don't endorse any translation," I reiterated.  "Our goal is to get more people reading and living the Bibles they already have."

But as I hung up, I felt conflicted.  That assistant pastor is a good man, and I’m thankful his church has a high regard for the Scriptures.  And personally, I'm not a big fan of The Message.  But if we really believe the Bible has the power to change lives, shouldn't we be less paranoid about which translation people read, and more encouraging of their efforts to start reading any translation at all?   And with research showing a decades-long decline in Bible engagement, even in the church, isn't that the bigger issue?  That's why at ScriptureUnion we’re committed to helping people of all ages meet God in his Word, any way we can.

Charles H. Spurgeon
Since that call I've been thinking about a friend of mine who has a high-level job in a Fortune 500 company.  He's a faithful church-goer and very committed to helping the needy.  Yet he’s never been much of a Bible reader.  Then he got hold of The Message, and now he reads the Bible all the time.  He even quotes from it in meetings.  In fact, he reads his Bible so much the binding is falling apart.

His experience reminds me of what Charles H. Spurgeon, the 19th  century preacher and author, once said, "A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t."  I agree.  And I'd say that's a lot more important than never, ever reading the "wrong" translation.

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Top 10 Reasons the Bible is True

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I've got a good friend who's probably a lot like you.  He loves the Bible and does his best to read it and live it every day.  There's one problem.  Some of his friends say the Bible isn’t true, and he's not always sure how to respond.   So I've created a list of the best arguments I can find for the credibility of the Bible. Interested?  Okay, here are my Top 10 Reasons the Bible is True. (If I missed any that are important to you, please add them in the comment section below.  I'd love to hear from you.)

  1. Manuscript Evidence.  There are way more copies of the biblical manuscripts, with remarkable consistency between them, than there are for any of the classics like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.  "There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament."  F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
  2. Archaeological Evidence.  Again and again archaeological discoveries have verified the accuracy of the historical and cultural references in the Bible.  The more they dig, the more it confirms the Bible.  “It is important to note that Near Eastern archaeology has demonstrated the historical and geographical reliability of the Bible in many important areas.” E.M. Blaiklock, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology.
  3. Eyewitness Accounts.  The Bible was written by people who witnessed the events it describes; many were persecuted or martyred but never changed their story.  Would you die for something you knew was untrue? “It is no moderate approbation of Scripture that it has been sealed by the blood of so many witnesses, especially when we reflect that they died to render testimony to the faith …with a firm and constant, yet sober, zeal toward God.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  4. Corroborating Accounts. There are plenty of references in non-biblical sources to the events described in the Bible. The Jewish historian Josephus, born in 37 AD, “provide(s) indispensable background material for the student of…New Testament history. In them, we meet many figures well known to us from the New Testament. Some of his writings provide direct commentary on New Testament references.”  J.D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary.
  5. Literary Consistency.  The Bible contains 66 books written over 1,500 years by 40 different writers but it tells one "big story" of God's plan of salvation that culminated in Jesus Christ.  You can't even pass a secret around a circle of 12 people and get the same message at the end. “There is indeed a wide variety of human authors and themes (in the Bible). Yet behind these…there lies a single divine author with a single unifying theme.” John R.W. Stott, Understanding the Bible.
  6. Prophetic Consistency.  There are over 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  “The very dimension of the sheer fulfillment of prophecy of the Old Testament Scriptures should be enough to convince anyone that we are dealing with a supernatural piece of literature….God has himself planted within the scriptures an internal consistency that bears witness that this is his Word.” R.C. Sproul, Now That’s a Good Question.
  7. Expert Scrutiny. The early church had extremely high standards for what books were judged to be authentic and therefore included in the Bible. A book had to have been written by an Apostle or someone in their immediate circle, had to conform to basic Christian faith and had to be in widespread use among many churches. This was a careful process of “the people of God in many different places, coming to recognize what other believers elsewhere found to be true”; these writings were truly God’s word. G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson and R.T. France, The New Bible Commentary.
  8. Leader Acceptance.  A majority of the greatest leaders and thinkers in history have affirmed the truth and impact of the Bible"I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong.” Abraham Lincoln.
  9. Global Influence.  The Bible has had a greater influence on the laws, art, ethics, music and literature of world civilization than any other book in history.  Can you think of one that even comes close?  “Christianity”, as set forth in the Bible “is responsible for a disproportionately large number of the humanitarian advances in the history of civilization—in education, medicine, law, the fine arts, working for human rights and even in the natural sciences….” Craig L. Blomberg, in Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.
  10. Changed Lives.  From St. Augustine to Martin Luther to Joni Eareckson Tada to countless everyday men, women and children, the words of the Bible have transformed lives unmistakably and forever.  “As unnamed masses of Christians down through the ages have shown us, the Bible is the most reliable place to turn for finding the key to a life of love and good works.” T.M. Moore, The Case for the Bible.
I hope this list helps you become more confident about the Bible.  But don’t forget: whenever you have an opportunity to defend God's Word, be sure to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).  No one listens to an angry Bible reader.  (If I missed any reasons that are important to you, please add them in the comment section below.  I'd love to hear from you.)

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Watch Out for The Bible!

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I bet you're wondering what to do on Sunday nights in March, right?  No worries; I've got the answer.  You can watch The Bible on The History Channel.  This incredible 10-part miniseries premieres March 3 at 8:00 pm (7:00 Central) and was produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor and The Voice) and features Roma Downey (Touched by and Angel).  What's unique about the show is that it combines live action and computer generated imagery to tell the whole story of the Bible in a fast-paced, unforgettable way.  Scripture Union is one of several ministries involved in getting the word out.  Check out the video trailer below. Then watch out for The Bible in March!

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NFL Bible Reading Revival?

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A recent study by The Barna Group found that most Americans believe pro athletes have more influence on society than pastors or other faith leaders.  If that's true, then people like Tony Dungy are among the most influential advocates for God's Word in America today. Just listen below to what the Super Bowl-winning coach and analyst for NBC Sports said just before Super Bowl XLVII.  Imagine a nationwide Bible reading revival beginning in the NFL. (For more video about Bible reading in the NFL go to Scripture Union.org)

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Reaching Out to Bible Skeptics

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Most of the people I hang out with love the Bible. They read it every day and promote it whenever they can.  But lately I've been thinking about those who don't like the Bible.  How should the Christian community respond to them?

In a recent interview in TIME Magazine, Ian McKellen, the actor who masterfully plays Gandalf in the new movie The Hobbit (as well as in the Lord of the Rings movies), said that as a long-time gay rights advocate he regularly rips Leviticus 18 out of hotel Bibles. A self-admitted atheist, McKellan has sometimes attacked the credibility of the Bible in his public interviews. So how should those who love God's Word respond to such high-profile opposition?

It's a tricky issue, but I believe if we respond in a Christlike way, Christians may be able to turn public criticism of the Bible into effective promotion of it.  So let me offer three simple ways we can do this.

  • First, we need to be regular Bible readers ourselves. It does no good to tell the world to do something the church is failing to do. And to honest, recent studies of Bible reading among church-goers show that we have a lot of work to do here.
  • Second, we need to make sure the tone of our response is loving. I disagree with Mr. McKellen on his views of the Bible, but if I respond as an "angry Bible reader," then I've missed the point; I'm only a "resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
  • Third, we need to pray for those who reject the Bible. In spite of how it appears, Ian McKellen may be spiritually searching. I'm no psychologist, but I know that sometimes external resistance can mask an internal question. I also know that if we ever hope to see "Bible reading revival," then Bible groupies like me need to become more effective at reaching out to Bible bashers like McKellen. 

In an odd way, Mr. McKellen's interview may have promoted Bible reading. Thousands of TIME readers are likely to dust off their Bibles to find out what Leviticus 18 says. I admit, it's not the easiest place to begin, but it's a start.

So if you decide to watch The Hobbit over the next few weeks, use it as a reminder to pray for Ian McKellen and anyone else you know who's skeptical about the Bible.  Ask God to reveal his love and truth to them, perhaps through you, in a fresh new way.

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