Some time ago, I reunited with an old friend from high school. After catching up on some basic questions, we were both surprised to discover that our spiritual journeys had taken us to entirely different places. While I remained a growing Christian (and then became a pastor), my friend rejected all forms of Christianity and became a pretty committed pagan.
Back and forth the emails went. I was trying to get him to think about the obvious design in our intricate universe, and he was trying to convince me that so much evil in the world excludes the possibility of God. I think the dialogue was useful, but I’m not sure either of us changed much.
I am convinced that most people who claim to reject the Bible, however, have never seriously considered the Bible. This is not to say that they never heard a few stories in a Sunday School class, or even that they picked it up and read a few chapters.
In my interaction with people, committed pagans (or people in other religions that claim the Bible has been changed or is full of contradictions) have read other books that supposedly show the deficiencies of the Bible, while never having personally interacted with the Bible itself.
Perhaps you are like my friend from school. Maybe you are reading this with a smirk on your face assuming that intellectual honesty prevents you from taking the old religious book seriously. Or perhaps you are part of a religion that claims that the Bible is a holy book, but since other holy books correct it, the Bible cannot be trusted.
My challenge to you is a simple one. Take any story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, which are the books highlighting the life of Jesus on earth, read it, and then explain it to me. Some people think the Bible is just filled with mystical sayings, but it is not. Read it like you are reading this newspaper.
I’m thinking primarily of one of Jesus’s miracle accounts. Tell me what the Bible says about the setting of the miracle. Try to figure out the answer to these questions: What details are given before and after the encounter with Jesus? Are there any features that point to an eyewitness testimonial? Who was watching (i.e. a friendly crowd or a hostile one)? Does the Bible give any clues in the paragraphs or sentences surrounding the event as to its meaning or significance? In other words, what does the Bible say it wants you to get out of the account(s)?
My guess is that if you have the courage to take up my challenge, your smirk will disappear. I’m not at all meaning that an unbeliever could not come up with skeptical observations, because I have heard plenty of them.
I do think, though, you will be stunned by the details in the biblical accounts. I also think your options about what is going on will be dramatically reduced. My high school buddy was surprised that he could not force his secular humanism to blend with biblical Christianity. If our interaction showed him anything, it did convince him that a biblical picture of Jesus does not fit into his secular worldview.
If you are convinced that the New Testament was changed, and its historical accounts are not accurate, please continue the challenge by telling me who changed the details and when. In other words, what do you think actually happened at the supposed miracle event recorded in the Bible? Can you tell me how someone(s) could get away with attributing such shocking claims and supernatural powers to Jesus of Nazareth? If you’re still smirking, I’d love to hear about it. Give me your best shot.
If you don’t have a Bible, and would like one, I’d be happy to see that you get one, or you could use esv.org for an accurate and readable translation of the Bible online (the English Standard Version (ESV) is also available in a free app for your phone or tablet). If you’d like a few suggestions of stories to try to challenge, I’ll give you a few.
Mark 2:1-12 tells the story of Jesus healing a paralytic man. Notice the details given within the account. Unlike supposed faith healers of today, Jesus was not in his own environment controlling the circumstances. He was in an extremely crowded house. He did not move the skeptics to the back of the room; apparently they had front row seats. Notice the parallels between what Jesus said and then did. Notice the response of the crowds, including the skeptics. Tell me what is going on here—I challenge you.
Just a page or two over is another healing story. Mark 3:1-6 tells almost a shocking account of a man with a withered hand. In this story, I want to challenge you to consider the hostility of the eyewitnesses to Jesus (and the hostility of Jesus to the eyewitnesses!). What is their response to the miracle? What is yours?
The human author of Luke’s gospel was a medical doctor. Notice the types of details he includes in his accounts of Jesus casting out demons, healing a hemorrhaging woman, and raising the dead in Luke 8:26-56.
While any miracle story of Jesus will serve the purpose of my challenge, I suppose the ultimate challenge would be to tell me what is happening when the Bible records the account of the resurrection of dead Jesus back to life.
This one is a bit harder to interact with without taking in the preceding context, but I’ll list a couple of the places in the Bible where the story is related. Matthew 28:1-10 and John 20:1-18 have the resurrection story from two perspectives. The climaxes of Mark and Luke also include the story, so take your pick.
I offered this challenge several years ago and made a friend out of it. My goal is not to try to out-Bible you. I will keep things friendly, but I will challenge you to read your selected section of the Bible more carefully than perhaps you ever have before. The Bible’s message in itself is plenty engaging.
By John Crotts