Feedback archiveFeedback 2012

The Bible: Jewish folklore and nothing more? Popov
Published: 25 November 2012 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback features an exchange with a skeptic who questions the authenticity and reliability of much of the Bible, positing hopeless contradictions between the worldviews of Jesus and Paul and portraying the Bible as a nothing more than Jewish folklore. Gert R. from Australia, who writes in response to BioLogos and the age of the earth: Pushing an anti-biblical doctrine, and CMI-New Zealand writer Shaun Doyle are interspersed in black.

To claim that Moses was right with saying that the universe is only 6000 years old is not only ridiculous but untruthful.

It’s a claim we have argued for in the nearly 9000 articles on our website I would suggest that a summary dismissal such as this is rather hasty, to say the least. Also, to say it is untruthful is to imply deceptive motive on our part; you might think we are mistaken, even obviously so, but if we believe what we are saying (which we do), by definition we cannot be deceptive.

The Torah was written more than 300 years after Moses died. To have carried what Moses have said amongst the people for that period of time changed from generation to generation changing it in accordance with their circumstances.

We have dealt with claims like this before. See Did Moses really write Genesis?, Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis, and Does Genesis hold up under critic’s scrutiny? The Torah has all sorts of details like place names, names of people groups, etc., that match up with it being written at the time of Moses (and edited slightly later—after all, it’s unlikely that Moses would have penned the account of his own death! But only a very wooden view of authorship would have a problem with that sort of minor editing).

To quote the Bible on this issue is me quoting the same incident appearing in 10 different newspapers, all telling a different story about the same subject.

On quoting the Bible to prove the Bible, see Using the Bible to prove the Bible? As to multiple perspectives—they are only a problem if they are contradictory. However, if they are complementary (as we believe different perspectives in the Bible are), then they serve to give a fuller picture than any one perspective does individually. For articles dealing with some specific alleged inconsistencies in Scripture, see our Bible contradictions and errors page.

None of the gospels was written by the names it carries,

For a start, see Gospel Dates and Reliability. And we have several good reasons to believe that the Gospels were penned by the people whose names are on them, even though the documents themselves were originally formally anonymous (the authors’ names being added to the manuscripts fairly early in the transmission history). First, tradition is unanimous in the attribution of authorship of each of the four Gospels. Second, three of the four are ‘unlikely authors’—when someone writes a pseudonymous Gospel, they attribute it to someone like Peter or James or one of the important apostles or figures in the early Church—only the Gospel of John fits this criterion, but there are very good reasons to believe that John was the author of the Gospel that bears his name, as shown in the article linked above.

the vast majority of Paul’s letters were not written by him or dictated by him.

The “vast majority”? No. Most scholars accept Pauline authorship for Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. That’s 7 out of 13—hardly a small minority. And the evidence is strongly in favour of Paul being responsible for all 13 letters. All the copies of the documents have his name on them, and church tradition is unanimous in attributing them all to Paul. The arguments typically used to try and get around these points are weak and evince an unwarranted bias against the biblical documents even relative to other documents of the period. See The Reliability of the New Testament for more details.

The Bible is a story book containing the folklore of the Jewish people, pure and simple.

Interestingly, in all your attacks on the authorship of various biblical books you have failed to provide a single argument against the reliability of their content. But before you do, please check our Bible Q and A and Bible ‘contradictions’ pages to make sure we haven’t dealt with the objection before. Also, your characterization of the Bible as a storybook containing Jewish folklore is almost ridiculously oversimplified. The Bible is largely narrative, so ‘stories’, but it also includes poetry, a suzerain-vassal treaty, written correspondence, wisdom literature, apocalyptic visions, parables, and more.

A book that was established by a Roman Emperor, Constantine at Trent in Italy where more bishops voted against, and abstained than the number that voted for the books that is included in our bible.

You have your historical facts muddled. For a start, Constantine was a 4th Century Roman emperor, and Trent hosted a 16th Century Roman Catholic council. The Council of Trent did indeed deal with the canon, but the only ecumenical council Constantine was involved with, The First Nicene Council of 325 AD, had nothing to do with the canon.

It is just another book with a promise of everlasting life at the core … the issue is, who would like to be punished to live forever….yes forever??

Eternal punishment is not a reason by itself to believe (though see Pascal’s wager), but it certainly should give one motivation to carefully consider if the gospel is true! I would encourage you to heed that warning, and “test all things; hold to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21) by using our search function to explore questions on the issue. We believe you’ll find that the Bible is good, and its message is worth holding on to.

Dear Shaun,

Thank you very much for your reply, I appreciate it.

However, although I did get some of my ‘facts’ muddled up because of a hasty response, I just cannot accept that this universe of us is only 6000 years old, it is just not possible.

I understand the sentiment that believing the universe is only 6,000 years old can feel impossible to do—I’ve been there, as have most of our scientists at one time or another. It doesn’t seem reasonable to the modern mindset. But unwillingness to accept biblical creation is a choice, not an inevitability. The Bible is true regardless of whether we believe it or not. But it’s hard to change that mindset because evolution and millions of years are a part of our modern ‘mental furniture’. Even biblical creationists who have been engaging in the debate for decades still find themselves having to discard some evolutionary ‘furniture’ from time to time. See The earth: how old does it look?

By adding the generations mentioned in the Bible together is just not scientific enough.

Perhaps that’s actually its strength. It claims to be testimony—people telling us what happened based on what they know from being there. And since it’s ultimately God’s testimony, it has inherent reliability. Science doesn’t have much to do with it.

Science only comes into the matter when we try to decipher what happened in the past from physical evidence, like rocks or fossils. However, unrestrained scientific speculation about eons past is always extremely prone to error because (1) it ignores testimony, (2) it ignores God’s sovereignty over and involvement in history, and (3) history is linear—it is not repeatable like nature’s processes are. See BioLogos and the age of the earth, Age of the earth, and How dating methods work.

You see, we just cannot use the bible as a reference book.

Why not? It’s a reliable guide, and everyone has a starting point for their reasoning. Ours is the Bible. See the links I provided in my last response.

The Bible I respect simply because I have no desire to offend people who believe in it, to this they have a right.

Offence is not the issue here—truth is. I’m not offended that you think the Bible doesn’t give us true history; I just disagree with you.

It is just that as you read through it you could only come to the conclusion that it is’s book full of fables, stories, etc about a people that was downtrodden all through history …

If it’s the only conclusion we could come to, then why have so many concluded that the Bible is historically trustworthy? Yes, the Jews were at times oppressed and downtrodden, but that has nothing to do with the truth content of their narratives. Rather it seems that you are casting off those who disagree with you as naïve or ‘biased’. I provided links in my last response that address this—I recommend looking them up.

… and because of that, yes because of that they had to believe that somehow, somewhere in the great universe there must be someone, or somebody who could protect them, to whom they could turn.

Please see Is Belief in God a case of Christian wish fulfillment? Before offering psychological explanations for how the biblical writers (and anyone who agrees with them) came to be wrong, you must first show that they are wrong.

So many people in utmost poverty, pain, persecution, etc turn to the supernatural simply because they believe that nobody wants to help them … this is how religion gets of the ground. This happened, and is happening still today as more and more people do not believe in religion anymore, it is basically the poor and downtrodden that is holding on to a dream. it is like taking out a lotto ticket and hoping you will win someday.

But you still haven’t shown that any particular religion is wrong. Besides, this is rather patronizing—it assumes that poor people can’t think critically about religious truth because their poverty obstructs their ability to reason properly. One could simply reverse your argument and say that the rich are deluded into thinking that there’s nothing more to life than the here and now because of their comfortable circumstances. However, both arguments are invalid. Just because people can be deluded in these ways doesn’t mean they must be. Moreover, a religion is true or false regardless of how wealthy or poor its founder was.

The Old Testament is simply the Saga of the Jewish people …

A saga is just a long, epic story—it could in fact be an epic true story, i.e. history.

… the New Testament consisting largely of the four gospels with Paul introducing a completely different religion, a religion that Jesus never preached.

I disagree. The New Testament shows that Paul and Jesus held the same basic worldview. Paul and Jesus both believed that Jesus’ death would/did atone for sins (Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:25–26). Both believed Jesus deserved divine honours (John 5:23; Rom. 10:8–13). Paul followed Jesus in the Lord’s Supper (Mat. 26:26–29; 1 Cor. 11:23–26). Jesus and Paul judged people based primarily on their allegiance to Jesus (John 6:40; Rom. 10:9–10). Paul confessed the same gospel that Jesus’ original disciples received from him (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3–4; Rom. 10:9–10). Paul and Jesus both believed that Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

The differences between them had nothing to do with their basic worldview; it was due to their different styles, audiences, and perspectives. Jesus spoke mainly in proverbs, parables, and symbolic actions; most of what we have from Paul are sustained arguments in monologue. Jesus was sent to the Jews because the covenants and promises of which he is the fulfilment were made to the Jews (Mat. 15:24, though the whole world was to benefit from Christ—Mat. 12:21; Luke 2:31–32; Acts 1:8); Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:5) who believed he was specially commissioned by the risen Christ for the task (Gal. 1:12)—and the Jerusalem elders accepted his commission (Gal. 2:1–10). Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1); Jesus said “follow me” (Luke 5:27). Paul confessed Jesus as Lord (Phil. 3:8); Jesus believed he was the Lord (John 8:58). Jesus started the Christian religion—Paul was Christ’s servant, and perhaps Christianity’s greatest ever missionary. For much greater detail, see An on-going argument: How “non-Jesus” was Paul, really?

I differ with you in that the Gospels, perhaps with the exception of the book of John, none were written by the names it bears … this is a fact.

Your disagreement with me is about the only ‘fact’ adduced in support of your view. But the facts of the case are these:

  1. Second-century testimony is unanimous in attributing the four Gospels to the persons that now carry their name;
  2. Three of the four are unlikely authors (John being the exception);
  3. It is highly unlikely that the early Christian community would honour the gospels as authoritative without knowing who wrote them; and
  4. At the beginning of the second century, there would have been first-generation Christians alive who recalled the apostles and their teaching, and many more second-generation Christians who would have had information passed directly to them.

The best interpretation of these facts available is that all the gospels were penned by those whose names are attached to them.

Another fact is that Paul wrote only a few letters, did not dictate most of them, this is a fact. Scholars are very busy dissecting these letters and books and found numerous inconsistencies within them. I do not have my library available to me at present or I will give you chapter and verse with the quotes from some of the worlds foremost theologians.

I adduced evidence for my view—that needs to be dealt with, not merely contradicted by bald assertion. Besides, there are just as many if not more scholars dissecting these letters and books who find them to be amazingly self-consistent. And it does no good to say that they are ‘biased’ because every scholar has a bias, including those who think the Bible is just a collection of fables. To say that they are naïve also evinces a bias. Our biases do not determine truth, but they do determine what we feel able accept as possible. The Bible is our fundamental bias, and we believe it is the only self-attesting bias. What is your fundamental bias? What is your self-attesting axiom for knowledge? It’s only fair that we have each other’s fundamental biases on the table for investigation.

One thing you must remember, what ever anybody say, no matter how they interpret the Bible, no matter what answers they find … our Lord God is still the Creator of everything.

But which “Lord God”? Yahweh (Jewish or Christian understanding)? Allah? Ahura Mazda? The Sikh deity? The Baha’i deity? Some other God? How do you know apart from God telling you? The thing that sets Christianity apart from the others is the Incarnation—God (the Son) actually became a man and revealed himself to us.

This very day someone told me his story about the rock that Moses striked and water poured out of it was simply at mount Horeb which is largely from sand and limestone and that rainwater get soaked up and hitting it hard will break away a piece which will allow the water to flow from it.

Sufficient to quench a 2-million-strong crowd and all their livestock? That seems rather unlikely from just two strikes without God performing a miracle.

Fine I said, I will accept what you have said but you must understand, that sandstone, that mountain and rain do not come from nowhere my friend, your and my God created it so, who provided the water, God. Jesus gave a good answer in John about the manna, he said, Moses did not provide the manna but my Father but went on to say, I am the bread of life … word to this affect.

John 6:32–33 says: “Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’” Jesus doesn’t deny that the Exodus generation of Israelites ate manna from the sky. Jesus was saying that this manna did not give everlasting life. Why? The Israelites ate manna in the wilderness and hungered the next day. Anyone who comes to Jesus, however, will have everlasting satisfaction because Jesus is the sole and sufficient broker of everlasting life.

God be with you,

Gert R

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $14.00
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft cover

Readers’ comments

David C.
Something else you could have presented to Gert concerning Old Testament evidence is the discovery of the Hittite culture. It was a belief long held by biblical skeptics that there were never any such people as the Hittites. That there had never been any archaeological findings was proof enough that the Hittites were just another fairy tale from the Bible. That was many, many decades ago. Now, in present day, it is possible for one to earn a doctorate in Hittite culture based on the multitude of archaeological findings that have been made.
Shaun Doyle
Great point. See The Hittites—second time round for more information.
John M.
I just returned from Israel. Travelling around the country, visiting historical sites, seeing archealogical areas, visiting museums. Wow, is the Bible historically true?? Absolutely.

Darryl B.
It is fairly obvious that if the OT was nothing more than a Jewish chronicle of "myths" then they would naturally place themselves in a far more positive and heroic light than what is being presented in the scriptures. They would certainly want to exclude some embarassing episodes such as the golden calf, which also provides weight to the authorship of Moses.

It is also fair to say that Matthew Mark and Luke were written prior to AD70 because the discourses of Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 would lose relevance, but instead were used by Christians to flee Jerusalem.
michael S.
I sympathize with our skeptical friend, I don't think everything he says is not understandable, after all, nobody can fully know, technically, what happened in the past.

Some people read the bible and think it must be myth and they do so not necessarily out of a bad motive, for example believing in chariots of fire and seas being parted and talking donkeys, etc... I think God knows how hard it is to believe such things because from our end of history, only mundane, ordinary things happen, in accordance, seemingly - with natural laws.

It is a hard, hard thing to accept the whole bible. I do accept the bible as the word of God, but sometimes I admit that I find some things contained in it, pretty difficult to believe or imagine. Sometimes I wonder if it is inerrant in the way we think it it. I am not saying the fundamentals are wrong, things such as creation, I don't think we can ever squeeze evolution in there, but sometimes I wonder whether the human element got in the way, perhaps it is a possibility there are exaggerations BECAUSE of the fallible human element?

Well - this is not my opinion, it is just something I wonder about from time to time because ultimately, I can never know.

We all have our doubts but I don't think this necessitates throwing the bible out or compromising the fundamentals, such as creation, 6,000 years, etc..
Shaun Doyle
I sympathize with the skeptic as well, but that doesn’t mean I think his arguments are good. And yes, some things in the Bible can be hard for us to believe (though it will often be different for different people). But the issue lies with us, not with the Bible. The Bible is true regardless of what we believe about it.

Even we have struggled with such issues. For years I struggled with doubts over various supposed Bible ‘contradictions’ and objections to the faith. And I didn’t need skeptics to come up with questions for me—I could do that well enough myself! But there’s a really important principle that changed the way I approach these problems, and it’s found in Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” This boils down to some very simple truths: God is perfectly trustworthy, and I am not. I can get things wrong, and He can’t. That means that I need to judge my ways of thinking by His standard (the Bible), not mine. And as regards the Bible itself, the 4th century church father Augustine of Hippo brilliantly expressed what our approach should be in a letter he wrote to another church father, Jerome:

“For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.”

He also said: “believe in order that you may understand”. The idea is that, when we start with the assumption that the biblical God is completely trustworthy, we find the world understandable and rational. When we start from any other assumption, the world dissolves into confusion (see Naturalism in the light of reality for a good example of how we can apply this line of thinking).

Obviously, this thinking is completely foreign to skeptics like Gert. But it’s something even believers struggle with. But if we can train ourselves to start with this sort of mindset, we become less predisposed to doubt when we come across something new that we can’t explain, or even something we struggle to explain after much study. God has earned the right to be trusted because of what He has done in history. Jesus really claimed to be God in the flesh. Jesus really died a death that atoned for sin. And God the Father really raised Jesus from the dead, which proved that Jesus was right in what He claimed about himself. No doubt or doubter has earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt from us—but God has.

And God may not answer every question we have to our satisfaction, but since He has proven trustworthy in what we know, we can trust Him in those things where He decides not to definitively satisfy our curiosity. Frustrating? Perhaps. But since when does any good father answer all his child’s questions to their satisfaction? Sometimes the father has good reason for not doing so. We would do better to presume that the same goes for our impeccable and omniscient Heavenly Father when He has chosen to remain silent. This doesn’t have to stop us seeking answers, but it should stop us from thinking God doesn’t have an answer.
A. R.
Gert has a habit of telling us, "This is a fact", but gives no evidence. I would challenge him to read a good book, like Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ", or "The Case for the Real Jesus". Strobel started as a sceptic, but through looking at the real evidence, he came to realise that Jesus truly is who the Bible says He is. Sadly, I find that many sceptics parrot things they've read or heard from sceptical books or websites, usually without checking to find whether what they have read is correct - other than maybe looking at other hostile sources (quite often Bart Ehrman). Often, it is easy to show that their "facts" are hopelessly incorrect, or at best, speculation. Why not try looking at well researched evidence which is easily available? If you've been reading a surfeit of Ehrman, perhaps try reading Edward Andrews' "Misrepresenting Jesus", as a counter to some of Ehrman's errors and misrepresentations.
Grant D.
I don't understand. Christians are being persecuted BECAUSE they believe in Christianity, so why would believing in Christianity be a "smart thing" to do? I mean he claimed that the only reason why people go to God is because they need a "helper" or a "father figure"... when in fact, some people would be better off without believing in Christianity (when it comes to worldly things).

My things is if you cannot pull up your sources up and front in a controversial matter, than don't say anything at all. Good article anyway ;)
Jarier W.
When I started reading this article, I thought it was going to be the usual length answer, not a double answer.
However, I am going to save this page for myself. There are many links which I would like to check, and things that I might need to deal with.
Jack C.
I'm not terribly impressed by atheists who keep screaming the whole Bible is not authentic when they don't even offer any real justification or evidence to support their views, yet at he same time there's plenty of real archaeological evidence to support many parts of it. One has to have a closed mind to keep saying the whole Bible is not authentic in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

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