Why I Believe the Bible
It's not irrational to trust the Word of God
Does it make sense to believe the Bible in the light of all you've been taught? (A classic revisited in memory of Dr. John W. Alexander: 1918-2002)
My attitude toward Scripture has changed. I started out with a simple faith based on little evidence. Brought up in a Christian home with Bible-believing parents who taught the Bible as God’s Word, I never questioned it. There was no suggestion that it contained errors. Our tiny local church was truly fundamental and confirmed my parents’ attitude about the Bible.
Science Says . . .
The first change came late in high school when I met a Christian graduate student at the University of Illinois. He was studying zoology. A fine scholar, an exemplary gentleman, a committed Christian, he quickly commanded my respect.
I’ll never forget the afternoon when, discussing the origin of the earth, he expressed his belief that the Genesis account was myth. I was shocked. His reason, in brief, was this: we know from historical geology that it is impossible for the earth to have reached its present condition in six days.
Unable to refute his logic, I found myself gradually agreeing with him.
The next change came with the origin of humankind. All along I had believed the biblical account; now I learned from biological science that it is impossible for dust to be transformed into a human being, or for a fragment of a male body to be changed into a female body. So much for Adam and Eve.
Next I learned that the first eleven chapters of Genesis were myth (since evidence from secular history does not support them).
Then there was the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. I had always believed that the Lord really sent those plagues and parted the Red Sea. But I was told that from hydrology “we know” it is impossible for water to behave that way, and that science also proves those other miracles could not have happened. They too are myth—interesting stories, to be sure, but not historically true.
The next casualties of belief involved the fiery furnace and lion’s den as recorded in Daniel. My simple belief held these accounts to be factual. The Bible said so. But from physics “we know” it is impossible for unprotected human bodies to survive fires, and from zoology “we know” that human beings cannot coexist with hungry lions.
The story of Jonah followed a similar fate.
So much for the deeds of the Lord as recorded in the Old Testament. They were all myths—products of the minds of religious people.
Who Says God Says?
How about God’s words in the Old Testament? Where the Bible reports “God said . . . ,” I had always believed that he actually spoke what was recorded. Subsequently I learned from the humanities and social sciences that such belief was simplistic. The fact was that God made no such statements; instead, humans over the centuries had reasoned their way through to numerous theories, principles, convictions and truths—and in order to add authoritative credence to them had coined the notion, “God said.”
Corrosion moved next into the New Testament. The Bible says Jesus was born of a virgin. But now I was informed by embryology that it is impossible for virgins to bear babies. “Born of a virgin” simply was not a true statement of fact.
Scripture says Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave after several days’ burial. But science shows this is not possible.
The Bible says Jesus transformed five loaves and two fishes into a five-thousand-person meal. But that also is error, since such change is impossible.
The biblical record clearly declares Jesus walked on water. But this is not true, because “we know” from physical science that the human body cannot walk on top of a liquid.
Time after time the Bible was shown to be making statements which clearly were false. They were interesting myths, not historic facts. As a science major, I felt I had to accept this “enlightenment” even though it meant the Bible was not what I had thought it was.
Next came Christ’s claim to be God. Obviously this wasn’t true. “We know” from psychology that no human being in his right mind would make such a claim.
As for Christ’s death, it resembled that of any other sincere martyr. Biblical statements about any other reasons for his death are as untrustworthy as those about parting the Red Sea.
His resurrection is myth as well. Descriptions of it are no more authentic than those describing his walking on water.
Next I learned that much of the content of the Epistles was not revealed by God but was merely the opinion, within the rabbinical tradition, of a misguided, though zealous, disciple—convictions appropriate for him in his cultural milieu, but not authoritative for my time.
The Bible talks about Christ’s presence with us today. I soon learned that this is myth. To be sure, his teachings are models or ideals for me to follow, but the scriptural statements about Christ’s actually being alive today are allegory, not fact.
The clincher came when I learned that for all these years I had “misunderstood” 2 Timothy 3:16. I thought it said, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable . . .” But enlightenment assured me that it meant simply, “All Scripture which is inspired by God is profitable . . .” In other words, the portions of Scripture which were not inspired by God are not profitable. The game then becomes one of deciding which parts of the Bible were inspired by God and which were not.
By that time my position could be described thus: the Bible says one thing, but we know from science, from history, from research and from reason that much in the Bible is either myth or error. How to separate fact from fiction, truth from error was my problem.
All the while I remained faithful in church attendance and practiced daily Bible reading and prayer. Those habits, deeply ingrained, were not easily forgotten. I am thankful they remained fixed. I performed those self-disciplines with utter sincerity and fidelity—even though I could not explain why I read the Bible so religiously.
The turning point came in my early thirties. There was no sudden shift in faith. The change was gradual. I began to retrace my steps as a result of three new influences on my life: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Donald Grey Barnhouse and Peter Eldersveld.
At the time I was an assistant professor of economic geography at the University of Wisconsin. Student leaders of Badger Christian Fellowship (the IV chapter) asked if I would serve as their faculty sponsor. I agreed. I began attending their weekly meetings and found there the finest Bible exposition I’d ever encountered.
Itinerating IVCF staff members came by twice a semester, making an impact on me; they were people I respected both intellectually and spiritually. I quietly observed that they believed the Bible was not myth. They believed it was true.
The books from InterVarsity Press to which they introduced me, plus issues of HIS magazine, supported that same view—and began influencing me. Two radio programs, by Donald Grey Barnhouse and Peter Eldersveld, were a strong influence in my return to faith in the infallibility and authority of Scripture and helped neutralize the doubts which I had allowed to corrode my faith.
Gradually I began to doubt my doubts. I realized that I had shifted my measuring sticks. Instead of using Scripture to evaluate science, I was using science to evaluate Scripture.
But how could I prove that my scientific measuring stick was infallible? I couldn’t. I simply (without realizing) had chosen to place my faith in science and in human reasoning. I had become a “Christian humanist” without knowing what had happened.
From Barnhouse and Eldersveld I heard sermons that undercut my doubts and strengthened my faith in the Bible. I began to read books which would do likewise: The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, Who Moved the Stone? and The Authority of the Bible.
And I suddenly realized that while science may tell us what is, science is incapable of telling us what ought. And the Bible does talk to us about what ought. When we come to consider morality and meaning, we need more than science.
The result: I retraced my steps, all of them, way back to where I began. Now I could see both the significance of science and primacy of Scripture.
Choosing to Believe
I decided to believe that Jesus Christ is alive and with us, really with us, keeping company with me—today. Why? Because the Bible says so. (At times, my experience of this fact is overwhelming. But at other times, when experience is at a low ebb and I could easily doubt, I cling to the truth because it is in the Bible.)
I chose to believe once again that everything the New Testament says about Christ is true: his ascension, his resurrection, his death, his sinless life, all his claims and teachings, his miracles, his birth, his conception. Why? Because the Bible says so.
Next I retraced my steps through the Old Testament. I decided to believe again that God said what the Old Testament says he said. “God hath spoken!” I chose to believe again that God truly performed the works that the Old Testament says he did. Why? For two reasons: (a) the Old Testament says so and (b) Jesus never questioned the trustworthiness of the Old Testament; in fact I realized that in every instance where Christ is quoted in the New Testament as saying “It is written,” he was declaring the trustworthiness and authority of the Old Testament.
Back I went through the lion’s den and fiery furnace, the quails and manna in the wilderness, the Red Sea, the plagues in Egypt, and into the first eleven chapters of Genesis. And I decided to accept it—the whole of it—including a host of statements I still do not understand and several apparent discrepancies which I cannot explain.
I believe that God does in fact speak through Scripture revealing something of his character, his deeds, and his ways, communicating to men and women, giving them enough information on which to respond to him. I take the Bible as the infallible revelation of the infallible God—which means that it is entirely trustworthy and reliable.
How about errancy? Admittedly, there are parts of the Bible that are problems. These I recognize. But when I’ve done my best to find solutions, without success, I stand silent before them, not knowing how to explain them.
I refuse to pronounce a verdict of “error” for two reasons. First, I then would be responsible for sifting out biblical error from biblical truth. This is something even the Lord Jesus refused to suggest when he was on earth.
Second, to what more reliable source would I turn to find criteria by which to distinguish biblical truth from biblical error? My belief in biblical inerrancy readily admits all the problems, but I refuse to set myself up as judge of Scripture and to commence deciding which statements are errors.
I have decided to place my faith in the Bible and to do my best to learn it, as well as where and why human knowledge fails to square with the biblical revelation. And where it does not square, I choose not to let science and human reason have the last word.
“By faith we know . . . by faith we understand . . .” (Hebrews 11:3).
But suppose I had not retraced my steps: what then? I think I would still have ended up in heaven, but I’m sure of two things. First, my witness to the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate would have been markedly weaker. Second, my children (that is, “the generation following”) would be agnostics if not outright atheists. Choosing a low view of Scripture carries a severe penalty.
As you take science courses and find the Word of God challenged as untrue or patronized as myth, do not shift measuring sticks. Let science teach you what the world is like—but never let it replace Scripture as your primary standard. Keep the Bible as your source of truth about the meaning of life and about the God who holds the whole created world in his hand.
Dr. John W. Alexander was president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA from 1964–1983. Before that, he was a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Affectionately known as “Dr. A,” he was a strong influence for Christ in the university community.
Posted on: Apr 1, 2002
Last modified on: Jan 9, 2007
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