The Bible: All or Nothing

John N. Oswalt asserts that the theological reliability of the Bible depends, in part, on its historical reliability. Oswalt assumes an all-or-nothing approach in determining the Bible’s trustworthiness. Oswalt’s approach seems appropriate for two reasons. First, when an account has been proven to be inaccurate in one area, it follows that the accuracy of the other accounts ought to be called into question. Second, the Bible itself allows no room for partial accuracy. The Bible’s authors explicitly state that its source is divine in nature.

It is reasonable to view the Bible in a similar manner that one views the testimony of a witness. Prosecutors spend a great deal of time researching the background of a witness. Not only does the prosecutor examine the witness’ background, but he or she also examines every detail of the given account. If the witness erroneously describes the color, make, and model of the defendant’s alleged getaway vehicle, then how can the rest of his or her testimony be deemed credible? If the witness has been shown to take liberty in exaggerating certain aspects of a crime scene, then how can the court know that liberty was not taken in describing other aspects of the crime? Similarly, scholars can examine the testimony of the Bible. Places, events, rulers, and cultures are described in great detail. Scholars can corroborate the Bible’s accounts with other ancient sources. If the Bible is proven to be inaccurate in its description of a person, place, or event, then how can we trust it when it speaks of theological things? The answer is we cannot. Either the Bible is trustworthy in all areas or the entire volume is called into question.

Some may say that since the Bible was written by a variety of authors, one book’s reliability cannot hinge upon the reliability of another book written by a different author in a different setting. For instance, the book of Exodus is believed to be written by Moses while the epistle of Ephesians is believed to be authored by the Apostle Paul. Those who might argue that Moses’ reliability does not impact Paul’s reliability fail to acknowledge that both authors claimed that their material was divine in origin. If Moses, who claimed to be speaking for God, was inaccurate in his historical descriptions, then Paul, who also claimed to be speaking for the same God, cannot be viewed as trustworthy. Both authors claimed the same divine inspiration. Paul believed his inspiration came from the same divine being as the authors of the Old Testament. We cannot believe that Paul was divinely inspired if the divine being could not correctly describe the locations of places, or the existence of people groups.

It is indisputable that we reject the reliability of a witness when even part of the testimony has proven to be false. It seems logical, therefore, to deem the entire testimony of the Bible to be suspect if some historical aspect proves to be false. Also, since the Bible claims its origin to be divine in nature, it must be treated as a whole when considering its reliability. The Bible does not allow otherwise.

Further Reading

Oswalt, John N., The Bible Among the Myths, Grand Rapids, Michagan: Zondervan.

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