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Christianity FAQ
How do I know that the Bible is true?
Written by Tom Ehrich
It depends on what you mean by “true.” If you mean objective fact, scientifically or historically verifiable, in the same category of definiteness as 2 +2 = 4, or ocean water is salty, then you don't know that the Bible is “true.” These are stories, not historical records and objective biographies. They were told long ago by a large number of writers, nearly all unknown, as a way of talking about the God whom they knew and worshiped.

A rough analogy might be the way a family of five talks about a trip to Grandma's for Christmas dinner. Same trip, but five different perspectives on it, each person noticing different things and interpreting events differently. Each has a piece of the “truth,” but no matter how fervently each might defend his or her perspective, none has all of the truth.

Ancient Israel's self-understanding began with the Exodus. The Israelites wrote a prehistory, a book of origins, to explain how they got to Egypt and what it meant. That prehistory offers several perspectives: Adam and Eve sinned, their sons sinned, the entire tribe sinned, the sons of Jacob sold their brother Joseph into slavery, a famine came. In each perspective, they described a piece of Yahweh, their God. They weren't writing science or history. They were explaining their existence. A different people might tell an entirely different story, as indeed many did.

A later event, exile in Babylon, elicited a similar array of perspectives on what went wrong.

In the Christian era, we receive four different accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, as well as several others that weren't approved for the official canon. Each tells the story differently. Some common details, but mostly disparate details, suggest that each author was writing for a certain audience and to answer certain questions. Thus, in Luke the angel speaks to Mary, in Matthew the angel speaks to Joseph, and Mark and John know nothing of angels and birth in Bethlehem. Each view of the birth adds another element of “truth”—not verifiable fact, but meaning, a glimpse of God.

Fundamentalism attempts to get around this reality by declaring God as the author of Scripture. But that is little more than one party in an argument shouting louder and claiming to be right.

The “truth” that Scripture offers, then, is a kaleidoscope of images and insights into the God who is beyond complete knowing. To a faithful Hebrew writing in the time of David, it made sense to think of God as one who walked in a garden with the first man and woman, and of the human condition as grounded in ego and laziness. We can learn from that perspective. It can open our eyes to the “truth” of God's presence in our own day and of the human condition?