Raising The Bar On The Bible

One way Christians argue for the historical reliability of the Bible is by examining it the same was as other ancient records.  A case is made that other ancient historical documents, with far less corroboration; and far fewer numbers of extant manuscripts; and much more elapsed time between the earliest copy and the events they record are deemed reliable sources of historical information and so should the Bible.  In a nut shell, in terms of determining historicity, the Bible should be considered as good or better than nearly every other historical document if they are examined using identical standards.  But we know this isn’t so.  The Bible is held to a much higher standard than other works, especially by skeptics.

Every skeptic has their own threshold for what extra confirmation is needed for the biblical record to make it acceptable enough to confirm its accuracy.  This is precisely the problem.  It would appear that the Bible always falls just beyond that threshold of each skeptic’s personal standard — a coincidence I’m sure (See: Never Quite Enough).  This blatant moving of the goal posts is not something I have found they deny.  They say the Bible must be held to a higher standard because it makes religious claims or contains testimony of supernatural events, it therefore must be more heavily scrutinized.

In the case of the Atheist skeptic, this is a disingenuous endeavor.  Ordinarily they will readily admit to moving the goal posts, but they will not recognize that they have moved them to an impossible distance thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts.  You see, if the skeptic were to play the game fair and take the biblical documents and examine them using the same standards as other ancient sources, they might be forced to conclude that documents recount an accurate record.  But if the record is accurate, they then might be forced to an uncomfortable conclusion.  A conclusion their standards are designed to protect against.

Reasonable people do not raise the bar simply because they may not be comfortable with the conclusions they may reach, and doing so is intellectually dishonest.  Admitting the bar has been substantially raised when it comes to examining the Bible belies the claim that there is an honest seeking of answers.  If one were honestly seeking, they wouldn’t be protecting against certain conclusions by erecting an obstacle course of standards which is impossible to complete.


  1. John,

    I’ve often heard you whine like this about how there seems to be a different level of scrutiny towards the bible. I’ve often heard you say that skeptics just dismiss the bible because of their unwillingness to accept the occurrences of supernatural events as well. Please name for me, if you would, any other piece of ancient text (or modern text, for that matter) that you or any other Christian accept as history that contains supernatural events.

  2. Look, I used to be a Born Again Christian, then I saw the light. The Bible is just a bunch of books culled together by politicians around 300 years after Christ died. These were the same folks who came up with the idea that Jesus was God around the same time. You know I’m talking about the Trent and Nicene Councils. As to the Dead Sea Scrolls to which you alluded, they contain more texts that are not in the Bible than those which are.

    • WS you have your facts mixed up as to how and when the Bible was compiled and the deity of Christ. This is right out of the Davinci Code. That’s too bad you rejected Christianity based on false history.

  3. No, John, you seem to have missed the point of the question.

    I’m not speaking about any historical text as it refers to Christianity. I’m talking about any historical text written at all about any history.

    I ask you this because, as much as you try to divert the conversation, I’m confident that you cannot produce any text written anywhere about any historical event that you would accept as valid part of history which contains any supernatural event.

    I suppose you would accept any written history about the way George Washington could walk through walls and the way Winston Churchill could levitate if enough folks testified it to be true. You just seem to have a greater level of acceptance for supernatural events, that’s all.

  4. ws,
    One thing to think about is the destruction of Jerusalem (and, in particular, the Jewish temple) in AD70. This is a quite well documented event and was of INCREDIBLE significance to 1st century Jewish audience.

    Now, look across the New Testiment and see if you can find any references to this? Nothing in Paul’s writings. Nothing in the gospels. Nothing in Acts. And (INCREDIBLY), nothing in the book of Hebrews.

    You have to ask yourself why this major event isn’t mentioned. The obvious answer is because it hadn’t taken place yet! The writings of the NT are largely before AD70.

    Now, how do you theorize that an entire belief set that is PROFOUNDLY different from the Jewish faith arose within such a short period of time? Look at the theology of Romans or Ephesians. You argue that this theology arose over a period of 300 years. That makes sense – except that the evidence simply doesn’t support it. The evidence shows that the Christian faith came of age over a very short time-frame – only 20-30 years. How do you account for this?

  5. tumeyn,
    The reason the fall of Jerusalem is not mentioned in any of the N.T. books is because they were written prior to that event. The only exception is the Revelation, which has no reason to mention the event.

  6. Glenn, that was exactly my point. Dating the writings of the NT really isn’t all that hard – even for a novice. Claiming that the writings were from hundreds of years after the events just isn’t plausible. Those that claim (like WS, above) that the NT documents were written much later have a pretty tough case to prove.

  7. The interesting thing is that you are not actually approaching the Bible as an historical document at all. based on this text what you are looking for is a straight-up thumbs up or thumbs down judgement on the reliability of the Bible, but that isn’t how historians approach ancient texts. In fact, such a judgement would set the Bible outside of history while using it (deus ex machina) to resolve questions about the particulars of history. Of course this is a pretty abstract argument, so maybe that isn’t how you would approach it in the particulars,but as it stands, it really does appear that you are yourself looking to give this book special status.

    • Daniel

      I am well aware that historical reliable does not equal inerrant, I’m not making that case. I don’t even think that inerrancy is necessary to conclude that the bible is reliable.

      What I am criticizing is the skeptics who dismiss the bible as historically accurate simply because they have created an artificially high standard for it to pass, then fault the bible for not fulfilling the impossibly high standard.

      It would be like me as an employer requiring applicants to pass a test to be hired. But let’s say I’m not particularly fond of a certain demographic. So for everyone else, they only need a 75% or better to be considered qualified, but the group I have a bias against needs a 110%.

  8. My favourite statement that ensures the goal posts will forever be out of reach is “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    No. They require exactly the same standard of evidence as anything else; good evidence. But by saying “extraordinary” evidence is required, the skeptic ensures that no evidence will ever be good enough.

    “…any written history about the way George Washington could walk through walls and the way Winston Churchill could levitate if enough folks testified it to be true. ”

    Can’t you see that you’ve just made the point? No one has claimed such things *because they didn’t do it*. Name any *verifiable* historical figure that has had such miraculous claims made about them? I can think of saints (the Catholic church now takes many years and uses non-religious experts to verify that miracles attributed to people cannot be attributed to anything else, as part of the process to declare them saints; a lot of old “saints” are no longer considered saints because of these standards). I think there are miraculous events attributed to people in Buddhism, but I don’t know enough to say that any of them are of historically verifiable people, or how reliable their witness testimonies are, but if they had the same verifiability as Jesus, then I’d have to accept that something happened, too.

  9. John, perhaps you’ve done this in the past (if so you can ignore this). But it might be interesting for you to do a series on the reliability of the NT manuscripts. That seems to be coming up again and again. It seems to me that many people (even most Christians) are unaware of the absolutely compelling case that we have that the manuscripts have very early authorship and that the manuscripts that we have today are essentially the same manuscripts that were in wide circulation at ~200AD. (I’m thinking particularly of the Bodmer and Chester Beatty Papyri)

    It seems to me that this is very relevant to the discussion of atheism. If any Z or others want to postulate that this whole “Jesus thing” was just made up, then they must come up with some alternative explanation that fits the textual evidence. We paint with very broad strokes in conversations on this site – but it might be interesting to delve into a few very specific pieces of evidence that must be accounted for by anyone refuting Christianity. Here’s an article by Gary Habernas that gives a great overview of the evidence:


    • Tumeyn

      The only reason I haven’t done this on my own blog is because it is so abundant on the internet already. But you’re right, perhaps I should at least do something, even if its a compilation of citations so that its hers.

  10. The da Vinci Code? That was a work of fiction. Please do some research before you dismiss easily verifiable truth so casually.

    • Is this a joke? You facts are not facts, they are straight out of the davinci code. Perhaps you should read what the councels actually dealt with and not what others said they dealt with. Also, you should check up on the beliefs of the early church prior to the councels. The councels merely confirmed and codified what the church already believed. What happened was some christian sects and thinkers such as marcion were casting doubt on the doctrines already held. The councels put to rest the heresies.

      Do some reading of church history, read the early church fathers themselves, not what modern day atheists have to say.

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