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Can the Bible be Trusted?
The passages below are taken from Lee Strobel’s book, “The case FOR Faith,” which was published in 2000 by Zondervan.
In assessing the character of God, Norman L. Geisler was relying on the Bible. Having authored a book on the inerrancy of Scripture, Geisler’s opinion of it is well known; he believes the Bible to be uniquely inspired by God and factual in all it teaches and touches upon. Still, is there any rational reason to believe that the Bible really does accurately reveal the truth about God?
George H. Smith, the atheistic philosopher, thinks not. “The Bible shows no traces whatsoever of supernatural influence,” he said. “Quite the contrary, it is obviously the product of superstitious men who, at times, were willing to deceive if it would further their doctrines.”1
Templeton cavalierly dismisses most of the Bible as; being “embellished folk tales,” adding that it is “no longer possible for an informed man or woman to believe that . . . the Bible is either a reliable document. . . . or, as the Christian church insists, the infallible Word of God”2
During my years as an atheist, I mocked the fantastical tales and blatant mythology that I believed disqualified the Bible from being a divinely inspired book---an opinion, incidentally, that quite conveniently relieved me from any need to follow its moral dictates. Although I had never thoroughly studied its contents, I was quick to reject the Bible in order to free myself to live the kind of corrupt lifestyle that was blatantly at odds with its tenets.
My time with Geisler was a rare opportunity to hear first-hand why he draws the opposite conclusion and so zealously defends the Bible as being trustworthy. I stood to stretch my legs, walking over to a bookshelf and casually scanning the titles. Then I turned and said, “Everything hinges on whether the Bible is true. What’s your basis for believing it is?”
With characteristic confidence, Geisler replied, “There’s more evidence that the Bible is a reliable source than there is for any other book from the ancient world.”
To me, however that seemed more of a conclusion than evidence. “You’re going to have to give me some facts to back that up,” I said, sitting back down on the edge of my seat in anticipation of Geisler’s response.
“There’s lots of evidence I could talk about,” he began. “I could talk about the Bible’s unity--—sixty-six books written in different literary styles by perhaps forty different authors with diverse backgrounds over fifteen hundred years, and yet the Bible amazingly unfolds one continuous drama with one central image. That points to the evidence of the divine Mind that the writers claimed inspired them.
“And there’s the Bible’s transforming power--—from the beginning, it has renewed people; given them hope, courage, purpose, wisdom, guidance, and power; and formed an anchor for their lives. While early Islam was spread by the sword, early Christianity spread by the Spirit, even while Christians were being killed by Roman swords.
“I believe the most convincing evidence falls into two categories, however:
(1) there’s archaeological confirmation of its rebthi1ity and,
(2) there’s miraculous confirmation of its divine authority”
Reason #1: Confirmation by Archaeology
Geisler started his discussion of the archaeological evidence by quoting the words of Jesus, who said: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”3
“Conversely” said Geisler, “if we can trust the Bible when it’s telling us about straightforward earthly things that can be verified, then we can trust it in areas where we can’t directly verify it in an empirical way.”
“How then, has the Bible been corroborated?” I asked. Having investigated some of the archaeological confirmation of the New Testament in my previous book, The Case for Christ, I was especially interested in archaeology and the Old Testament, and that’s where I asked Geisler to begin.
“There have been thousands---not hundreds---of archaeological finds in the Middle East that support the picture presented in the biblical record. There was a discovery not long ago confirming King David. The patriarchs---the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob---were once considered legendary, but as more has become known these stories are increasingly corroborated. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was thought to be mythological until evidence was uncovered that all five of the cities mentioned in Genesis were, in fact, situated just as the Old Testament said. As far as their destruction goes, archaeologist Clifford Wilson said there is ‘permanent evidence of the great conflagration that took place in the long distant past.’4
“Furthermore,” Geisler added, “various aspects of the Jewish captivity have been confirmed. Also, every reference in the Old Testament to an Assyrian king has been proven correct; an excavation during the 1960s confirmed that the Israelites could, indeed, have entered Jerusalem by way of a tunnel during David’s reign; there is evidence the world did have a single language at one time, as the Bible says; the site of Solomon’s temple is now being excavated; and on and on. Many times, archaeologists have been skeptical of the Old Testament, only to have new discoveries corroborate the biblical account.”
“For example. . . ,“ I said.
“For instance, Samuel says that after Saul’s death his armor was put in the temple of Ashtoroth, who was a Canaanite fertility goddess, at Bethshan, while Chronicles reports that his head was put in the temple of a Philistine corn god named Dagon. Now, archaeologists thought that must have been an error and therefore the Bible was unreliable. They didn’t think enemies would have had temples in the same place at the same time.”
“What did the archaeologists find?” I asked.
“They confirmed through excavations that there were two temples at that site one each for Dagon and Ashtoroth. They were separated by a hallway. As it turned out, the Philistines had apparently adopted Ashtaroth as one of their own goddesses. The Bible was right after all.
“That kind of phenomenon has happened again and again. The Bible makes about three dozen references to the Hittites, but critics used to charge that there was no evidence that such people ever existed. Now archaeologists digging in modern Turkey have discovered the records of the Hittites. As the great archaeologist William F. Albright declared, ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.’”5
I asked Geisler to continue by briefly summarizing why he believes that archaeology corroborates the New Testament.
“The noted Roman historian Cohn J. Hemer in The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, shows how archaeology has confirmed not dozens, but hundreds and hundreds of details from the biblical account of the early church,” Geisler said. “Even small details have been corroborated, like which way the wind blows, how deep the water is a certain distance from shore, what kind of disease a particular island had, the names of local officials, and so forth.
“Now, Acts was authored by the historian Luke. Hemer gives more than a dozen reasons for why Acts had to have been written before A.D. 62, or about thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even earlier, Luke wrote the gospel of Luke, which is substantially the same as the other biblical accounts of Jesus’ life.
“So here you have an impeccable historian, who has been proven right in hundreds of details and never proven wrong, writing the whole history of Jesus and the early church. And it’s written within one generation while eyewitnesses were still alive and could have disputed it if it were exaggerated or false. You don’t have anything like that from any other religious book from the ancient world.”6
“Is Hemer a lone voice on that?” I asked.
“Hardly,” came the reply. “Prominent historian Sir William Ramsay started out as a skeptic, but after studying Acts he concluded that ‘in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.’7 The great Oxford University classical historian A. N. Sherwin-White said, ‘For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming,’ and that ‘any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd.’8
“Earlier, I mentioned archaeologist William F. Albright, who was a leader in the American School of Oriental Research for forty years. He started out as a liberal but became more and more conservative as he studied the archaeological record. He concluded that the radical New Testament critics are ‘pre-archaeological’ and their views are ‘quite antiquated.”9
I sat back in my leather chair as I reflected on Geisler’s barrage of facts and quotes. The argument was strong: if archaeology shows the Bible was accurate in what can be checked out, why would it be any less accurate in its other points? That only proves so much, however.
“Even if archaeology does confirm that the Bible is historically accurate, that doesn’t mean it’s divinely authoritative,” I said.
“Correct,” Geisler said crisply. “The only reason why anyone should accept the Bible as divinely authoritative is because it has miraculous confirmation.”
Reason #2: Evidence of Divine Origin
Geisler thumbed through his well-worn Bible, turning all the way to its opening sentence and then balancing the open book on his lap.
“It all goes back to whether the first verse of the Bible is true when it says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’” Geisler said. “I believe there’s overwhelming scientific evidence that it is true---everything that has a beginning has a beginner, the universe had a beginning, therefore, it had a beginner; the universe was tweaked and fine tuned from the very moment of creation for the emergence of human life; and so on.”
I interrupted to inform him that I had already interviewed William Lane Craig about the evidence pointing to a divine origin of the universe.
“Ah, good,” he said. “What people often forget is that if this first verse is true, not only are miracles possible, but miracles are actual, because the biggest miracle has already happened--—making something out of nothing. What’s harder: for Jesus to take water and turn it into wine or to take a handful of nothing and make water? It’s a lot harder to make water out of nothing than to make wine out of water.
“A skeptic once said to me, ‘I don’t believe the Bible because it has miracles.’ I said, ‘Name one.’ He said, ‘Turning water into wine. Do you believe that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it happens all the time.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, rain goes through the grapevine, up into the grape, and the grape turns into wine. All Jesus did was speed it up a litt1e bit.’
“My point is if you’ve got a God who can make something out of nothing, then he can make miracles. And then the only thing we have to look at is what book in the world has been miraculously confirmed. There’s only one, and that’s the Bible.”
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me how”
Geisler raised two fingers. “Two ways,” he said:
“First, the Bible is miraculously confirmed by the fulfillment of predictive prophecies, and,
Second, it’s confirmed by the miracles performed by those who purported to be speaking for God.”
CONFIRMATION BY PROPHECIES
Geisler began with a sweeping sentence: “The Bible is the only book in the world that has precise, specific predictions that were made hundreds of years in advance and that were literally fulfilled.”
Gesturing toward one of the books packed into his shelves, he continued by saying, “According to Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy there are 191 predictions in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ, including his ancestry, the city in which he would be born, that he would be born of a virgin, precisely the time in history when he would die, and so on.
“In fact, Psalm 22:16 says his hands and feet would be pierced; verse 14 says his bones would be out of joint verse 18 talks about the casting of lots for his garments; and Zechariah 12:10 says he would be pierced, as Jesus was with a lance. That’s obviously a picture of his crucifixion---however, it was written before crucifixion was even implemented as a method of execution by the Romans. The Jews stoned people to death back then.
“And, of course, Isaiah 53:2—12 has perhaps the most amazing predictions about Christ in the entire Old Testament. It foretells twelve aspects of his passion that were all fulfilled--—he would be rejected, be a man of sorrow, live a life of suffering, be despised by others, carry our sorrow, be smitten and afflicted by God, be pierced for our transgressions, be wounded for our sins, would suffer like a lamb, would die with the wicked, would be sinless, and would pray for others.”
I spoke up. “Wait a second,” I said. “If you talk to a rabbi, he’ll tell you that passage refers symbolically to Israel, not to the Messiah.”
Geisler shook his head. “In Old Testament times, the Jewish rabbis did consider this to be a prophecy concerning the Messiah. That’s the opinion that’s really relevant,” he said.
“Only later after Christians pointed out this was obviously referring to Jesus, did they begin saying it was really about the suffering Jewish nation. But clearly that’s wrong, Isaiah customarily refers to the Jewish people in the first-person plural, like ‘our’ or ‘we,’ but he always refers to the Messiah in the third-person singular, like ‘he’ and ‘him’---and that’s what he did in Isaiah 53. Plus, anyone who reads it for themselves will readily see it’s referring to Jesus. Maybe that’s why it’s usually skipped over in synagogues these days.
“So here you have incredible predictions that were literally fulfilled in the life of one man even though he had no control over most of them. For instance, he couldn’t have arranged his ancestry, the timing of his birth, and so on. These prophecies were written two hundred to four hundred years in advance. No other book in the world has this. The Bible is the only book that’s supernaturally confirmed this way.”
I pondered this. “But Old Testament prophets weren’t the only ones in history who have made predictions that have amazingly come true. For instance, Nostradamus, the physician and astrologer who lived in the 1500s, is famous for having made forecasts about the future. Didn’t he predict the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany?” I said, more as a statement than a question. “If he can do that, what’s so special about the predictive prophecies of the Bible?”
“The problem with Nostradamus and so many other so-called psychics is that their predictions are often very enigmatic, ambiguous, and inaccurate,” Geisler retorted.
“But what about the Hitler prediction?” I demanded. “‘That’s pretty specific
“Actually, it wasn’t specific at all,” he replied.
Geisler stood up and strolled over to his bookshelf, pulling down one of his books and rummaging through it until he located what he was after. Then he read the words of Nostradamus’ prediction:
Followers of sects, great troubles are in store for the Messenger. A beast upon the theater prepares the scenical play. The inventor of that wicked feat will be famous. By sects the world will be confused and divided.... Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers. Most of the army will be against the Lower Danube [Hister sera]. The great one shall be dragged in an iron cage when the child brother [de Germain] will observe nothing.10
Continued Geisler, “Obviously, this is not a reference to Adolf Hitler. The word isn’t ‘Hitler’ but ‘Hister,’ and it’s clearly not a person but a place. The Latin phrase de Germain should be interpreted as ‘brother’ or ‘near relative,’ not Germany. He doesn’t cite any dates or even a general time frame. Besides, what does he mean by ‘beasts’ and ‘iron cage?’ It’s so confusing that the entire prophecy is meaningless.
“The pattern is that Nostradamus’ predictions are very ambiguous and could fit a great variety of events. His followers are inconsistent in how they interpret what he said. And some of his prophecies have been shown to be false. In fact, not a single prediction of Nostradamus has ever been proven genuine.”
“I’ll concede that many psychics, like Nostradamus are vague in their predictions,” I said. “But you have to admit that the same is true of some of the biblical prophecies.”
“Granted, not all biblical prophecy is sharp,” Geisler replied. “However, many prophecies are very specific. How much more detailed can you get than accurat1y predicting when Jesus would die, as Daniel 9:24-26 did? When you do the math, you find that this passage pinpoints when Jesus would enter human history. And what about predictions of his birth place or how he would suffer and die? The specificity is astounding--—and they have invariably proven to be true.”
I countered with a contemporary example of a psychic whose predictions often were quite detailed. “In 1956, Jeane Dixon predicted a Democrat would win the 1960 presidential election and be assassinated in office. That was fulfilled in John F. Kennedy---and that’s a pretty specific prophecy.”
Geisler wasn’t impressed. “She also predicted the 1960 election would be dominated by labor, which it wasn’t. She later hedged her bets by saying Richard Nixon would win, so there was a one hundred percent chance one of those predictions coming true. As far as the assassination, three of the ten presidents in the twentieth century had died in office and two others were critically ill at the end of their terms. The odds against her weren’t too bad.
“Besides, unlike the biblical prophets, she made numerous predictions that turned out to be false--—that Red China would plunge the world into war over Quemoy and Matsu in 1958; that World War III would begin in 1954; that Castro would be banished from Cuba in 1970. My favorite is that she predicted Jacqueline Kennedy would not remarry---and the very next day, she wed Aristotle Onassis!” he said with a chuckle.
“A study of the prophecies made by psychics in 1975, including Dixon’s, showed they were only accurate six percent of the time. That’s pitiful! You probably could just guess and get a better record than that. Besides, you’ll find that Dixon, Nostradamus, and other psychics commonly deal with occult practices--—she used a crystal ball, for example--—and that could account for some of what they predicted.”
As someone skeptical of psychics, I didn’t want to get pushed further into a position of trying to defend them. And Geisler’s point had been made: they are completely different from biblical prophets. I decided to advance to a more potent criticism of biblical prophecy, which is the allegation that Christians wrench them out of context and claim they predicted the coming of Jesus when actually they were dealing with another issue. One example popped into my mind.
“Do you mind?” I asked as I reached over and took Geisler’s Bible. I turned to Matthew 2:15, which says: “So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”
That’s a reference to Hosea 11:1. I turned to that verse and read it to Geisler: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Closing the book and handing it back to Geisler I said: “Now, obviously that passage is about the children of Israel coming out of Egypt in the Exodus. It’s not about the Messiah. Isn’t that yanking a prophecy out of context?”
“That’s a good question,” Geisler remarked. “You have to understand, however, that not all prophecies are predictive.”
“Meaning what?” I asked.
“It’s true that the New Testament did apply certain Old Testament passages to Jesus that were not directly predictive of him. Many scholars see these references as being ‘typologically’ fulfilled in Christ, without being directly predictive.”
“In other words, some truth in the passage can appropriately be applied to Christ even though it was not specifically predictive of him. Others scholars say there’s a generic meaning in certain Old Testament passages that apply to both Israel and Christ, both of whom were called God’s ‘son.’ This is sometimes called a ‘double-reference view’ of prophecy.
“I can see the merit of both views. But, again, these passages were not directly predictive, and I don’t use them that way. There are certainly, however, a sufficient number of examples of prophecies that are clearly predictive to establish the divine authority of the Bible. Mathematics has shown that there’s absolutely no way they could have been fulfilled by mere chance.”
CONFIRMATION BY MIRACLES
Advancing to the other reason for the Bible’s divine authority Geisler said there’s one sure way to determine whether a prophet is truly a spokesman for God or a charlatan trying to deceive the masses: can he produce clear-cut miracles? All three great monotheistic religions--—Christianity, Judaism and Islam--—recognize the validity of miracles as a means of confirming a message from God. Even famed skeptic Bertrand Russell conceded that miracles would authenticate a truth claim.11
“In the Bible--—which, remember, we’ve seen is historically reliable--—we have prophets who were challenged but who then performed miracles to establish their credentials,” Geisler said.
“For example, Moses said in Exodus 4:1, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?’ How does God respond? By telling Moses to throw his staff to the ground; instantly, it turned into a snake. He told Moses to pick it up by its tail it turned back into a staff. Then God said in verse 5, ‘This is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers--—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--—has appeared to you.’
“The same thing for Elijah on Mount Carmel--—he was challenged and God sent down fire from heaven to confirm he was a true prophet. As for Jesus, he actually came out and said, ‘Don’t believe me unless I do miracles of God.”12 And then he did them. Even Nicodemus conceded this when he said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’13
“This never happened to Muhammad. In fact, Muhammad actually believed Jesus was a prophet who performed miracles, including raising the dead. Muslims also believe Moses and Elijah performed miracles. That’s very interesting, because in the Koran when unbelievers challenged Muhammad to perform a miracle, he refused. He merely said they should read a chapter in the Koran.”14
“He did?” I interjected.
“Absolutely. And yet Muhammad himself said, ‘God hath certainly power to send down a sign.’15 He even said, ‘They [will] say: Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?”16 Unlike Jesus, miracles were not a sign of Muhammad’s ministry. It wasn’t until a hundred and fifty or two hundred years after his life that his followers invented miracles and ascribed them to him.
“But when John the Baptist raised the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was able to respond confidently to John’s disciples: ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”17
Geisler stopped for a moment while I considered what he was saying. Then he summed up his arguments: “When you add this up--—the historical reliability of the Bible as authenticated by archaeology, the miraculous fulfillment of clear predictive prophecies, and the performace of documented miracles--—you get a supernaturally confirmed book unlike any other in history.”
I wanted to clarify something. “What you’re not saying is, ‘I believe the Bible is divinely inspired because it says it is.”
“That’s right. That’s a circular argument. No, the argument goes like this: the Bible claims to be the Word of God and the Bible proves to be the Word of God.”
That would seem to be a pretty good case---if the Bible didn’t have so many apparent contradictions within it. But how can the Bible really be trustworthy if it can’t keep its own story straight? How can it be considered divinely inspired if it makes statements that simply cannot be reconciled with each other?
COPING WITH CONTRADICTIONS
When I asked about alleged contradictions in the Bible, Geisler leaned back in his chair and smiled. It was an issue he had spent a lifetime studying.
“I’ve made a hobby of collecting alleged discrepancies, inaccuracies, and conflicting statements in the Bible,” he said.” I have a list of about eight hundred of them. A few years ago I coauthored a book called When Critics Ask, which devotes nearly six hundred pages to setting the record straight.18 All I can tell you is that in my experience when critics raise these objections, they invariably violate one of seventeen principles for interpreting Scripture”
“What are those?” I asked.
“For example, assuming the unexplained is unexplainable. I’m sure some sharp critic could say to me, ‘What about this issue?’ and even though I’ve done a forty-year study of these things, I wouldn’t be able to answer him. What does that prove--—that the Bible has an error or Geisler is ignorant? I’d give the benefit of the doubt to the Bible, because of the eight hundred allegations I’ve studied, I haven’t found one single error in the Bible, but I’ve found a lot of errors by the critics.”
I cocked my head. “Is that really reasonable, though, to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt?”
“Yes, it is,” he insisted. “When a scientist comes upon an anomaly in nature, does he give up science? When our space probe found braided rings around Jupiter, this was contrary to all scientific explanations. So do you remember when all the NASA scientists resigned because they couldn’t explain it?”
I laughed. “Of course not,” I said.
“Exactly. They didn’t give up. They said, ‘Ah, there must be an explanation,’ and they continued to study. I approach the Bible the same way. It has proven over and over to be accurate, even when I initially thought it wasn’t. Why shouldn’t I give it the benefit of the doubt now? We need to approach the Bible the way an American is treated in court: presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“Critics do the opposite. They denied the Hittites of the Old Testament ever existed. Now archaeologists have found the Hittite library. Critics say, ‘Well, I guess the Bible was right in that verse, but I don’t accept the rest.’ Wait a minute--—when it has been proven to be accurate over and over again in hundreds of details, the burden of proof is on the critic, not on the Bible.”
I asked Geisler to briefly describe some of the other principles for resolving apparent conflicts in Scripture.
“For example,” he said, “failing to understand the context of the passage. This is the most common mistake critics make. Taking words out of context, you can even cause the Bible to prove there’s no God. After all, Psalm 14:1 comes right out and says it: ‘There is no God.’ But, of course, in context it says, ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ Therefore, context is critically important, and most often critics are guilty of wrenching verses out of context to create an alleged discrepancy when there isn’t one.
“Another mistake is assuming a partial report is a false report. Matthew reports that Peter said to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Mark said, ‘You are the Christ.’ Luke said, ‘The Christ of God.”19 Critics say, ‘See? Error!’ I say, ‘Where’s the error? Matthew didn’t say, ‘You aren’t the Christ’ and Mark said, ‘You are.’ Matthew gave more. That’s not an error; those are complementary.
“Other mistakes include neglecting to interpret difficult passages in light of clear ones basing a teaching on an obscure passage forgetting that the Bible uses non technical, everyday language; failing to remember the Bible uses different literary devices; and forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics.”
“Humans make mistakes,” I said. “if it’s a human book, aren’t errors inevitable?”
“Except for, say, the Ten Commandments, the Bible wasn’t dictated,” Geisler replied. “The writers weren’t secretaries to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they used human sources or used different literary styles or wrote from different perspectives or emphasized different interests or revealed human thought patterns and emotions. There’s no problem with that. But like Christ, the Bible is totally human, yet without error.”
“However,” I interjected, “people bring up alleged contradictions all the time.”
“Like what, for example?” he responded. “What are the most common you hear?”
I thought for a moment. “Matthew says there was one angel at Jesus’ tomb; John says there were two. The gospels say Judas hung himself; Acts says his bowels gushed out”
“You’re right these are frequently cited,” he replied. “But they’re easily reconciled. Concerning the angels, have you ever noticed that whenever you have two of anything, you also have one? It never fails. Matthew didn’t say there was only one. John was providing more detail by saying there were two.
“As for Judas’ suicide, you hang yourself in a tree or over the edge of a cliff. It was against the law to touch a dead body in those days. So somebody came along found his body, cut the rope, and the bloated body fell onto the rocks. What happens? The bowels gush out, as the Bible says. They’re not contradictory, they’re complementary.”
All in all, I had to admit that Geisler was on track. I remember as an atheist peppering ill-prepared Christians with a flurry of apparent biblical contradictions and discrepancies. They would get flustered and embarrassed because they couldn’t answer them, and I’d walk away feeling smug and self-satisfied.
But because they weren’t able to answer them didn’t mean there weren’t answers. As with the troubling passages about the Canaanités and Elisha, the more I delved into the historical evidence and subjected the issues to scrutiny, the more they tended to fade away as objections.
WHY IS IT HARD TO BELIEVE?
It was almost time for lunch ad I was getting hungry “Do you want to get a bite to eat?” I asked Geisler.
“Sure,” he said. “There’s a little sandwich place down the road.”
I glanced through my notes. I thought I had covered everything I wanted to discuss--—but then I noticed a quotation I had brought along with me. It was a sentiment that reflected the frustration of a lot of people: why does God make it so difficult to believe in him? I didn’t want to end the interview without asking Geisler about it.
“One more thing before we go,” I said as I read him the colorful words of a frustrated spiritual seeker.
So if I want to avoid hell I presumably have to believe that a snake talked to Eve, that a virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted, and all sorts of other crazy things. Well, if God wants me so bad . . . why does He make believing in Him so . . . impossible? . . . It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job of convincing people of His existence than any evangelist ever does.... Just write it in the sky, nice and big. “Here’s your proof, Ed. Believe in Me or go to hell!
Sincerely, the Almighty.”20
Looking up at Geisler, I said, “What would you say to him?”
Geisler was a bit bemused. “My answer would be that God did do something like that,” he replied. “Psalm 19:1 says, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”21 In fact, it’s written across the heavens so vividly that more and more scientists who search the stars are becoming Christians.
“The great cosmologist Allan Sandage, who won astronomy’s version of the Nobel Prize, concluded that God is ‘the explanation for the miracle of existence.’22 Sir Fred Hoyle, who devised the steady state theory of the universe to avoid the existence of God, eventually became a believer in an Intelligent Designer of the universe.
“The astrophysicist Hugh Ross, who got his doctorate in astronomy from the University of Toronto and did research on quasars and galaxies, said scientific and historical evidence ‘deeply rooted my confidence in the veracity of the Bible.’23 Robert Jastrow, a confessed agnostic and director of the Mount Wilson Observatory and founder of the Goddard Space Institute, concluded the Big Bang points toward God. And I like what mathematical physicist Robert Griffiths said: ‘If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use.’24 The evidence, Lee, is so clear”
Not to a skeptic like Bertrand Russell, I noted. “He said if he some day stands before God and is asked why he never put his faith in him, he’ll say he hadn’t been given enough evidence,” I reminded him.
Geisler, one of whose hobbies is collecting quotes from atheists and agnostics, pointed out something else Russell said. “He was asked in a Look magazine interview, ‘Under what condition would you believe in God,’ and he essentially said, “Well, if I heard a voice from heaven and it predicted a series of things and they came to pass, then I guess I’d have to believe there’s some kind of supernatural being.”25
In light of our discussion about the miraculous fulfillment of predictive prophecies in the Bible, the irony in Russell’s statement was obvious.
“I’d say, ‘Mr. Russell, there has been a voice from heaven; it has predicted many things; and we’ve seen them undeniably come to pass,” Geisler declared.
“Then you don’t think God is making it hard for people to believe?”
“On the contrary, the evidence is there if people will be willing to see it. It’s not for a lack of evidence that people turn from God; it’s from their pride or their will. God is not going to force anyone into the fold. Love never works coercively. It only works persuasively. And there’s plenty of persuasive evidence there.”
I felt an obligation to disclose the identity of the person I quoted as asking why God makes it so difficult to believe. I told Geisler his name is Edward Boyd, and he made that remark to his son, Christian philosopher Gregory Boyd, as they exchanged a series of letters in which they debated the evidence for Christianity. In 1992, after personally weighing the evidence, the formerly skeptical Edward Boyd decided to become a follower of Jesus.26
Geisler smiled at the story, and then he turned personal, even poetic, as he closed by discussing his personal faith.
“For me, I say the same thing that the apostle Peter said: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”27 He’s the only one who not only claimed to be God but proved to be God. When I compare this to all other claimants of all other religions, it’s like the poet who said the night has a thousand eyes and the day has but one; the light of the whole world dies, with the setting of the sun.’”
Geisler’s voice softened but kept its intensity. “At the midnight of human ignorance, there are a lot of lights in the sky. Noontime, there’s only one. And that’s Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Based on the evidence for who he was, there really aren’t any competitors.
“So I cast my lot with him--—not the one who claimed wisdom, Confucius; or the one who claimed enlightenment, Buddha; or the one who claimed to be a prophet, Muhammad, but with the one who claimed to be God in human flesh. The one who declared, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’28—--and proved it.” (178-199)
WHO IS NORMAN L. GEISLER?
Norman Geisler can be a tenacious and intimidating debater when he’s marshalling biblical references, archaeological findings, scientific discoveries, and historical events to refute someone bent on discrediting Christianity. His encyclopedic memory and rapid-fire delivery have overwhelmed many critics through the years.
But it was a soft-spoken and grandfatherly Geisler who invited me into his modest yet comfortable office at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is president of the school. Casually dressed in a multicolored sweater over a blue button down shirt, he had an easy smile and a down-to-earth sense of humor. Even so, I soon found him focused with laser-beam intensity on the challenges I had come half way across the country to raise with him.
Geisler, a prodigious and award-winning author, has written, co-authored, or edited more than fifty books, including such standards as General Introduction to the Bible, Inerrancy, Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, When Skeptics Ask, When Critics Ask, and When Cultists Ask. One of his most recent volumes is the ambitious, 841-page Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, which systematically discusses issues ranging from “absolute truth” to “Zen Buddhism.”
Having studied at Wheaton College, the University of Detroit, Wayne State University, William Tyndale College, and Northwestern University, Geisler received his doctorate in philosophy from Loyola University in Chicago. He is the former chairman of philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. His memberships include the American Philosophical Society, the American Scientific Association, and the American Academy of Religion.
Geisler has traveled widely--—through all fifty states and twenty-five countries on six continents--—giving lectures on the evidence for Christianity and debating such well-known skeptics as humanist Paul Kurtz. Consequently, I knew there was little chance that I would take him completely off guard by a question. However, I came armed with some of the most difficult issues of all. (162-163)
1. George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, 210-11.
2. Charles Templeton, Farewell to God, 38.
3. John 3:12.
4. See: Clifford A. Wilson, Rocks, Relics and Biblical Reliability (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1977), 42.
5. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press, 1953), 176.
6. See: Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
7. William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids. Mich.: Baker, 1962), 8.
8. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 189.
9. See: William F. Albright., “Retrospect and Prospect in New Testament Archaeology” in The Teacher’s Yoke, E. Jerry Vardaman, ed. (Waco, Tx.: Baylor University, 1964), 288ff.
10. Norman L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Bakei 1999), 544.
11. See: Bertrand Russell, “What Is an Agnosticr, Look magazine, 1953, quoted in Norman L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 455—56.
12. John 10:37.
13. John 3:2.
14. See Sura 2:118; 3:181—84; 4:153; 6:8,9,37 in the Koran.
15. Sura 6:37.
17. Luke 7:22.
18. Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992).
19. Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20.
20. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994), 120.
21. Revised Standard Version.
22. John Noble Wilford, “Sizing Up the Cosmos: An Astronomer’s Quest,” New York Times, March 12,1991, quoted in: Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 116.
23. Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 17.
24. Robert Jastrow, “The Secret of the Star,” New York Times Magazine, June 25, 1978, quoted in: Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 116.
25. See: Bertrand Russell, “What Is an Agnostic?” Look magazine, 1953, quoted in Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 455-456.
26. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward IC Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic, 189.
27. John 6:68.
28. John 8:58.
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