The other day a close family member, who is aware of my atheism, presented me with a religious tract entitled “Why You Can Trust the Bible”. This relative happens to be a Southern Baptist and so I could not resist pointing out that the tract being presented was actually composed by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, the same Jehovah’s Witnesses who reject the mainstream Christian belief that Jesus was paradoxically both a man and a God. As you can see [here] on the scanned copy, the actual text citing the Jehovah’s Witness organization was sloppily marked though by someone wishing to obscure the true origin of the tract. At any rate, I thought I would take the opportunity to write a thorough response to the assertions presented in the tract for both my blog and my relative. So lets dive in, shall we.
The first two sentences are the only parts of the tract with which I actually agree. Yes indeed, people do say the Bible is unreliable, a great number of well-educated people in fact and their numbers are growing according to national polls. The tract opens with the argument that “[…]what Jesus Christ said in prayer to God promotes trust” and quotes John 17:17 and 2 Timothy 3:15 from “the Bible itself”. Here we have two logical fallacies, the first fallacy is argumentum ad auctoritatem (argument from authority) and the second is circular reasoning, whereby the author has begun with what he or she is trying to prove.
The circular reasoning comes from the fact that the author is claiming that the Bible is trustworthy by citing the very book he is attempting to prove is trustworthy. In other words, the Bible is trustworthy because the Bible says the Bible is trustworthy. The argument that the Bible is true because “Jesus Christ said in prayer” is fallacious due to the unfounded premise that Jesus is an authority on anything, a premise that must be assumed a priori based on nothing but the very book whose trustworthiness has yet to be proven.
The author asks the reader if anyone has ever shown them an actual example of contradictions in the Bible after which he cherry picks a few minor contradictions, some of which are not contradictions so much as unanswered questions, around which he can easily tap dance. He or she states that these discrepancies only appear to be discrepancies due to a lack of knowledge. For example, ‘where did Cain get his wife?’. The answer is obvious, says the author, because Genesis 5:4 says that Adam and Eve had multiple children. This contradiction does appear to be resolved by the assumption that Adam and Eve had more than three children but it’s a fan dance performed by the apologist as it ignores the purpose of the tract which was to explain “Why you can trust the Bible”. It doesn’t matter how many children Adam and Eve produced as we first must ask if we can trust the Biblical assertion that the human species is descended from a specially created first man and woman. How did Jehovah magically make Adam appear fully formed out of dirt and then, oddly enough, magically clone Eve from one of his ribs. The author just assumes the Bible is trustworthy concerning human origins without demonstrating why that assumption is valid. I guess author expects us to overlook that mystery and just accept the premise that the Bible is trustworthy because the Bible says it is trustworthy.
The author outright dismisses a contradiction between Matthew and Luke by asserting that a reasonable person does not claim a discrepancy because the work was credited to the one who is actually responsible for it over those who carried out the deed. However, the discrepancy of which the author is speaking is not a matter of crediting different people for the same act.
Matthew 8:5-6: When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Luke 7:1-3: When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.
Matthew clearly says that “a centurion came to him” while Luke says that the centurion “sent some elders of the Jews”. The author is dishonest in his explanation where he writes “it is not inconsistent for Matthew to say that the army officer made a request of Jesus but, as Luke writes, that such a request was made though certain representative.” The dishonesty on the part of the author comes from ignoring that Matthew plainly says that “a centurion came to him”. This is not a matter of attributing credit, the former claims it was the centurion himself who came to Jesus while the latter says it was not the centurion but rather elders sent by the centurion who came to Jesus.
Is it not odd that the author failed to quote the passages verbatim so that they could be examined but rather expects the reader to take his explanation at face value? Speaking of what a reasonable person would think, a reasonable would think that a book allegedly inspired by an omnipotent being would not show signs that the accounts being presented as trustworthy facts are actually hearsay accounts of past events recorded by fallible humans.
Speaking of contradictions, does the Bible endorse or forbid the killing of children for the iniquity of their fathers? I guess it depends on which book of the Bible you read.
ISA 14:21 “Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.”
DEU 24:16 “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
The list of contradictions contained in the Bible is daunting to say the least but for brevity I will move on to the author’s next point, my favorite area to refute, history and science. The author writes that “the historical accuracy of the Bible was once widely doubted”, which is false, the historical accuracy is still currently doubted and for good reason, there is evidence refuting it. The author again cherry picks minor subjects such as the existence of kings or cities or certain Roman figures mentioned in the Bible. These sorts of things all fall under what has been commonly called the Spiderman Fallacy. For example, the argument that New York is a real place, Spiderman lived in New York, and therefore Spiderman is real is fallacious as the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Likewise, though the Bible may contain accounts involving real locations and people verified by outside sources, but those facts do not lend any weight to any of the miraculous or supernatural claims presented in the Bible.
Moshe Pearlman (1911 – April 5, 1986) is falsely cited by the author as being a historian. Pearlman was not a historian but an Israeli writer who first worked as a journalist and then immigrated to Israel. He joined the Army of the newly founded state and was the first Israeli military spokesman. In 1960 he retired and devoted himself to his literary activity. An actual historian by the name of Israel Finkelstein, the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze Age and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University and co-director of excavations at Megiddo in northern Israel, and Neil Silberman reveal that no archaeological evidence has been found for many of the Old Testament’s claims:
“Much of what is commonly taken for granted as accurate history – the stories of the patriarchs, the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and even the saga of the glorious monarchy of David and Solomon – are, rather, the creative expressions of a powerful religious reform movement that flourished in the kingdom of Judah in the Late Iron Age” (Finkelstein & Silberman, 2002, p. 23). They date the Iron Age at 1150-586 BCE (Finkelstein & Silberman, 2002).
“The historical saga contained in the Bible – from Abraham’s encounter with God and his journey to Canaan, to Moses’ deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage, to the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah – was not a miraculous revelation, but a brilliant product of the imagination” (Finkelstein & Silberman, 2002, p. 1).
The author next attempts to draw parallels between the Bible and modern scientific discoveries by stating that “not long ago scientists, in contradiction of the Bible, asserted that the universe had no beginning.” In actuality, there was simply no consensus among scientists concerning the beginning of the cosmos or if it had a beginning as there was a lack of evidence for either view. Unlike religion or the Bible, science bases its conclusions on evidence. When Edwin Hubble discovered via the Doppler Effect that the cosmos was expanding exponentially the question was answered, the cosmos must have originated from a single point.
Now the author stops his argument at claiming the Bible and science agree that the cosmos has a beginning and therefore concludes that science proves the Bible. This could not be further from the truth and it is telling that he dismisses everything after that by writing that “the details differ, but the essential elements in astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same.” That is probably the most amazing understatement ever written. Let’s take a closer look at these differing details and see if the “essential elements” are the same.
The Bible begins with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” which does not agree with modern cosmology in the slightest. The earth did not come into existence until around 8.5 Billion years after the beginning of the cosmos as we know it. Assuming that heaven means everything else in the cosmos and that the Bible was actually inspired by an all-knowing being, the accurate passage should read something on the order of “In the beginning God created the heavens, and waited for hydrogen to collapse into the first stars, and waited for the first stars to generate heavy elements, and waited for those stars to explode, and waited for that dust to collapse into solar systems, when then formed the earth.” Of course the human writers of Genesis had no way of knowing any of that when they wrote Genesis and were simply inventing an explanation for something they could not possibly explain in their time.
The Bible says that “the earth was without formless, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” which also does not agree with modern cosmology. Our sun, one of billions in our Galaxy, would have already started to undergo nuclear fusion and shine before the earth as we know it accreted.
The Bible says “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” which does not agree with modern cosmology. Light, electromagnetic waves, have existed since the very beginning of the cosmos. Light did not suddenly appear AFTER the earth formed. The next passage says “And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” which is redundant as the fact that the earth is a sphere would divide night and day by default. Only one side could have been facing the sun, there is no need for any omnipotent being to divide night and day unless of course we are speaking of a flat earth, we are coming to that.
Genesis 1:14 says “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:” This also is contradicted by modern cosmology. The majority of the “lights in the firmament”, otherwise known as distant stars, were already in existence before the earth formed. They did not magically appear after the earth came to be and they do not exist to give us signs for seasons and days and years, rather because on a cosmic time scale we do no perceive their movements, humans can use their predictability to measure seasons, days and years.
The last one before I move on is Genesis 1:16 “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” As has been stated, the “greater light to rule the day” existed prior to the formation of the earth itself. The “lesser light to rule the night” as best we can tell was the result of a massive impact between a proto Earth and a Mars size proto planet which ejected much of the crust into space which collected to form the moon and contributed to the Earth’s large metallic core. The sun and moon were not a result of an all-powerful deity magically creating them because he thought they would look cool.
The author’s next assertion is that the Bible has always claimed the earth was a sphere. He incorrectly explains that voyages of discovery showed that the earth was a round. That is false. Eratosthenes (276–194 BC) estimated Earth’s circumference around 240 BC. He had heard that in Syene the Sun was directly overhead at the summer solstice whereas in Alexandria it still cast a shadow. Using the differing angles the shadows made as the basis of his trigonometric calculations, he estimated a circumference of around 250,000 stades. The length of a ‘stade’ is not precisely known, but Eratosthenes’ figure only has an error of around five to fifteen percent.
What does the Bible say about the shape of the Earth? According to the author, who quotes Isaiah 40:22, the Bible says god dwells above the circle of the earth and then spins the definition of circle to mean sphere by claiming other translations say “the globe of the earth”. It makes sense that later translations would reinterpret circle to mean globe, they had the benefit of scientific knowledge. However, a circle is two-dimensional, as in flat. The Biblical flat earth view can be demonstrated by the new testament myth of Jesus being tempted by Satan. Matthew 4:8 says “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” The only way Satan could have shown all the kingdoms of the world from a very high mountain would be if the earth was flat. It is impossible to see the entirety of a sphere regardless of height.
Although the author asserts that the more humans learn, the greater the evidence is that the Bible can be trusted; the reality is that the Bible is constantly being revealed as a work of fiction, voted on and complied by church leaders from the writings of other men over many centuries. No, the Bible is not trustworthy with regard to History and Science.
Can the Bible foretell the future? Well that depends on how far we are willing to lower the bar of what qualifies as prediction. The author claims that on multiple occasions the Bible has predicted events hundreds of years in advance which have been fulfilled in exact detail. The author makes the specific claim that the Bible foretold the overthrow of Babylon nearly 200 years before it happened. The claim is that before 681 BCE the prophet Isaiah predicted Persia would defeat Babylon and furthermore that this prophecy was fulfilled in 539 BCE. They cite Isaiah 45:1 as predicting that “Babylon’s gates would open for Cyrus”:
This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: (NIV)
The tract author would have us believe that Isaiah prophesied specifically that Cyrus would be Babylon’s conqueror and would enter through gates, and that he made this prediction over 140 years before the event. In reality, this section of Isaiah was written shortly before 537 BCE, so even if the prediction was not made after the event its occurrence at least was imminent and the name of Cyrus would have been known.
Isaiah’s reference to gates, although the actual means Cyrus used to gain entry to the city of Babylon, was nonetheless meant figuratively. This is evidenced by noting the continued use of obviously figurative language in the next verse:
I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. (NIV)
It should be noted that Babylon is not actually mentioned anywhere in the chapter. It should also be noted that “anointed” as used in Isaiah 45:1 is translated into Hebrew as “messiah” and into Greek as “Christ.” Although never admitted by Christians, this passage seems to assert that Cyrus is the messiah. The author also asserts that Babylon is currently uninhabited ruins as the Bible foretold yet people obviously live there now (modern Iraq, and Baghdad for that matter).
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.“ (Matthew 16: 27, 28)
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place…“ (Mark 13:26-30)
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Then He told them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.“ (Luke 21:27-32)
In at least three of the gospels, Jesus is said to have predicted he would return in the lifetime of at least some of those in the generation alive at that time. The fact that Jesus did not return as he foretold is one of the strongest reasons to reject the Bible as entirely untrustworthy. This has not in the least hampered modern apologist who simply state that those passages are being misinterpreted, which is the usual excuse to dismiss Biblical falsehoods.
As was pointed out in the beginning of this rebuttal, the tract is a publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is no surprise then that the version of the Bible for which he is advocating is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a translation specifically created by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their sect. Lastly, it should be noted that when it comes to Biblical trustworthiness the Jehovah’s Witnesses have made at least 19 official predictions based on the Bible that never came true.