Difficult Passages in the Bible
Reasoning With Unbelievers (Part 3)
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011
On Thursday night, January 27th, from 9 to 10 pm Eastern, our webchat time will focus on the topic, “Practical Reasoning with Unbelievers”.
[Continued from the previous blog entry, “Objections from Unbelievers”]
There are two classes of questions about legitimate issues of understanding what the Bible is really saying:
1. statements in the Bible which seem internally inconsistent
There are doctrinal matters that don’t fit man’s preconceived notions. Many see tensions between grace and justice, between wrath and mercy, between forbidding murder and the demand for capitol punishment, between the importance of obeying the law and the fact that law cannot save, etc. These things are in no way contradictory if understood as the Bible presents them, but they sound conflicting if forced into the world’s understanding of them.
Time should be taken to carefully learn about and explain these unique teachings of biblical Christianity. There are many good Theological reference tools to help define the terms so commonly misunderstood.
Many hear about alleged conflicts of historical facts. People sometimes point out where one gospel account describes a part of the life of Christ differently than does another. Similarly there are times when one historical account gives details that are not the same as those given in another Biblical account.
These are not really conflicts. In some cases a similar but not the same event is being described. In other cases the differences are because the same event can be described in different ways from different observers. Each one is fully accurate in telling what was seen or remembered. It may take some study to find out what is actually said in the original language, what the expressions meant at the time, and how the statements might be harmonized. There is much written on such matters and most good reformed commentaries deal with them in great detail.
Some of these matters involve the use of different calendars in biblical times, different use of language in the various nations where events took place, different points of view of the observers of events, and different purposes in recording the events.
Among the works that deal with specific historical issues the following books are very helpful:
Allen A. MacRae “Biblical Archaeology”, Jack Finegan “Light from the Ancient Past”
2. Biblical statements that seem to be inconsistent with human observation or theory
First of all, human ideas come in two different parts: There are observed measurements of things, and there are the interpretations of the things observed.
The unbeliever will argue that he can see things neutrally and without prejudice therefore his observations are objective and absolutely reliable. The Bible doesn’t agree with that assumption. It says that even our observations are effected when we are lost in sin. The primary information that pours forth from creation declaring God’s Glory is distorted. Man suppresses it and replaces it with alternate ideas injected from his own corrupted heart.
Romans 1:20-23, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
The “God-declaring information” is stripped away leaving a false observation. The fallen mind interprets this distorted information to support its own theories of reality.
The unbeliever is suppressing the truth God is making known to him both in what he sees of nature (Rom 1:20), and in what he senses in his own conscience (Rom 2:15). Therefore, our duty is more of “reminding him”, “confronting him” with what he, on one level, knows to be true. Considering that the fault is within the observer rather than in the things he observes, God holds him to be without excuse. The problem is that his sin nature so seamlessly distorts what he observes and knows inwardly,that he is self-deceived quite effectively.
Given this distortion of the facts of God’s universe, there will be false arguments that confuse people. There are always facts from science, history, and archeology which can be abused to seem to conflict with the biblical record. However, the history of attacks on the Bible is filled with errors which later were corrected and the facts found to fit in with what the Scriptures said. It was the critics understanding of the facts that turned out to be wrong. Archaeological finds have often balanced upon subjective interpretations. Individual findings are often isolated from the bigger picture which may be very incomplete. To conclude that the Bible is inaccurate presumes that sufficient contradictory information is available and that no other interpretation of the findings is possible. This has never been the case.
Observations of natural science have never contradicted direct statements of the Bible when rightly understood. The problem occurs when human theories are assumed as fact. Arguments from philosophy and from psychology are purely theoretical and present no raw facts in and of themselves.
When answering the objections of unbelievers keep two points in mind:
1. The facts themselves are distorted by the unregenerate mind (Rom 1:20-23)
2. The objections made are based upon assumptions and interpretations
We should do our best to help the unbeliever get information about the questions they raise. We should not work under the assumption that by answering them they will be convinced to believe. People observed the great miracles in the Bible and not only rejected what they saw, they set out to silence those performing the miracles.
Our goal is that by answering the objections calmly, carefully, and with respect of the other person’s legitimate struggle, the real meaning of Scripture will be advanced, and, if the Spirit gives life to their hearts, the liberating truth will replace their distorted preconceptions. The key is to get the person into the word itself by which the Holy Spirit changes the heart.
Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
>> To be continued in our next blog: Answering With the Right Attitude