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KatawaGrey's avatar

A question about Christianity: How can we be sure that the bible is the word of God if it was set down by man?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21461points) June 15th, 2010

I do not mean to be disrespectful but this is something I have always had trouble understanding. Humans cannot understand God, which is why we have the bible from what I understand to be able to interpret the word of God. What I’m wondering is who wrote down the words in the bible and how was he able to understand what God wanted? Did Jesus write the bible or did someone else? Did the bible just appear and get read by men? In short, how did the bible come into being and how do Christians know that what is written is the correct interpretation?

I would really like to avoid a shit-show here please. I know a good number of people on this sight don’t agree with/believe in Christianity but please keep these sentiments to yourselves. I’m not trying to pick holes in the religion, I am honestly curious about this subject.

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43 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We can’t. In all seriousness. That’s why you either have faith or you don’t.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: I’m just wondering if there is a “concrete” explanation, say, Jesus did write it which he certainly would have the ability to do being God in man-form and therefore able to understand the word of God and able to physically write it down. I’m guessing you’re answer is the most succinct form of what is coming though. :)

Rarebear's avatar

Here’s a nice article on Wikipedia about the Documentary Hypothesis of the authors of the old testament.

Here’s another wikipedia article about traditional vs. modern thought on Biblical authors.

lillycoyote's avatar

You need to study the history of the bible. If you are honestly curious about the subject, and it really is fascinating, whether you are a believer or not, the history of the bible you, to understand that, well, you have a lot of work a head of you.

dpworkin's avatar

The Old Testament was written by many different scribes over a long period, and drew on many well-known previous myths, including Gilgamesh.

The New Testament was written by apple polishers with their own agendas.

Blackberry's avatar

There is no evidence of a god, men wrote these books, most likely to control people, got it? ; )

That was a serious answer too.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@dpworkin @Blackberry: Both good answers but I’m more interested in how Christians think the bible came around. :)

lillycoyote's avatar

The history of the bible is pretty well documented though some controversy and difference of opinion certainly does exist among biblical scholars. What Christians think about how the bible “came around?” I’d be curious to hear that too.

dpworkin's avatar

Serious theologians who have done their homework know just what to think. Hysterical fundie weirdos who think the Baby Jesus weeps when someone has an abortion are a different kettle of fish, but then it may be hard to call what they do with their primitive brains “thinking.”

Trillian's avatar

@dpworkin Nice. Generalization, dismissive, intolerant. Not at all like one of those dreadful fundamentalist Christians.

dpworkin's avatar

@Trillian Oh, lighten up.

Ron_C's avatar

I have found that the more I study the bible, the more I am appalled by its teachings. The books of the bible, both old and new, are clearly works of men. Men that were often misinformed; many were down right blood thirsty. In that vein, the books of the bible tell how men thought thousands of years ago. The very idea that the bible was inspired by god is either laughable if you actually tried to follow all of its teaching or frightening if you believe that this blood thirsty, jealous, vain, and downright evil inspiration was brought about by the hand of a god.

People have been indoctrinated to believe since they were children. A strict religious upbringing is one of the most evil forms of child abuse. Fortunately, most of us outgrow our “faith”. Those that don’t grow to be deeply disturbed controlling and miserable people, just like the god in the bible.

As for Jesus, if he actually existed, he wrote nothing. I would guess that the only thing that he actually read was the Torah. That reading drove him crazy enough to think that he was actually god…another reason not to expose children to deep religious training.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Ron_C: A well thought-out answer! Are you Christian, or were you just brought up in a deeply Christian home?

fundevogel's avatar


The Old Testament was written by many different scribes over a long period, and drew on many well-known previous myths, including Gilgamesh.

The New Testament was written by apple polishers with their own agendas.

Well said. And then all the original documents were lost so all we have are copies of copies of copies made by scribes that made mistakes, bad corrections and sometimes changed things to reflect their own beliefs. Really. It’s a mistake to think there is “a Bible”. There is a vast amount of variation among Biblical texts, the Bibles we laypeople buy are just approximation of what they think the Bible was, some are better approximations than others.

Ron_C's avatar

@KatawaGrey I guess you could say that I was a christian. I even considered, in my lower teens, becoming a priest. I went to Catholic School and was throughly brainwashed.

There’s a good reason that the Catholic church doesn’t put much emphasis in the bible. If you really read it you lose any faith you had brainwashed into you. I read the bible….terrible stuff.

fundevogel's avatar

@Ron_C The sad thing is there are a few devoted Christians in my family that do seriously read the Bible. One satisfies her need to feel righteous schadenfreude from God’s violence and damnation and the other is in a perpetual crisis about how the god she is sure is good and loving can be so cruel.

It’s mental either way.

Ron_C's avatar

@fundevogel since my dad passed, we no longer have any religious members in our family. My wife and I taught our children to think for themselves, not depend on help from on high, and to take responsibilities for their actions. Most significantly, they will not blindly follow anybody. They may like a political or community leader but make up their own mind about how far to follow them. Actually they are usually in the lead and always considerate of others ideas.

I can proudly say that no one in our family has ever given a cent to a TV preacher.

fundevogel's avatar

@Ron_C sounds healthy, I’m a bit envious.

Ron_C's avatar

@fundevogel I don’t think that I was such a great father, but I am very lucky. My kids and grandkids are great.

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

GQ for proper use of the term Shit-Show. Congrats!

wilma's avatar

I think that there are a lot of different kinds of Christians. Just like most religions, there are the zealots and the fundamentalists. There are the followers and the leaders, there are those who study the Bible and take it very literally, there are those who think it has merit but don’t follow every word with devotion. There are those that pick and choose what they believe, “take what they believe and leave the rest.”
For most of these folks, I think their own faith is what they rely on. Their own feelings and instincts take them in the direction that they feel is right for them. If that is what makes them happy and feel content, then I think that is a good thing.
My feelings about religion haven’t really changed a lot since I was a child. I know what I think and what I believe and it works for me. I’m fine with whatever anyone else wants to believe too, just as long as they don’t try to force it on me.
So in a round-about way of answering your question @KatawaGrey it is faith that allows them to believe what they cannot prove.

Ron_C's avatar

@wilma isn’t faith belief without proof? Wouldn’t you prefer to know?

wilma's avatar

@Ron_C Yes, I think faith is belief without proof.
I didn’t say what it is that I believe.
I have faith in my instincts.
My gut, my heart, and my thinking mind all guide me.
That is what I know.

Ron_C's avatar

@wilma O.k. I can agree with that. I have always been guided by the thought that I should treat others like I would like to be treated. The other is “do no harm”. Sometimes the latter is the hardest to live by.

DominicX's avatar

What I don’t understand is: if the Bible is supposed to be the perfect unquestionable word of God, who gets to decide what books belong in the Bible? There are some versions that omit certain books and include additional ones. When I really sit down and think about it, it doesn’t seem so impressive and “unquestionable”. It just seems like a collection of books that were compiled a while ago and decided by certain people to be perfect and whole. I don’t understand how someone determines what belongs in the Bible and what doesn’t.

eden2eve's avatar

The books were purportedly written by various individuals, none of them Jesus or God. Most adherents believe that they were written by the inspiration of God. The Old Testament by different Prophets prior to Christ. They would be like histories, or journals of events in the writer’s lifetime, or in some instances, were enumerations of visions about another time, given to a Prophet. The New Testament would be written about the life of Christ, or the organization of the Church after His death, written by followers of Christ after His lifetime.

Initially they were all separate books, but during the reign of the Emporer Constantine by the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, they were organized into one volume. The Council of Nicea was a group of approximately 300 religious leaders from various sects and locations.

Many other books were left out, deemed unworthy to be included. Many of them were burned. Some of them are available today, and are now called Apocrapha.

Some Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant (flawless), but others believe that there are numbers of errors due to multiple translations and probably some deliberate changes from the original source documents, which are not longer available.

Blackberry's avatar

They probably just wrote the shit to establish some semblance of law and order, similar to how consitutions are written to establish the laws and rules the writers decided should be in effect.

ratboy's avatar

Because Jesus tells me so!

Qingu's avatar

You know the Bible is the word of God because it says so. Deuteronomy 4 quotes God as saying he’s personally giving us all these great laws. And Paul, somewhere (I forget) says that all scripture is God-breathed. If something is God breathed, it must be true, right?

Note that this logic only applies to the Bible, and not for example the Quran or the mythology in the Legend of Zelda games.

syz's avatar

Drat! I can’t find a link, I remember hearing an interview of a researcher (at Duke?) who compiled the extensive amount of research and historical documentation of intentional changes, alterations, and flat out errors that had been transcribed through various iterations of the Bible, which he published. Apparently, there are many well documented cases of individuals changing the wording or even the meaning of passages because the original made no sense to them.

I thought it interesting, considering the number of individuals that insist on the infallibility of the Bible as a literal truth.

edit: Still no luck with my search, although this is interesting.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@DominicX @eden2eve: Wow! I didn’t know that there were version without certain books and other books that have simply been omitted over the years! That is fascinating and, frankly, baffling. How can the broken word of God be the word of God at all?

@syz: I once asked a very religious Christian how he could account for the translating and re-translating in and out of dead languages and languages that have different alphabets and syntax’s than any he could speak. He responded that there was a version of the bible in Greek that was written around the time of the original. I knew this was crap, but I couldn’t exactly say that to him.

Qingu's avatar

@KatawaGrey, he’s mostly full of crap.

The earliest parts of the Bible—the Torah—were originally probably oral. We don’t know exactly when they were first written down. Some scholars date their writing as late as 400 B.C.

We don’t have anything nearly that old for the Hebrew Bible. The oldest stuff is, iirc, the dead sea scrolls, which are first-century B.C. at the earliest. Then there’s the Septuigent, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible from Roman times; we have some chunks of that. Most of what we use for the Hebrew Bible today comes from the Masoritic text, which is Hebrew but later than these two other sources. (I also believe there are some issues comparing the use of vowels in the Masoritic text, but I’ve forgotten).

Now, the New Testament—we don’t have any original writings. The earliest source for the New Testament is a little fragment of the gospel of John from the 100’s AD. Everything else are later copies. The New Testament was originally written in Greek; however, some scholars think that Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, so if anything in the NT is actually based directly on what Jesus said (which is possible but not particularly well-supported), it would have been a translation from Aramaic to Greek.

That said, I think a lot of the whole criticism of the Bible-as-translation is unfounded. In terms of historical documents in general, we have some pretty good, very old sources for Bible, and modern translations make use of these sources. I think modern Bible translations compare favorably to, for example, modern translations of Aristotle or the Hindu epics, for which we don’t have as rich and as old a variety of sources.

Also, a lot of people seem to make the argument that the Bible can’t be trusted because the modern Bible we have isn’t the “original text.” Well, no—the original text would have also been bullshit. It’s not like the ancient bronze age Hebrews had some shining perfect wisdom that was lost through copying and translation.

fundevogel's avatar

@syz You might be thinking of Bart Ehrman. His book Misquoting Jesus is entirely dedicated to sorting where and why mistakes and alterations were made to the New Testament.

@Qingu “That said, I think a lot of the whole criticism of the Bible-as-translation is unfounded. In terms of historical documents in general, we have some pretty good, very old sources for Bible, and modern translations make use of these sources.”

This is less of a translation thing than just a there-are-no-originals thing. We do know that changes and mistakes have been made, even some pretty hefty later additions, (the “he who has no sin may cast the first stone” appears only in later texts). Without any original documents there is simply no way to know how much the existing texts deviate from the original writings. I think it is an error to assert that the differences between the Bible we use today and the original are insignificant. We can’t know the extent of the changes until we can lay them down side by side, which probably isn’t ever going to happen.

“Also, a lot of people seem to make the argument that the Bible can’t be trusted because the modern Bible we have isn’t the “original text.” Well, no—the original text would have also been bullshit. It’s not like the ancient bronze age Hebrews had some shining perfect wisdom that was lost through copying and translation.”

Agreed, but but telling people their precious faith is bullshit doesn’t really help them either. Religion has deep roots and if you’re interested in educating a religious person rather than just pushing their buttons you need to give them things to think about. Christians care about the authenticity of their Bible, without it they lose the foundation on which their faith rests. Get them really thinking about the origin of their religion and they’re more likely to question it than if you just cut the legs out from beneath them before they’re ready to consider that they might be wrong.

syz's avatar

@fundevogel Thank you, that’s it.

Qingu's avatar

@fundevogel, I don’t think changes/additions to “original” texts are insignificant (assuming there is an original text at all). But I think their significance is sometimes exaggerated, especially compared to other ancient documents. Any ancient document, including every religious, legal, and philosophical text before the printing press, has been copies numerous times before we moderns ever saw it.

I think you can get the “gist” of most of Plato’s philosophy, for example, despite the fact that the earliest versions we have of his writings are extremely late, have been copied numerous times, and probably have copying errors, additions, and gaps. Likewise for the Bible.

As for your last point, I wasn’t addressing Christians actually. I was addressing nonbelievers who claim that the Bible is bullshit because it’s been changed from some “original” version, the implication being that the original (if it exists) isn’t also bullshit.

As for addressing believers about the authenticity of the Bible, I think pointing out that our Bibles today have probably been mistranslated and miscopied is not really relevant or interesting. I’d rather engage with them on the assumption that the Bible we have today is basically whatever they claim it is—and then have them sit down and read what it actually says. Most Christians don’t seem to be very familiar with the content of the book they claim is divinely inspired and morally perfect.

Spreader's avatar

Today the survival of the human race is in question, if we are to judge from statements made by militarists, scientists and economists. But, no matter how disquieting the statement of their fears may be, there is an authoritative message of survival now being published. Hence there are people today who believe in the survival of the human race. These few who have such a remarkable belief are being heard widely today. They are publishing everywhere the “word of life.” That life-giving word is contained in the Holy Bible, If the Bible really is from God, we should expect it to be the most outstanding book ever written. Is it? Yes, and for many reasons. First, it is very old; you would not expect God’s Word to all mankind to have been written a short time ago, would you? The writing of it began some 3,500 years ago in the Hebrew language. Then, over 2,200 years ago, it began to be translated into other languages. Today almost everybody on earth can read the Bible in his own language. Yet how could the Bible be from God when it was written by men?’ you ask. True, about 40 men shared in writing the Bible. These men did the actual writing of the Bible with the exception of the Ten Commandments, which were written personally by God on stone tablets by the direct action of his holy spirit. (Exodus 31:18) However, this does not make what they wrote any less the Word of God. The Bible explains: “Men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) Yes, just as God used his powerful holy spirit to create the heavens, the earth and all living things, he also used it to direct the writing of the Bible, so read it, and dont be put of by what people say.

Ron_C's avatar

@Spreader I agree with most of what you said about the bible contents but question that the “40” people that actually wrote the bible were directly inspired by god. What about the committee that select the books and articles that ended up in today’s bible? Were their choices also inspired?

The only reason that the bible is translated into so many languages is the many Christians are pretty pushy and feel the need to translate the book to their language of interest, whether there is a demand or not.

Spreader's avatar

How can you decide? Well, how do you decide whether to trust people you meet? One thing is sure. It is very difficult to have real trust in anyone about whom you know very little. Only as you get to know people well do you learn over time if they are truly honest and trustworthy. You can get to know the Bible in the same way. Do not accept without question speculative or even prejudiced theories that undermine confidence in the Bible. Take the time to consider the evidence that supports the Bible’s claim to be “inspired of God.”

Ron_C's avatar

@Spreader ” Take the time to consider the evidence that supports the Bible’s claim to be “inspired of God.” The more I read the bible, the less I believe. There either horrendous crimes (inspired by “God”) or just plain primitive culture and folk stories. The way I see the bible is that it is a good source for horror and science fiction movie scripts but light on truth and inspiration, unless you’re a terrorist or zealot..

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Let’s see. The argument that the bible is the word of god is based on the testimony of it’s authors that it was written by god by proxy. Gee. For ten points—Which of the 12 fallacies does that fall under?

It’s about faith, not fact. And therefore, you can only be sure by deluding yourself into believing it is fact.

Ron_C's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus I see no value in simply believing something without proof. If a god does exist it would be very easy for it to prove its existance. Something as simple as writing across the sky “I AM HERE” would do the trick for most people. The same stands for UFO’s.

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