The Bible

Writing -- Home

This page is intended to help people past objections to the Bible, and to give an idea of how Christians see it.


     What exactly is the Bible?

1) The Bible was just made up to control the masses
2) The Bible has been changed and added to over time
3) The Bible is full of contradictions
4) Different versions of the Bible have conflicting translations
5) The Bible is obscure and people disagree on its meaning
6) The Bible is a product of its original cultures and is now irrelevant
7) The Bible is just a collection of myths
8) The Bible has been disproved by science
9) The Bible is one path to God among many
10) The Bible is about being good so you go to heaven
Revelation not speculation
God speaking through men
The real thing?
     The final proof

What exactly is the Bible?

The Bible is a collection of books and letters, written by around forty different people over 1500 years. It is a record of people’s interactions and experiences with God.

The Old Testament was written before the time of Jesus. It consists of:

The New Testament was written after Jesus. It contains:


There are some popular ideas about the Bible that don’t stand up to close inspection.

1) “The Bible was just made up to control the masses”

Actually the Bible has a lot to say about freedom. For example:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
(Paul in Galatians 5:1)

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”
(a prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 61:1)

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
(Jesus in John 8:36)

Horace Greeley (founder of the New York Tribune) wrote:

“It is impossible to mentally or socially enslave a Bible reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.”

The confusion probably lies in the misuse of Scripture to try and control people. This is known as spiritual abuse, and involves things like taking verses out of context, misunderstanding the place of the Old Testament Law and using guilt to manipulate people (while in reality Jesus took away our guilt and shame).

The Bible itself is against this kind of abuse. For example, people have a tendency to create hierarchies where some people are higher than others. But the New Testament puts all Christians on the same level, and says that taking the lowest place is what makes a person “great”:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”
(Matthew 23:8-9)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
(Galatians 3:28)

“The greatest among you will be your servant.”
(Matthew 23:11)

The potential for misuse is not a fault in the Bible; almost anything can be misused. Neither is it true that the Bible is unclear in these areas; the verses above are perfectly clear. But people do not always actually read the Bible. Instead they apply their own prejudices to it and select and distort individual verses for their own purposes. A straighforward reading of the Bible results in freedom and equality, not control and manipulation.

2) “The Bible has been changed and added to over time”

One view of the Bible is that people have altered it over time for their own purposes.

Whether the content is trustworthy is a separate issue, but the fact that we really do have a reliable version of the Old and New Testament is beyond dispute.

Norman Geisler writes in his article Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?:

“The number of NT manuscripts is overwhelming (almost 5,700 Greek manuscripts) compared with the typical book from antiquity (about 7 to 10 manuscripts; Homer’s Iliad has the most at 643 manuscripts). The NT is simply the best textually supported book from the ancient world.”
There are a similarly large number of manuscripts for the Old Testament.

Among those thousands of New Testament documents, there are a lot of minor variations in wording that do not change the actual meaning, such as saying “the Lord” instead of “Jesus.” There are a few that do change the meaning, which are written as footnotes in most Bibles. However none of these make a difference to standard Christian beliefs.

John W. Lea writes in The Greatest Book in the World:

“It seems strange that the text of Shakespeare which has been in existence less than 208 years should be far more uncertain and corrupt than that of the N.T., now over 18 centuries old, during nearly fifteen of which it existed only in manuscript ... with perhaps a dozen or twenty exceptions, the text of every verse in the N.T., may be said to be so far settled by general consent of scholars, that any dispute to its readings must relate rather to interpretation of the words than to any doubts respecting the words themselves.

But in every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays there are probably a 100 headings still in dispute, a portion of which materially affect the meaning of the passages in which they occur.”

As for the Old Testament, consider that the Jews believed they had been entrusted with very words of God. They were so devoted to copying it accurately that they created specialist roles to do it. Bernard Ramm writes:
“Jews preserved it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved. With their massora they kept tabs on every letter, syllable, word and paragraph. They had special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect fidelity – scribes, lawyers, massorettes.”
The faithfulness of this copying was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated around 100 BC, which closely match texts from the tenth century AD.

See the Wikipedia article on textual criticism for more about the way ancient documents are handled. The following articles go more deeply into this topic:

3) “The Bible is full of contradictions”

Some people dismiss the Bible by claiming that it is full of contradictory passages.

This is difficult to respond to briefly, because each individual (apparent) contradiction needs to be addressed. But as a general observation, there are a few different issues that could be viewed as contradictions:

Conflicting accounts of the same event

There are verses in different books of the Bible that describe the same event with different details, such as Jesus meeting either one or two men at a certain location. These are usually not difficult to resolve; in this case Jesus probably met two men, but only one of them was mentioned in one of the gospels.

Conflicting theological statements

In 1 Samuel 15:29 it says that God does not change his mind, but in some places it says that God regrets things (such as creating humankind in Genesis 6:6). This isn’t a contradiction; it’s just the way a timeless God reveals himself in our timeline.


The New Testament says that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are all God, while maintaining that there is still only one God (see this page for verses). Christians understand this as a paradox rather than a contradiction. There has been a huge amount written about the Trinity, so I’ll just say that if God reveals himself to be a certain way, that must be the best way for us to understand him.

Moral issues

Some verses seem to undermine the claim that “God is love,” such Exodus 21:23-24 “If there is a serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” This may seem cruel, but is actually intended to put a limit on retaliation.

A more difficult example is God’s command to kill the previous inhabitants of Canaan in Deuteronomy 7:1-2. The background to this is that the Canaanites performed practices such as child sacrifice (Exodus 12:31), and God waited until their evil had reached a high point before passing judgement on them (Genesis 15:16).

Contradictory commands

In Matthew 5:38 Jesus quotes the above “eye for an eye” command then says not to obey it. But that command was part of the Old Covenant which was superceded by the New one (see Hebrews 8:7-13).

In my reading of the Bible through the years, issues like the ones above have come up sometimes, but not in a way that makes the Bible seem unreliable. Instead they often reveal a Biblical tension that ultimately helps me understand and appreciate a topic in the Bible more deeply.

4) “Different versions of the Bible have conflicting translations”

There are at least 50 different versions of the Bible in English, divided into two main types: translations, where the aim is to stay as close to the original as possible (“word for word”), and paraphrases, which aim to express the original ideas in a more understandle way (“thought for thought”). These two approaches are also called dynamic and formal equivalence.

For example, the New International Version translates 1 Corinthians 1:21 as:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
The Good News Bible paraphrases this as:

“For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called ‘foolish’ message we preach, God decided to save those who believe.”
The advantage of a paraphrase is that it can be more readable, but the disadvantage is that it is more biased towards the author’s understanding.

In practice there is little conflict between major translations of the Bible. Here are some chapters in multiple versions; decide for yourself whether there is a real difference in the meaning:

5) “The Bible is obscure and people disagree on its meaning”

Some verses in the Bible contain language whose translation is uncertain. The book of Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible, and contains many Hebrew words not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. One example is Job 6:6, which could refer to “egg whites” or “mallow sap” – but no major doctrines hang on this verse!

There are other passages whose translation is clear, but are still difficult to understand. 1 Peter 3:19 states that when Jesus died, “he went and preached to the spirits in prison,” which raises unanswered questions.

But most verses are straightforward:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
(Acts 16:31)

“Whoever hears my words and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
(John 5:24).

“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
(Titus 3:4-5)

To understand these verses, the reader needs to grasp the Biblical definitions of terms such as “believe” and “saved.” But there is no particular controversy about the meaning of these words. It can be helpful to look into the original languages, but simply reading the Bible is usually enough to discover how different words are used.

Daniel Webster (an American stateman) wrote:

“I believe that the Bible is to be understood and received in the plain and obvious meaning of its passages; for I cannot persuade myself that a book intended for the instruction and conversion of the whole world should cover its true meaning in any such mystery and doubt that none but critics and philosophers can discover it.”
There is a place for deeper study of the Scriptures. Bible Colleges teach hermeneutics, the process of interpreting the Bible, and exegesis, finding the original intended meaning of a verse or passage (here is a brief introduction to both of these).

But the Bible is accessible to untrained, ordinary Christians, because they have the Holy Spirit as their teacher and guide. Jesus promised:

“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things”
(John 14:26)
Translator Ilias Chatzitheodorou writes:
“Anyone who knows God has had the experience of reading a Bible passage a hundred times and then suddenly seeing what it means. As we grow in spiritual understanding, the Bible continually reveals its deeper meanings. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth.

Who then would claim to understand every word of the Bible? Hidden gems may well lie beneath the surface of its every sentence.”

There are many hidden treasures waiting to be discovered as we read the Bible. But we don’t have to leave it to the experts. God wants us to know him, and he will certainly reveal himself as we read his “love letter” to humanity.

6) “The Bible is a product of its original cultures and is now irrelevant”

The Bible contains many cultural references, but its principles are timeless.

For example, Ken Blue (my favourite speaker) had decided to preach through all of the book of Matthew. When he reached chapter 23 he initially thought, “Ah, the old conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees,” and was tempted to skip it.

But then: “I realized that the authoritarian, narcissistic ecclesiatical abusers of our day are the modern equivalent of the Pharisees whom Jesus scolded.” In fact he found it so practical for helping people spot, avoid and get healed from spiritual abuse that he wrote a whole book based on Matthew 23, going through each verse and its implications (talks here).

The Bible contains lots of references to the society it was written in. However, most of the Bible doesn’t need any special understanding of the culture:

“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”
(Luke 12:24)

“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case”
(Proverbs 22:22-23)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Sometimes it is helpful to know the cultural background to a passage though. For example, in Luke 19 Jesus goes to the home of a tax collector and has a meal with him. Tax collectors in Jesus’ time extorted money from their own people and were considered traitors, and eating with someone had a special significance for the Jews. By going to the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus was doing something scandalous and showing that he cared more about showing love to an outcast than his own reputation.

The fact that the Bible was written in a different language and cultural context has an interesting side effect. Although there are plenty of straighforward passages in the Bible, sometimes we need to dig a little more to get hold of the meaning and implications. The process of discovering what the Bible is actually saying can have a powerful effect:

“Bible study has torn apart my life and remade it. That is to say that God, through his word, has done so. In the darkest periods of my life when everything seemed hopeless, I would struggle in the grey dawns of many faraway countries to grasp the basic truths of Scripture passages. I looked for no immediate answers to my problems. Only did I sense intuitively that I was drinking drafts from a fountain that gave life to my soul.

Slowly as I grappled with textual and theological problems, a strength grew deep within me. Foundations cemented themselves to an other-wordly rock beyond the reach of time and space, and I became strong and more alive.

If I could write poetry about it I would. If I could sing through paper, I would flood your soul with the glorious melodies that express what I have found. I cannot exaggerate for there are no expressions majestic enough to tell you of the glory I have seen or the wonder of finding that I, a neurotic, unstable middle-aged man have my feet firmly planted in eternity and breathe the air of heaven. And all this has come to me through a careful study of Scripture.”

(John White, from his book The Fight)

I agree with him!

7) “The Bible is just a collection of myths”

If all you knew about the Bible was that it contained stories about creation, miracles, heroes and the afterlife, it might be easy to classify as mythological. But it does not fit very well into that category.

Among other things, C. S. Lewis was an expert on mythology. He wrote:

“As a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They are not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they are clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us ... and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so.”
Albert Einstein was not a Christian, but when he was asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, he replied:
“Unquestionably! No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
The above quotes are about the New Testament. What about the Old Testament?

If you can accept that we have the accurate words of Jesus, his attitude towards the Old Testament was that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He spoke about events in the Old Testament as if they were literally true:

“People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”
(Luke 17:26-27)

“Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish.”
(Matthew 12:40)

Jesus does not see the story of Jonah as allegorical, but talks about him as a real person:
“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”
(Luke 11:32)

Another aspect to consider is that the events of the Bible are set in a historical context, not in a mythological world. David was a real Hebrew king, Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea at the time of Jesus and many locations and events in the Bible have been verified by archaeological findings.

For examples of archaeology related to the Bible, see this site and these / two articles.

8) “The Bible has been disproved by science”

Many scientists are atheists, but it is not necessary for there to be a conflict between science and the Bible. Poet and philospher Samuel Taylor Coleridge observed:

“For more than a thousand years the Bible, collectively taken, has gone hand in hand with civilization, science, law – in short, with the moral and intellectual cultivation of the species, always supporting and often leading the way.”
Isaac Newton, one of the fathers of modern science, stated:
“There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history. All my discoveries have been made in answer to prayer.”
However, there are several areas where the Bible may seem to be at odds with science.


A major issue some scientists have with the Bible is the idea of miraculous events. One response is that miracles “just don’t happen” – people don’t just rise from the dead or get healed instantly of disease. But saying this is missing the point. By definition miracles are things that do not (and cannot) normally happen; they are the result of God acting in the world in a supernatural way.

Another argument against miracles is that the universe is “clockwork” and deterministic (under classical mechanics anyway). Observation has shown that the universe operates in predictable ways, leading to the laws of physics and so on. Miracles violate these laws, therefore they are impossible. But there is an error in this argument: observing many non-instances of something does not prove that there are no instances of it. It would be like saying that there are no presidential faces carved into Mount Rushmore, because no such faces are found on thousands of other mountains, and the faces could not form naturally. This argument does not allow for outside agency; human beings in the case of Mount Rushmore, or God in the case of miracles.

A related argument is that “God is a watchmaker” – he wound up the universe and left it to run by itself, and would never intervene. But that is not a logical argument, just an assumption about God’s nature.

Another response is that belief in miracles opens the door to all kinds of superstition. But the Bible doesn’t advocate belief in “anything and everything”; in fact it is against things like astrology. What it does claim is that God interacts with his creation, but not at random – it is most often in the context of his people praying or being in need.

For more on this topic, see the article Arguments against miracles.

For some contemporary miracles and thoughts on healing prayer, see the book Authority to Heal.


The Bible’s account of creation conflicts with the idea of evolution – in particular the idea of the first humans being created “complete.” Some treat Genesis 1 allegorically, but Adam and Eve are spoken of as real people in the rest of the Bible; for example, the genealogy in Luke 3 traces Joseph’s ancestry back to Adam.

Adam and Eve being actual people is the basis of some important Christian beliefs. One is “the fall” in Genesis 3, when humanity (along with creation) became broken. This is a central idea in Christianity: God did not originally create the world to have sin and suffering – we are not seeing the original design. Jesus died to undo this and restore us again. Ultimately all of creation will be restored too.

One option is to assert that evolution happened but it was directed by God. This has many implications that I think make it untenable for Christians. The theory of evolution is often assumed to be proven true, but it has many serious issues.

Alternatively, the seven days of creation may be taken as literal 24 hour days. This requires an explanation for fossils (such as the flood) and probably justification for a young earth, though not necessarily a young universe.

Finally, the seven days of creation could be seen as long periods of time rather than 24 hour days, resulting in an old earth. One implication is that death affected creation before the fall, and the fall only affected humans. This does not directly contradict the Bible but would surprise me, since death, predation and decay do not sound like they belong in the perfect world God created.

The Bible does not give a direct answer to the age of the earth or the universe. The real issue is whether God created them:

“No one knows for certain, of course, when the beginning was. But the Old Testament is far more interested in the fact of creation than the time of creation”
(Ronald Youngblood)

9) “The Bible is one path to God among many”

[ TO DO ]

10) “The Bible is about being good so you go to heaven”

[ TO DO ]


Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by God. In this context “inspired” means more than just “influenced” – it means being God’s actual words, coming through people.

This raises a few issues:

Revelation not speculation

[ TO DO ]

God speaking through men

[ TO DO ]

The real thing?

[ TO DO ]

The final proof

Bible scholar Wayne Grudem makes the following point:

“It is helpful for us to learn
that Bible is historically accurate,
that it is internally consistent,
that it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled hundreds of years later,
that it has influenced the course of human history more than any other book,
that it has continued changing the lives of millions of individuals throughout history,
that through it people come to find salvation,
that it has a majestic beauty and a profound depth of teaching unmatched by any other book, and
that it claims hundreds of times over to be God's very words.

All of these arguments and others are useful to us and remove obstacles that might otherwise come in the way of our believing Scripture. But all of these arguments taken individually or together cannot finally be convincing.”

The real proof that the Bible is genuine is what happens when you read it for yourself and God opens your heart and mind to its treasures. This is sometimes referred to as the “illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

It was about three months between the time my atheism was challenged and the day I became a Christian. During that time I read a book called Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, which exposed me to the Bible for the first time in my life. It seemed a little obscure and disconnected, though some verses did impact me I’m sure.

From the first day I became a Christian (because I could no longer resist the tug of his love on my heart), the Bible came alive to me. It was as if I was reading a completely different book! The Holy Spirit inside me became my personal teacher (as in John 14:26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things”).

I found the Bible to be life giving, encouraging, full of wisdom, strengthening, comforting and freeing. It pointed me to a living person, Jesus, and strengthened my relationship with him. Reading it each day (Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes) and doing Bible study gave me a new foundation, and without any exaggeration at all, changed my life.

In The Fight John White writes:

“Pat, a six-foot, genial athlete, was another guy who had me worried. Friendly, helpful, but clueless. On impulse I loaned him a book about daily Bible study and never saw him again for six months. When we ran across each other later I was astounded. Same face. Same build. Different man.

I had forgotten about the book but Pat hadn’t. ‘It changed my life,’ he told me seriously, ‘at least daily, prayerful Bible study did.’ It was not the sort of language he would have used six months before ... I need not have been surprised. Scripture claims to have a profound effect on us. ‘Like newborn babes,’ writes Peter, ‘desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.’ (1 Pet. 2:2)”

Other people throughout history have been similarly impacted by the Bible:

“I am busily engaged in the study of the Bible. I believe it is God's Word because it finds me where I am.”
– Abraham Lincoln

“The Bible is a book in comparison with which all others in my eyes are of minor importance, and which in all my perplexities and distresses has never failed to give me light and strength.”
– Robert E. Lee

“I am sorry for men who do not read the Bible every day. I wonder why they deprive themselves of the strength and pleasure.”
– Woodrow Wilson

“The Bible redirects my will, cleanses my emotions, enlightens my mind, and quickens my total being.”
–E. Stanley Jones

“I read novels but I also read the Bible. And study it, you know? And the more I learn, the more excited I get.”
– Johnny Cash

“After more than sixty years of almost daily reading of the Bible, I never fail to find it always new and marvellously in tune with the changing needs of every day.”
– Cecil B. DeMille

“I believe that the existence of the Bible is the greatest benefit to the human race. Any attempt to belittle it, I believe, is a crime against humanity.”
– Immanuel Kant

May you experience the life giving power of the Bible too, as it leads you to its ultimate author.

Questions or comments to:

Writing -- Home