Many people are taught to believe that “If the Bible says it, that settles it.” But what do you do when that argument no longer cuts it?
- What are the reasons you or others you know have walked away from Christianity? Do any of those reasons stem from what they or you have been told is true about God or the Bible?
- Describe one question or concern you have about something you’ve read or heard about in the Bible. Do you believe it must be resolved in order to further consider Christianity?
- How do you think early Christians managed to endure significant hardship and effect change in the political landscape of their time without access to a Bible? What do you think inspired or compelled them forward?
- If debates about Christianity no longer centered around “Is the Bible true?” but shifted to “Who is Jesus?” how might the conversation change?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
We began this discussion around the tension that a lot of us feel. In fact, about 25% of the population of the United States has designated themselves, or have stepped into the category that’s now known as the “nones”. And the nones are those who are just not affiliated, not religiously-affiliated, and many, in fact the majority of the nones actually stepped away from Christianity in this country, about 35% of Millennials, 25% of the population. And you may be in that category, or maybe one of your kids, or your grandkids, or you know someone. And it’s a tough place to be, but it’s understandable why people are making the decision just to un-affiliate or disaffiliate with religion, and specifically with organized religion, and in this country, with Christianity. There are some very unsettling things about God. There are some unsettling things about religion. There’s unsettling things about Theism. There are unsettling things about the Bible. There are things that are mysterious and unsettling about Christianity. So, of course, with unanswered questions, and if you continue to get Sunday School answers to your adult questions, if you were asking fact-based questions and you were getting faith-based answers, of course you would step away from that version of religion or that version of Christianity.
But at the same time, the whole idea of putting a check in the atheist box is a little bit overwhelming for most people in the United States as well. The idea of a creator-less universe, as unsettling as religion is, an uncreated universe, an impersonal force that somehow got us here through natural selection, most people aren’t ready to step into that category. So consequently, on one hand, there’s doubt, we have religious doubts. On the other hand, the idea of facing a future where there is really no purpose, and there’s nothing more than what I can mine out of my daily affairs, that leaves most people, not all people, but most people, feeling a little bit of despair.
So more and more people in our culture, and more and more people in our society feel a little bit stuck in the middle. Now, when I say stuck, I don’t mean they wake up every morning worrying about this. And if you’re in this category, it’s not like you don’t have a great life, and things are great, and you have friends and family, and you’re busy, and you’re working. But if you had to sit down and describe yourself, you would say, “You know what? I’m not really religious. I’ve unaffiliated. Maybe I grew up in church, know some Sunday School stuff, but I just had too many questions. It’s not scientific enough. I don’t have faith in faith. At the same time, I hope there’s something out there, because atheism, while it is not all that appealing, Christianity for me, you might say, has lost its appeal.”
And the reason I know this and the reason I wanted to do this series is, I love to listen to stories of de-conversion, read blogs from people who’ve de-converted, specifically from Christianity. and every time I hear one of the stories, and every time I listen into one of those stories, there are a couple of threads that weave their way in and out of just about, not all, but just about all those stories. So we talked about one of those last week. We talked about the “somebody-told-me-so god. We talked about the gods of our childhood, bodyguard God that never let bad things happen to good people, then bad things happen to some good people, you’re like, “I don’t believe in that God.” We talked about several versions of God and we said, “If you quit believing in any of those Gods, good, because you are right. Those Gods don’t exist.”
Then I said, “The other thread that we oftentimes see weave its way through the stories of people who’ve stepped away, specifically from Christianity, is what we call, “A-Bible-told-me-so Jesus.” “A-Bible-tells-me-so Jesus.” “A-Bible-tells-me -so Jesus.” So today, I wanna spend the majority of our time addressing the, “A Bible-tells-me-so Jesus” version of a story, which may be part of your story. But here’s a little warning. You’ve gotta listen carefully, okay?
If you zone out for just a minute, you may be lost, not because you’re not smart, but because we’re covering a lot. this may be the message that gives some of you permission to step back toward the faith you grew up with, back toward Christianity. Not the version of the faith you grew up with, because you outgrew that version, but back toward Christianity as Christianity was meant to be believed and understood. Now, perhaps, and here’s where we start the conversation and this is where we have our first collective aha, not aha moment but, “Oh my gosh” moment, and the conversation really begins like this. Many of you, you’re like me, many of you were brought up to believe this: Jesus loves me, this I know.
Right? It’s a fabulous song. Jesus loves me, this I know. What’s the next line?
For the Bible tells me so.
Right. For the Bible tells me so, and this is where our trouble began.
It really did. This is where our trouble began because, and don’t leave, because the implication is, the implication is, this is important, the implication is: The Bible is the reason we believe. The Bible is the reason we believe. In other words, I can believe Jesus loves me because it’s in the Bible. I grew up in a church where basically the by line, the subtitle for everything was: If the Bible says it that… Anybody?
Settles it. Right here on the front row. Yeah, it’s right. If the Bible says it, that settles it. And so we send kids off to college with a, “If the Bible says it, that settles it” and, oh my goodness, they discover that that didn’t settle it. And then they come home and they say, “Mom, dad, grandma, my grand dad, uncle, aunt, did you know? Did you know?” It’s like, “Uh-uh. Don’t ask those questions. The Bible says it, that settles it. The Bible says it, that settles it.” The problem is this. The problem with that is this: If the Bible is the foundation of our faith, if the Bible is the foundation of our faith, as the Bible goes, so goes our faith. In other words, Christianity cannot survive if the Bible goes away. Christianity cannot survive if somehow every single part of the Bible isn’t absolutely true if the Bible is the foundation of our faith. If the Bible is the foundation of our faith, it is all or nothing.
If anything proves that something in the Bible isn’t actually, absolutely, historically, scientifically-reliable, uh-oh, the whole thing comes tumbling down because this version of Christianity is a house of cards. And all you have to do is pull out one card and the whole thing comes tumbling down.
When we’re told in school and in graduate school that there’s no evidence for a worldwide flood, when people point out apparent contradictions in the Bible, when in school we’re told there’s no way the Earth is 6,000 years old, it’s four and half or 4.55 billion years old and the universe is 14 and a half billion years old. And all of a sudden, all we have to do, the tension is around, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, but science has said, science has said, the Bible says, science has said, the Bible says, and then all of a sudden, there’s this extraordinary, extraordinary tension. If the Bible, if the Bible, if the entire Bible isn’t true, then let’s be honest, the Bible isn’t true. If the whole thing isn’t true, because you grew up and I grew up, if you grew up in a church in the United States, it’s basically, “The Bible says it, that settles it. The Bible says it, that settles it.”
And then we grow up and we become adult and we become aware of things that make us wonder if everything in the Bible is true. And when we conclude or if we come to the conclusion that maybe it’s not all as true as we were told it was true, Christianity comes tumbling down. This puts the Bible in a place that if we can’t defend everything in it, everything in it goes away. And the good news is: That that’s very unfortunate. And the great news is: That is absolutely unnecessary.
Christianity and the Christian faith is far, far, far more endurable than any of that. So here’s my plea today, then we’re gonna jump into some detail. If you de-converted, if you walked away from Christianity, if you step back from the whole thing because of something you read in the Bible, something you were told about the Bible, I want you to listen carefully.
Christianity, okay, Christianity does not exist because of the Bible anymore than you exist because of your birth certificate. Christianity does not exist because of the Bible anymore than you exist because of your birth certificate.
Your birth certificate documents, documented something that happened. And the New Testament, we’re not talking about the whole Bible, the New Testament documents document something that happens. Christianity does not exist because of the Bible, it is the other way around. And here is why I say that, but it requires a history lesson.
And no history lesson is complete without a timeline. So here’s the timeline. You’re ready? Everybody thinking? Everybody with me?
At around 30 AD, Jesus was crucified, three days later, he rose from the dead, and about two and a half or two months later, the church was launched. In 30 AD, several dozen Jewish people went into the streets of Jerusalem, and they said, you crucified him, God raised him, we’ve seen him, say you’re sorry.
You crucified him right here in this city, God has raised him from the dead, we’ve seen him. Now you need to say you’re sorry and hundreds and hundreds, and then thousands of people in the city of Jerusalem embraced a risen Savior, not 50 years later, just a few weeks after the actual resurrection, and when that happened, the church was born. The next important date as we move through this is 70 AD. In 70 AD, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Legions. And in 66 AD, four years before, Vespasian came down from Galilee and began to roll up city and town and village after city, town and village, coming down, moving down toward Jerusalem to squelch, and to put to end, once and for all, the Jewish revolt and the Jewish rebellion against Rome. When he approached the city of Jerusalem, basically he had funneled all the people who were in rebellion, all the different factions, all the different gangs, all the different people who were trying to take over and run the country, he funneled them all into the city of Jerusalem, then he went to Rome, eventually became an emperor, left his son Titus to finish it up.
Titus builds a ditch and an earth wall all the way around the city, and day after day after day, crucifies hundreds and hundreds and eventually thousands of Jews outside the city as a threat. Eventually, the walls are breached, actually on August the 6th, the year 70, the walls were breached, the Roman soldiers went into the city of Jerusalem, they burn down the temple, they enslaved tens of thousands, some say hundreds of thousands, so many slaves drove the price down in the slave trade market from there all the way to the city of Rome. Jews were eventually expelled from the city. No Jews allowed in the city of Jerusalem, and thousands, and thousands, and thousands of Jewish people died. 70 AD. Now the reason this is an important date for us is none of what I just described, none of what I just described is described or referenced in any of the New Testament documents that eventually became our New Testament. So one of the mysteries of history is, why is there no reference to an event? It wasn’t a day, this was really five years, but four intense years where it was dangerous to live in Galilee, dangerous to live in the city of Jerusalem, dangerous to live in Judea. The Jewish people were constantly under threat. It was a horrible, horrible, horrible time.
And there is no reference to any of that. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, First, Second Corinthians Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, there’s no reference, and the only logical probable explanation is it hadn’t happened yet, it hadn’t happened yet. Which means that all the New Testament documents, all the New Testament manuscripts that were written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and John, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter, all of these documents were probably written before the destruction of the temple, which means they were all written between about 49 and 69, but let’s be open-minded because a lot of scholars think they were written later. So we’re gonna extend our little yellow line out to about 86 AD. This is when the gospels were written, and the epistles of Paul. Now, the reason that important is, these documents were written during the time when the eyewitnesses to what Jesus claimed to have done were still alive. Now what you were taught, and what some of us were taught in school, and the word on the street is no, no, no, no, no, all these things were written way after 90 AD, maybe a 100, but there is absolutely no evidence for that. None. The reason some scholars want to push the writing of the New Testament documents way out here, is because of miracles, and specifically, because of the resurrection of Jesus. And so as the story goes like this. Well, you know there was all these…
Everybody wanted to believe he was alive, and everybody saying that maybe they’ve seen him and time went by, and time went by, and time went by, and through oral tradition, these stories got bigger and bigger and bigger and eventually somebody wrote them down, because it takes about 70 years for legend to start to sound like history. The problem is, nobody references a point in time when if you are Jewish and you’re living in the vicinity of Jerusalem, Judea, and you’re traveling to Galilee, how in the world could you not at least reference what was going on while you’re writing and documenting the life of Jesus? It’s virtually impossible to imagine. So, all of the evidence, or most of the evidence, really, all the real evidence, points to the fact that these documents were written between about 50, 52, 49, and 70, or let’s string it out to 86. Now, here’s the part that you don’t care about, but this is so important, especially if you walked away from Christianity because of something in the Bible.
The New Testament writers, especially Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they did not write as if this was story. the gospel writers wrote as if they were writing history. And I wanna just give you one example of this. Okay? This is really, really important.
Listen to what he does. Look how far he goes. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the High Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” So when did this happen?
Now, this is huge, okay? Look. This is Luke’s way… Now, remember, we’re not talking about the Bible. This is a person who wrote a document that we call the Gospel of Luke. This is Luke’s way of saying, “Fact check me, I dare you”. This isn’t some time ago, or a long time ago, or back when the Romans ruled the earth, or in a galaxy far, far away, or once upon a time, or back in the day. He says, “No, no, no, the story I’m about to tell you is narrative, it’s history. This really happened, and I wanna pin it down to a very, very, very specific time in history because this actually happened. Check my facts.” Now, if you’re making something up that you want people to believe, you would never, ever do this. This is way too risky.
It’s much too easy to show that you’re lying or exaggerating.. So here’s what happened. These documents, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Paul’s epistles, all these documents are so valuable to the first century church that what did they do? They begin to meticulously copy these documents. Now, here’s something you don’t know, but it’s just one of those unexplainable mysteries of history. In the first century, there is an explosion of documents and documentation about the life of Jesus and copies of the letters of Paul and Peter and James.
There is nothing to match this in any ancient history. In fact, there’s nothing to match this until the creation of the printing press. The idea that so many people would write so many things and meticulously copy the core essential teachings of the church for it to circulate the way it did, there’s nothing like it. There’s not even anything close. These documents were distributed to Rome from Jerusalem, to Constantinople, to Egypt, all around the Mediterranean rim. In fact, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of these documents. Now, when you go to school, or when people say, “Ah, the New Testament or the Bible, can’t believe the Bible, there were lots of errors and they just copy, copy, copied.” Look up here. That is so ignorant. That’s just somebody who doesn’t wanna take the time to look at the facts. That’s somebody who’s lazy.
And here’s the thing that I don’t want you to miss, they did not make copies of the gospels because they believed they were inspired, they made copies of the gospels because they believed they were true.
So, time marches on, then we go back to our timeline. These documents are circulated really all over the known world. Then in 312, Constantine becomes the undisputed emperor of the Roman Empire.
But here’s again another mystery of history, during this time between the resurrection of Jesus, and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and the time that Constantine became the emperor of Rome, during these years, Christianity grew, and grew and grew and gained an influence. And these were the persecution years. These were the “throw them to the lions” years, right when Nero was the emperor. These were the years throughout here where there were localized persecutions constantly of Christianity, and yet it grew, and it grew, and it grew, and it grew, and it spread, and it’s extraordinary and it is unexplainable.
Eventually, Constantine lifts the restriction on worship in the Roman Empire. Eventually, he embraces Christianity. But here’s what most historians will tell you. Constantine, and this is fabulous, this is unbelievable, Constantine did not embrace Christianity because he was all that interested in becoming a Christian personally. Constantine embraced Christianity to unify the empire. Do you know what the significance of that is? That is staggering, that Constantine’s like, “I gotta find something that most people in the empire have in common, and it’s not the Roman gods anymore.” That was the significant spread of Christianity in the most difficult years. That’s why I’m convinced, this is just my opinion, that Christianity made its greatest strides during the 282 years before the Bible even existed, that the Christian faith grew from 30 to the time of Constantine not on the back of “the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible teaches.”
In fact, the Jewish scriptures were not combined with those New Testament documents, look at this, they weren’t combined with the New Testament documents until 350 AD. The first record, or the first existent copy that we have of the Old Testament, it wasn’t called that until about 130 AD, the Old Testament being combined with the Greek New Testament, the first reference, or the first one we have, or the oldest one we have is 350 years after the birth of Christ. And here’s why: Because it was illegal. Not only that, it was expensive. Nobody even had access to the Jewish scriptures unless you went to a synagogue. It took Constantine becoming the emperor and having the wealth and the influence to allow the scribes and the scholars to gather these documents, put them together, they were still arguing about which of the first century Christian writings should become part of what would eventually be called the New Testament. But the Bible as we know it, the oldest copy we have is 350 years after Jesus. Why? Because, during this time, they’re being written, then they’re being copied and distributed, and over time they were being gathered. And the first time that the word “Bible,” or “The Bible” was put on as a label on this collection of Old Testament Jewish scriptures and New Testament writings was about 33 years later, in 388 AD.
Now, here’s my point, and this is a show-stopper, this is a “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know this,” this is “Oh, I need to pay attention to this.” You ready for this? Before the Old Testament, which it wasn’t called the Old Testament when this happened, and before the New Testament, the term “New Testament” didn’t show up till about 200 or 220 AD. Before the Old Testament/New Testament were combined and titled “The Bible”, Christianity had already replaced the pantheon of Roman, Barbarian, and most Egyptian gods, and was the state religion for the Roman Empire, before anyone ever held one in their hand. In fact, it would really be almost to the invention of the printing press before anyone ever held one in their hand. The first, second, and third century Christians… Look at this, the first, second, and third century Christians who faced tremendous hardship believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so.
First, second, and third century Christians believed, they were absolutely convinced, Jesus loved them, but this was before there was a Bible to tell them so. Peter, James, John, Luke, all of these New Testament writers, they did not choose to follow Jesus and believe in Jesus because of an infallible Old Testament or a non-contradicting New Testament.
In fact, just to frame this up a little bit different, imagine this scenario: Somebody from the future comes back to have a conversation with Peter and says, “Peter, woah, woah, Peter, before you get all geeked out about this Jesus thing, you need to understand, do you know there is no archeological evidence for a worldwide flood? Did you know that people are skeptical of the whole idea of the Hebrew people migrating from Egypt to the Promised Land? Did you know the earth has to be more than 6,000… Peter, before you start telling everybody about Jesus, you need to get your facts straight.” And Peter would look at somebody like that and say, “I’m sorry, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about, but see, I watched my friend die. And then some ladies came knocking on the door and said, ‘The tomb’s empty! The tomb’s empty!’ And I went running to the tomb and I looked in, and I thought… You know what I thought? I thought somebody stole the body. And then later we had breakfast on the beach with my risen friend.
“My faith doesn’t hang by the thread of verifying everything in the Old Testament. I’m a Jewish man,” he would say, I love the Jewish scriptures, but I’m not a follower of Jesus because of the Jewish scriptures. I’m a follower of Jesus because he rose from the dead.” For the first 300, for the first 300 years, the debate centered on an event, not a book. The question for the first 300 years was not: Is the Bible true? Is the Bible true? Is the Bible true? The question was: Did Jesus rise from the dead? And Matthew said, “Oh yes, he did.” And Mark said, “Oh yes, he did.” And Luke said, “Oh yes, he did.” And John said “Oh yes, he did.” And Peter said, “Oh yes, he did.” And James, the brother of Jesus, said, “Oh yes, he did.” And then a fire-breathing Pharisee named Paul, who was gonna put the church out of business, becomes a raving fan and dedicates his life to taking the gospel of Jesus to gentile people all over the Roman world.
Here’s the thing, there’s no explanation for the success of the church if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead. The success of the church isn’t “the Bible tells me so.” There was no Bible to tell them so. The success of the church was… All was built around, totally built around eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.
Now, before I wrap up, I just want to talk to you one more time, personally. Look. If you grew up in a “Bible says it, that settles it” church, I understand that. I did too. I get that. The bad thing is we shifted our focus, we shifted the spotlight, we shifted our apologetic to defending the Bible. And unfortunately for you, when you went off to college, or when you went into adulthood, you ran into information that made the Bible, from your perspective, indefensible, and it was a house of cards, and all somebody had to do was show you a part of it was questionable and the whole thing came tumbling down, and most of you were glad it did ’cause you didn’t really wanna be a Christian anyway and, yeah, now you had an intellectual reason to walk away from the faith that was hampering you.
All I wanna say is this: That version of Christianity is a modern version of Christianity. It is not the original version, because the original version was defensible, it was persecutable, it was fearless, it was compassionate, it was compelling and it was endurable.
Jesus loves you, this you know, for Luke thoroughly investigated the events and interviewed eyewitnesses to make sure it was so. And Jesus loves you, this you know, because the Apostle Paul, who hated Christians, risked his life to tell you so. Jesus loves you, this you know, because Jesus’ original followers were all martyred because they believed it was so. And Jesus loves you, this you know, because the early church defied an empire and the temple because they were convinced it was so. The reason you should reconsider Christianity, the reason there is a way back to the faith of your childhood, the grown-up version, the reason you don’t have to stay away forever because of your unanswered questions, the reason has very little to do with a book. It has everything to do with a person, it has everything to do with the question: Who is Jesus? And Jesus answered that question for us and punctuated his answer by rising from the dead. He predicted his own death and his own resurrection. And fortunately for us, those who were closest to the events, those who were eye-witnesses of the events documented it. But they did not, this is important, they did not document what they believed, they documented what they saw. So if you stepped away because the Bible didn’t add up, I wanna challenge you to reconsider, The issue really isn’t the Bible. The issue really is, and always has been, Jesus.
Christianity didn’t disrupt an empire because of a true Bible. Christianity disrupted an empire because of a resurrected savior, a savior who loves you, this I know. He died for your personal sin to prove that it was so.