Fact-checking the Bible (Part 1)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV 
  • 2 Corinthians 13:1 ESV 
  • John 8:17-18 ESV 

How do we go about interpreting the Bible? We can talk about literal versus symbolic interpretation. But let’s look at another way of interpreting the Bible. What if you use the Bible to interpret itself? 

When you look at the Bible, everything about love is not just in 1 Corinthians 13. Yes, there is a lot there, but if you rip out those pages of the Bible, everything about love is not lost. Not only that, love is not just in the new testament, it is also in the old testament. This is important, you can look through the Bible and see different areas about the same area. So if you lose something you can find it in other ways. like the core message of the Christian Gospel, it is not just in the new testament.

When you look at Abraham he takes his son up the mountain. There he is instructed to sacrifice him as a sin offering. But when you sit back, this parallels the central ideas of the Christain Gospels. A father who takes his son and sacrifices him as a sin offering. On a surface level, you can pass it over. But the details foreshadow this concept. The question is, are there other places that talk about the same topic? You can find other examples of this model but often they are there and you wouldn’t notice it. 

Now, what about other things? It isn’t a shocking idea that one can find similar ideas through the Bible, you probably heard your pastor do this every Sunday. But what happens when you cross-reference other things? Often this is when people start debates. Does the Bible contradict itself? In general, we have this idea that the Bible is the word of God and it is perfect, so ideally there shouldn’t be any contradictions right? But let’s ask this question, can we find things wrong with the Bible? Of course, when getting into this there is an issue to address. We don’t know everything. Humans are limited so there is an area of flaws that comes into play.

But still, this is an important question to ask now. Are there contradictions in the Bible? You would think this is straightforward either yes or no, but that is not the full store. There is another layer to it. Are we interpreting the Bible right or wrong? When you consider this there are four possibilities. One trick is to take this and layout these options and explore the possibilities that come out of this:

The Bible is rightThe Bible is wrong
We are right12
We are wrong34

The easy areas are 1 and 2; if we can reach the Bible and understand it clearly there is a problem with the Bible. If not they both are good and that’s what we intuitively think. But 3 and 4 are the issue. If you are interpreting things wrong, how do you know if it is truly right or wrong? Of course, we can not always know when we are wrong at hand so these two situations seem identical and probably can’t be distinguished. But let’s explore this a bit. We assume the Bible is always right, otherwise, why do we believe in the Bible? So that means there is a contradiction, then the only way that is true is if we are interpreting things wrong.  This begins an important concept that stems out of Acts 17:10-11:

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. –

Acts 17:10-11 ESV

The fact that the people in Berea are questioning Paul, the go-to guy for theological issues, is important. We should be ready to hear different points of view but we should always make sure that what we are hearing is true. What happens if what you learn contradicts the Bible? Of course, we should feel safe to say that God knows what he is doing so we need to go back and exam things to make sure we understand what it is really saying. 

But how do we know if something is right or wrong? We should cross-reference things to make sure that everything matches and is consistent. It turns out this is not just a useful idea, but it is also a Biblical one:

15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV

1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

2 Corinthians 13:1 ESV

17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.

John 8:17 ESV

In a legal system, you would hope that you can defend yourself with witnesses. In a just system, if someone is guilty or innocent, there should be facts and a way to tell if it is true or false. Why don’t we apply this idea to scripture? Why not look at scripture and see if we can find other areas of scripture that also agree with the claims being made. But not just one place but multiple places.

But we should dig a bit deeper, why 3 witnesses? Clearly only having one claim seems off and we wouldn’t one to be sent to jail because one person hates us. But why isn’t two enough?

When you think about only having one thing, that is it that is all you have. In a way having one thing is like having a definition, you only argue about what it is but once it is defined, that definition can not change. It’s like calling something a chair; what is a chair? In its basic form, a chair is something that you sit on right? Well not quite because when we think about a chair we generally think about something that has legs and a backrest. Saying a chair is something you sit on is too general to the point that just about anything can be a chair. A stool, a couch, a box, and so on. We wouldn’t necessarily call all of these chairs, which is why they have different names, but once we define what a chair is, we use that definition to distinguish what is and is not a chair.

What about two things? Well, this gets strange because when you have 2 things, they can either be the same or different. But how would you know? This can be a bit abstract to explain without concrete examples (which will come another time). But looking at these situations can be more clear by moving on and coming back to it.

When you have three things you can distinguish between the issue of two. For instance, let’s say you had a circle and a square and these can either be blue or red. But you can’t directly see the color. Instead, you need a special rod that can show you the color. The circle and square could be the same color or not but you can’t directly get at it. Instead, you need this third party to help distinguish the truth. This seems abstract but there are some important situations in the Bible where this comes up.

Sometimes when going through the gospels, you will notice stories that are similar, but yet they have slightly different details. Some will try to claim because the gospels have different details they aren’t reliable and so on. But this is not necessarily the case. Some of the details might be similar but yet when you examine them they clearly show that these situations or events are not the same. On the other hand, these details could be the same but they need the authors to point out different details that they remember that the others don’t. 

Of course, this is a nice thought experiment but we will need to go into the scriptures to see more of how we can apply this.

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