In this episode of TGC Q&A, Josh Chatraw and Mark Allen discuss the question, “How do I respond to someone who rejects Scripture as a trustworthy source?” They address:
- The context of the question (:29)
- Being intimidated by the question (1:27)
- Learning to triage the conversation and find the central issue (2:14)
- Leaning on the Gospels as truth (3:32)
- Dispelling ideas that biblical stories are myths (4:34)
- The Gospels are too counterintuitive to be a hoax (8:36)
Explore more from TGC on this topic:
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Heather Calvillo:: Welcome back to TGC Q&A, a podcast from the Gospel Coalition where each week you’ll hear conversations between members of our council and friends who provide their unique perspective on your most pressing spiritual questions. On today’s episode, Josh Chatraw and Mark Allen discuss the question, how do I respond to someone who would rejects scripture as a trustworthy source? Let’s listen in.
Mark Allen: Josh, how do you think we should respond to someone who rejects that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy?
Josh Chatraw: Of course, in some sense, the answer to that is it depends. It depends on the context. But the first thing in general to say is, you’ve got to ask more questions. And particularly the first question that comes to mind is, “Well, what parts?” This is a big book. And so, “What parts do you have problems with?” Or maybe a good way to phrase this is, “What’s your biggest problem? Give me one example.” Because if you just say, “Well, which parts,” they might pull out a list. But if you say, “What’s the thing that bothers you the most?” Then you can begin to have a conversation. But if you allow them to set the terms to say, “Well, just generally everything,” there’s nothing really to talk about at that point. You actually have to get more specific.
Mark Allen: Yeah. Well, I think at times too that people are a bit, who might be Christians and they’re interacting with someone with this point of view, they might feel a little intimidated. But asking this question helps you to realize they might not really be able to think of a contradiction. Maybe they saw a YouTube video, or maybe they had a professor. But really in their minds, they’re not sure. They know it’s the cultural thing to say the Bible’s unreliable, it’s untrustworthy. And so asking this question can raise that issue, concern.
Josh Chatraw: Are they just parroting what they’ve heard as a way to not have that conversation, not go deeper as far as the claims of Christianity? So first of all, you’ve got to ask some questions and dig deeper. I think the second thing is to say, is you’ve got to learn to triage. And this is just important with any type of conversation about the truth of Christianity, the validity of Christianity is. And what I mean by triaged is to say, “What’s the central issue here?” Are they saying, “I have a problem with this Old Testament story.” Just to throw one out, “I have a problem with the story of Jonah and I just don’t believe. It’s just over the top miraculous. I can’t believe that.”
Josh Chatraw: Obviously, I believe in that story, but is that where we really want to start? Do we want to let them set the terms again? In the sense that what’s the central claim that Christianity makes? Which is that there is a God and Jesus is His son who came and died and Rose again. So triaging to say, “Hey, you know what, that’s a good question. Actually, there’s a lot that goes into that, and we can talk about that, but the really central claim of Christianity is this. Do your objections actually touch on these claims with the Bible?”
Mark Allen: And we would go to the Gospels and discuss the Gospels. Are they reliable? Are they trustworthy? Do they give an accurate representation of who Jesus Christ really was? The people who knew him best, his most earliest disciples who saw him, the Gospels is the place where it represents their eyewitness testimony. And we go to the Gospels and we realize they’re full of eyewitness testimonies. There’s careful research, according to Luke 1, that has gone into the Gospels.
Josh Chatraw: I think what we’re trying to do here, and there’s more things we want to say here, but you want to get them into the stories of Christ. You want to say, “Hey.” And I think that their initial rejection when you do that is, “Well, hang on. We can’t trust these stories.” And so for that, we’d say several things. One, as you just mentioned, Mark, that actually, these stories are too early just to be a bunch of myths. Not getting into all the details, this initial level. Remember we got to triage the conversation, so you don’t want at the beginning to try to argue too much or try to persuade them of too much. But instead, just start saying, “Hey, let me tell you some reasons I trust the Bible.”
Josh Chatraw: There’s some signs. One is that this is actually way too early just to be a myth. So one of the kind of things that got out there in popular literature because it was popular in scholarship, was that the Bible was like these old German fairytales. It’s conformed critical studies. And what it compared to the Bible to and how the Gospels were formed, particularly the Gospels, was that it was like the telephone game. You play the telephone game when you’re younger, you start off, you tell a secret into somebodies ear. By the time you get to the end of 10 or 20 people telling the secret, it’s something radically different.
Josh Chatraw: And so there’s this theory within scholarship to saying, “Well, that’s really what we have in the Gospels.” In other words, it started off with a story, perhaps by the eye witness testimony. Sure. No problem. But then, by the time it got actually written 30, 40, 50 years later, it became something very different and full of myths, and we can’t trust it. So this actually became very popular in certain forms of scholarship. But the problem with it is the analogy doesn’t quite work because there’s been some careful research being done.
Josh Chatraw: One of the prominent people doing it is a British scholar named Richard Bauckham, who’s actually undermined this paradigm because he said, “Look, it’s what you actually have within the Gospels themselves is you have the signs of eyewitness testimony.” And he did this in a very scholarly work called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. And what he said was, the Gospel was written too early. And so they were actually written in the lifetime of the first eyewitnesses.
Josh Chatraw: And where did these eyewitnesses go? Well, they were actually leaders in the church. You’re eyewitnesses of Jesus, now you’re a leader in the church. And the Gospels are being written in these Christian communities in the church. And so they were leaders in the church and they were functioning as these eyewitness guaranteers of the tradition.
Josh Chatraw: And so it would be like in that telephone game, if I started the secret, and then as we go through every chain, every person, I’m there making sure that it’s passed on correctly. And that’s really what we have in the Gospels. So we have these different marks. If I can just give one, a famous one is Mark 15:21, where you have Simon of Cyrene, who is carrying the cross of Jesus. And it mentions his two sons, Rufus and Alexander. What’s remarkable about that is why in the world, and this is what Richard Bauckham says, why in the world would you have these two sons mentioned? It’s just out of nowhere. Rufus and Alexander. And none of the other Gospels have that detail.
Josh Chatraw: And what Bauckham says is it makes sense because you don’t mention those two names, unless people in the early Christian communities knew those two names, they knew those guys. And then the reason much of scholarship says Mark was written first, the majority position, Mark was written first and then Matthew and Luke later, by the time it got to Matthew and Luke, it’s likely those two brothers weren’t alive anymore. So there’s no need to keep that detail in there, but we have it in Mark, the earliest Gospel. So Richard Bauckham and his work. So this is not the only occasion, but many different types of examples where they’re actually signaling eyewitness testimony within the Gospels.
Mark Allen: We’ve got about one minute left. Could you give us maybe some support to the idea that Gospels are too counter-intuitive to be a hoax?
Josh Chatraw: There’s several examples of this. One is you have certain details that if you were… One of the claims is that the Gospels were just made up, it’s just first century PR for this movement. You don’t make up the story like the Gospel to make them up. It just doesn’t make sense. I’ll give you several examples. One is the leader of this early movement, Peter, is just not cast in a good light. In fact, you have Jesus calling saying, “Get behind me, Satan,” to Peter. Now, if you’re wanting to create good PR for your leader, you don’t have Jesus referring to him as Satan. It’s just not a good move. You also have women as the first eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus in all the traditions, in all the Gospel accounts, which is remarkable because in that time, women were not seen as credible witnesses.
Josh Chatraw: So if you’re remaking the story, if it’s being developed later on, if you’re playing fast and loose with these early eyewitness traditions, you don’t keep women there because they were not seen as valid witnesses. And yet all the traditions have women as the first eyewitnesses. So you have these counterintuitive claims within the Gospels themselves.
Josh Chatraw: I think in the 21st century, we’re really at a place now, there’s this incredible scholarship that actually shows for the… What we’re suggesting here is don’t try to argue necessarily too much here at the beginning, because what you’re saying is the Gospels give us generally reliable account. And so what are you going to do with Jesus? And once somebody says, “Okay. Let’s just say I can generally trust this.” Well, if you come to see Jesus is Lord, then all of a sudden you’re going to look back at the Old Testament, and if he’s Lord, if he really did rise from the dead, then we can trust the Old Testament because he’s giving it so much authority.
Josh Chatraw: It doesn’t tell you how to interpret every single detail or anything like that. There’s still going to be interpreted differences even amongst Christians. But it also points you forward to if he was Jesus, if Jesus was God incarnate and he commissioned these apostles and disciples to go forth with this message and gave him his spirit, well, then it also makes sense that there would be this new covenant with new covenant documents. With Jesus, we can go forward and have a good reason to trust the apostles and these eyewitnesses, and we go backwards. So we have good reason to trust the Old Testament.
Mark Allen: Very good. So if we’re challenged with a question on the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible, we need to do a triage. What’s most important? What’s central? Go to Jesus Christ. And then go to the original documents, the Gospels, and show with basic, basic arguments, how we can trust the Gospels and how they are truly reliable.
Heather Calvillo:: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A. To submit a question that you would like to hear answered on this podcast, send us an email at [email protected] And remember to subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks again for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A.