In this episode of TGC Q&A, Michael Kruger addresses five questions from the Gen Z audience on biblical authority and inerrancy.
- Reasons why the Bible is trustworthy (0:00)
- The meaning of the Bible’s inerrancy (3:27)
- The Bible does not contradict itself (5:15)
- Do parts of Old Testament law still apply today? (6:25)
- The canon of Scripture and how certain books were chosen (9:05)
- Relevancy and reliability of these ancient writings (12:55)
- Encouragement for those who still have questions (16:05)
Explore more from TGC on the Bible.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Narrator: You’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from The Gospel Coalition. And this is a new series called Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity. In this five-week series, we’ll focus on some of the toughest and most common questions the younger generation has about Christianity. How can we winsomely respond to the issues that are driving young people away from the faith? On today’s episode, Michael Kruger answers five important questions we received on the topic of the Bible’s authority.
Mike Kruger is the President of Reformed Theological Seminary at the Charlotte, North Carolina campus, where he also serves as Professor of New Testament. Mike is the author of Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church, and Canon Revisited: Establishing The Origins And Authority Of The New Testament Books, which is why we asked him to answer these questions for us today. So we’ll start with the first question. Why should I trust the Bible’s authority over my life?
Mike Kruger: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the most important questions that someone can ever ask and one of the most common questions I receive, which is, “Well, why should I think the Bible is true and trustworthy? Why should I commit my life to it?” Yeah, that’s going to be absolutely essential. The good news is there’s multiple answers to that question. People can trust the Bible for lots of reasons, and there can be lots of good reasons to trust it. One of the things I think you could look to the Bible as as a reason to believe that there’s something very different about this book is just the way it’s stood the test of time. I would imagine there’s no more studied, more critiqued, more analyzed book in the world than the Bible. And yet, after all this time, you can still see its not only historical impact, but present day impact on the world.
And there’s something about this book that stood up to this critique in, I think, a very impressive way of showing that it’s a book that really does have something about it that no matter how hard you push and poke it can withstand those challenges. A second thing that I think people look out for the Bible if they think, “Well, is this a book I can trust,” is does it have credibility as an historical document? Does it reflect true things about history and about what we know about the ancient world? And the answer of courses is yes. We don’t have time in this short conversation to go into the credentials for the Bible’s historical reliability, but it’s impressive. I’ve spent my career studying it as it pertains to the New Testament and time and time again I’m reminded why these books are so distinctive and special.
But the thing that I think really stands out about why you can trust the Bible is what it says. In other words, its content, I think, speaks to its divine origins. It tells us not only about a way of thinking about the world and a way of understanding the world that I think is second to none, but it helps us understand the world in a way that connects all the dots together and provides a coherent worldview that makes sense of reality. And on top of that, the most compelling thing about the Bible is the person of Jesus himself. It tells the story of the most unique individual in the world, and he purports to be the very one speaking in the Bible. The Bible is not only from him, but by him and about him. And so if someone wants to know, “Shall I trust the Bible?” Then you should ask, “What do I think about the person of Jesus?” And he’s unparalleled in every way. And I trust the Bible because I trust him.
Narrator: The next question we received was, Is the Bible truly inerrant? What about the places in scripture that seem to contradict themselves?”
Mike Kruger: One of the words that Christians use a lot that describe the Bible is that the Bible is inspired, the Bible is infallible, but then one word that stands out perhaps among all others is this claim that the Bible is inerrant. And this is a really important word for Christians. It means that the Bible does not say untrue things. It’s a way of saying that whatever the Bible expresses as true in fact is true. So, the Bible doesn’t lie. Now, the Bible can describe other people that lie, it can describe people who do bad things, but whatever the Bible purports to say or affirms, Christians believe that’s in fact accurate.
Now, someone might say, “Well, what reason do I have to believe in inerrancy?” Well, I think there’s both a theological reason and an historical reason. The theological reason is pretty straightforward. If we believe these books are from God, and in one of the prior questions I gave good reasons to think that, If God is behind this and he’s inspired these books, then we can just ask a corollary question, does God tell the truth? Does God say true things? Does God ever lie? If God is affirming something, do I have reasons to think that that thing is exactly the way God says it is?”
And of course, we have good reasons to trust God’s character, his nature. So in as much as you say God’s word is divinely inspired, that it’s from him, then the theological conclusion you reach is that whatever the Bible affirms must in fact be the case. And that’s all that one means by inerrancy, is that God does not deceive or trick us, he’s not telling us the wrong things. The Bible doesn’t need to be corrected because God doesn’t need to be corrected. And that, by the way, stands in contrast to human standards. Right? For humans, we often make mistakes, we often error because we’re not omniscient, we don’t know all things. But of course, if God speaks, he always speaks truthfully.
There’s also a second reason to believe the Bible is inerrant, and that is the evidence for it. In other words, when we look in the Bible, we see remarkable harmony, remarkable consistency, remarkable reasons to think that what we’re reading are in fact true statements. Now, someone might ask, “Well, what about these apparent contradictions in the Bible that don’t seem like that? The Bible seems to disagree.” Well, lots of times, those apparent contradictions tend to disappear upon closer scrutiny. Most people who think there’s a contradiction usually maybe can’t name one if they do think there’s contradictions. And even if they can name one, I doubt most have actually taken the time to deeply study whether it can be resolved. And you’ll find that a lot of these contradictions on the surface dissolve upon closer examination.
The other thing that people confused about a contradiction is they think that the Bible is a contradiction if it doesn’t match our modern standards for what counts as a contradiction. So for example, in the modern day, if you quote somebody, you always quote them verbatim as if you had a recording of it. In the ancient world, you wouldn’t do that. You would often summarize someone’s statements or paraphrase it. Is that a contradiction? Well, no. It’s a different way of doing history, but not a contradiction. So once you take all that into account, both the reasons to trust God when he speaks, but also, the evidence of the Bible itself, that it’s proven itself to be harmonious and consistent over time, then the belief in inerrancy is just a natural belief. Of course, you believe that if you believe God is actually the one speaking.
Narrator: The third question we received on this topic, “Do parts of the Old Testament law still apply to Christians today?”
Mike Kruger: So when you read the Bible, it’s obviously a very long book, and sometimes a very confusing book. And a very common question is, “Well, hold on a second, are we really following all the parts of the Bible? Aren’t there parts in the Old Testament in particular that seem like they’re out of date and they no longer apply? And if we’re not willing to follow those parts, then why do we think we should follow other parts?” This is a common question people often bring up. So they’re thinking, well in the modern day, you eat whatever food you want, but you couldn’t do that in the Old Testament. In the modern day, you don’t worry about impurity laws and rules like this. You don’t worry about eating certain kinds of animals and not others or mixing fabrics together. And in the modern day, you certainly don’t have animal sacrifices anymore.
So what’s the deal here? Are we just picking and choosing what we want to follow in the Bible? Well, actually, no. Believe it or not, historians and theologians have actually thought through this quite carefully. For generations, Christians have not just picked and choose, but have thought very carefully about why parts of the Bible still apply and others don’t. And I can promise you, it’s not just because we pick the parts we like and then don’t follow the other parts that we don’t like. But there’s actually a very clear rationale for why certain parts no longer apply. And that rationale comes from the Bible itself.
I’ll give you a good example of this, and that is just take the example of animal sacrifices. Throughout the Old Testament, God was very keen to make sure his people did it. They went to a particular location to do it. They built a place called the tabernacle, which eventually became the temple, and that’s where they did it. And all that mattered to God. What you realize is that what Christianity teaches is all that was provisional, it was anticipatory of some other greater reality. In other words, it was a foreshadowing of something greater to come.
What was that greater thing? Well, the person of Jesus. Once he came, he was our perfect sacrifice, so we don’t need animal sacrifices. He is the ultimate temple. He’s the dwelling of God with human beings. And so you can realize those things are no longer applicable, not because they were wrong, or not because they were sinful, but because in fact they are fulfilled in Jesus.
Now, other parts of the Old Testament still do apply. So for example, what we call the moral law, sort of the core ethics of how to live, which are embodied in the 10 Commandments, for example, those would obviously still apply because Jesus affirmed those. The New Testament writers affirmed those. But they also acknowledge that things like ceremonial laws and food laws and sacrificial laws are completed and fulfilled in Christ. And so, yeah, there’s no pick and choosing going on here. It’s just a matter of following the Bible’s own guidance on how God reveals himself throughout history. And we want to be in the place where God’s ultimate revelation is in Jesus and the provisional parts obviously therefore, no longer apply today.
Narrator: Next, Mike answers the question, “Why were certain books of the Bible considered to be canon but not others?
Mike Kruger: Well, anyone who’s read the Bible notices something distinctive about it, and that is, it’s not like other books in a number of ways. And one of the ways it’s not like other books is that it’s not written by just one author, in one location, and in one normal period of time. Instead, the Bible, as everyone knows, is composed of a bunch of smaller books, 66 of them, in fact, if you count both Old and New Testament together, written by numerous authors, probably well over 40, in different time periods, different cultures, contexts, locations. And so, one of the most fundamental questions for anybody who’s asking about biblical authority is, “Well, why these books and not other books? Is there something special about these that sets them apart from every other book? And how did Christians know which books belong and which books didn’t belong?”
And this question becomes particularly acute when you realize that we’ve discovered what people call lost books of the Bible. Although, as I’ll say in a moment, I don’t think they were ever really in the Bible, so they’re not really lost books of the Bible. But nonetheless, books like the Gospel of Thomas and other what we call the apocryphal literature is floating around out there and people are like, “Well, hold on, what do we do with these books?”
Well, that’s a very good question and a very important question. Unfortunately, if you were to go on the internet or read popular literature about this, you’re going to get a particular narrative. And that particular narrative is going to make it sound like Christians were just arbitrarily picking books or that it was political pressure, usually by Emperor Constantine to pick books, or that people were picking books that just happened to be the books that their particular theological party preferred. And it sounds all conspiratorial, as if you can’t really trust this and it’s all shady, dark room stuff.
Well, I can assure you that’s not the case. Fight all those rumors and ideas about the way the canon was formed. It wasn’t formed like that at all. So how did Christians know which books belonged and which books didn’t belong? Well, a number of things. One thing they look for is whether the book was authored by someone who could speak for God. Obviously, if you think a book is from God, it has to be from a spokesman who’s authorized to speak from God. But not everybody was, and not everybody in the ancient world thought just anybody could speak for God. If you were going to speak for God, you had to be either a prophet or an apostle. Prophets generally could summarize the kind of people who wrote in the Old Testament, and apostles, generally the kind of people that the books in the New Testament represent.
So, step one was, can these be traced back to either an apostle or a prophet, or at least a time period in which the apostles and prophets were active? And that’s a very important part of how we know books belong or don’t. The second thing that can tell us which books we think belong is which books God’s people have been recognizing as from him for generations. What books have God’s people have been using? Christians believe that the spirit is at work in the church or in the collective community of believers. And by the holy spirit, we can recognize our shepherd’s voice when we hear it. And so if God is speaking in these books, it’s very fair to ask, “Well, what books have Christian has been using for thousands of years? What books have they been saying, ‘I hear the voice of our Lord of these books?'” And the church has been remarkably consistent on that, and the canon that we follow today has been the canon the church has followed for generations.
And then the final thing I’ll say about how we know which books are from God is actually by reading the books themselves. And I know this sounds strange to the modern ear. They think, “Well, that sounds very subjective.” But actually, the Bible talks about this too, is that Jesus says that, “My sheep, they hear my voice and they recognize it and they follow me.” And so Christians for years have asked, “Do I recognize the divine voice in these books? Does it bear the qualities of a book that’s from God?” And that’s more than we can get into in this particular conversation, but I think the evidence for that internally in these books is overwhelming.
So you have an internal argument from the books, you have an historical argument from the church, and then you have an argument also from history in terms of the authors who wrote them. And combined, that gives us very good reasons to think the books we have are the books that belong in the canon.
Narrator: And the final question, “Biblical authors didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now. Isn’t their thinking outdated?”
Mike Kruger: One of the most common objections that people make of the Bible is it sounds very unscientific, sounds very unsophisticated. And oftentimes, people even use the word primitive. And so we’re dealing with ancient people that were not up to speed, obviously, in the way we are in modern technology. And therefore, is that really a book I can rely on? I mean, wouldn’t I want to trust a book that’s up to date? And this seems to be very out of date, and to some extent in people’s minds, unreliable when it comes to scientific things.
But if someone has that impression, I think they probably haven’t really reckoned with what the Bible is like and how it works. Now, on the surface, of course, it’s true, that the biblical authors aren’t going to sound like modern scientists. Obviously they’re not talking about the complexities of atomic structures and the way DNA works and how certain types of things take place and how to build a bridge or send a rover to Mars.
Obviously, you shouldn’t expect that kind of thing in an ancient book because it was written in the ancient world. But that’s a very different thing than saying it’s inaccurate. Obviously, what we’re arguing for as Christians is we believe that God is behind this Bible and that he in fact knows all the things about the universe. And so what Christians have believed is that God reveals a lot of things about the way the universe came into being and how it exists, that science itself can’t even really reach or tell us about. The origins of the universe, how God did it. In one sense, some basic things about origins that science can’t always reach back to. Science tends to be a little overconfident about what it can know about certain things in the distant past. And so we think the Bible gives us some very key pieces of earth history that we need to know.
The other thing I’ll say is that there’s nothing about the Bible that’s scientifically been proven to be false, or mistaken, or inaccurate. Does it use ancient way of talking that maybe doesn’t sound like modern day? Yes. But if you think about it, we still do that too. So for example, we use the term about the sun rising and the sun setting. But in fact, the sun’s not actually moving. We know the earth is moving. The sun’s not moving. The fact that earth is spinning when the sun rises. So you notice that even in the modern day we use what would we call observatory language or common language to describe things that are obviously very complicated on a scientific level.
And here’s the final thing I’ll say about the Bible and science, and that is the Bible provides actually the foundational philosophy and worldview to do science. People don’t think about this very much, but you can’t just do science in any view of the world. Science doesn’t work unless it’s planted in certain philosophical soil, and Christianity provides, and I think best provides that philosophical soil. And this is exactly why the greatest scientist in the ancient, world and the scientists, even in the time of the enlightenment were actually built on a Christian system.
Some of the greatest scientific thinkers were theists. They believed in God. Whether you’re talking about Isaac Newton or Johannes Kepler, or any of the other major things. Even Galileo would have been someone who considered himself as a Christian. And so what you realize is that for them, their theology was the basis for doing the scientific enterprise. So let no one pit science and the Bible against each other. They’re not opposed. God is very proscience, if you will. The Bible is proscience and there’s nothing in it that would make us think it’s otherwise.
Narrator: To close out this episode, Mike gives some encouragement to those who continue to have questions about the Bible and faith.
Mike Kruger: One thing I get asked a lot is what to do when people have doubts and questions about what they believe. And whenever you consider religious matters or biblical matters, theological matters, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. People think, “Well, I don’t understand this about Christianity, I don’t understand this about God. Or I’m having doubts and struggles in these various areas.” People come to me and say, “Well, what do I do with all of that?” Well, just a couple of thoughts for you. First of all, you want to make sure you get your expectations straight about what sort of level of understanding one needs in order to believe. Sometimes people have this idea that, “I will never believe in God or never believe in Christianity unless I have every single possible question answered fully all to my private personal satisfaction.”
Well, I suppose someone could have that standard. I would argue it’s an unreasonable standard. And I would certainly argue it’s also an unbiblical standard. And by unbiblical, what I mean is God often leaves his people without answers to things. God is a mysterious being. He’s bigger than us, higher than us, omniscient beyond us. Surely, there are things about him we won’t understand. And if you think you can understand God fully, then you’ve created something that’s not God. By definition, God is going to be beyond us. That doesn’t mean we can’t say true things about him. It just means if we’re left in some sense in mystery at certain points, there’s nothing incongruent about that and faith. So don’t think you have to have answers to every question in order to believe.
The second thing I will say is that there have been answers to many questions. Lots of times people confuse not having an answer with there not being an answer. And don’t make that mistake. I talk to people all the time that say, “Well, I haven’t gotten answers to these questions, therefore Christianity is false.” I’m like, “Well, hold on a second. Just because you don’t have the answer doesn’t mean there’s not an answer or that it hasn’t been answered.” So you got to make sure you do your homework on this. I’ve hardly heard a question that I consider entirely original. Almost every question about the faith has been asked throughout the history of the church, at some level, and been answered. So don’t confuse not having an answer yourself with there not being one. Do the homework, track it down, figure it out.
And the third and final thing I’ll say on this is that to some extent, doubting and wondering are normal. Don’t think that having doubts makes you either a bad Christian or a bad person. It’s part of our world that we’re going to have those sorts of questions. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, so to speak, for that. You just take your doubts, you bring them to God and lay them before him and ask for his help. And to some extent, you may go the rest of your life with certain questions about certain things that you don’t have answered. But again, that’s not a reason to stay in unbelief. One can still believe even if they don’t have all the answers to their questions.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of TGC Q&A in our series on Gen Z’s Questions About Christianity. Be sure to tune back in next week as we bring you another episode in the series.