Bible critics are found most everywhere these days. Popular atheist circles are quick to criticize the Bible. The problem is with their level of criticism, which is significantly lacking. I have no issues with people who genuinely are seeking answers, but people who appear to only be looking for excuses and do not do their homework are a bit frustrating, for they simply repeat their inaccurate criticisms amongst themselves until the criticisms reach the level of urban legend.
I’ll pick one and demonstrate here. My main points are not with the list below, so unless you are reading all of this, please skip to the end to get the main points.
One online atheist gave the following list of issues with Luke:
- The parable of the minas in Luke 19:12-27 is different than the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, so the Bible can’t even get its own stories straight.
- The end of the parable of the minas has the man killing his enemies, which means Christians have a hidden desire to kill all those who will not become Christians.
- The tax decree in Luke 2 (the Christmas story) is incorrect dating, since Herod had been dead by then.
- The tempting of Jesus in Luke 4 makes no sense, since Jesus, as God, could destroy the devil instantaneously.
- The centurion goes to Jesus in Luke 7, but in Matthew 8 he sends his servant.
- In Luke 4:29 the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff, but there are no hills near Nazareth.
- In Acts 22:25-29 Paul has been captured by the Romans and they plan to beat him but find out he is a Roman. Yet, in Acts 23:27 it states the reason the Romans saved Paul from the mob was because they knew him to be a Roman citizen.
These type of issues are said to be convincing evidence that Luke’s writing is the equivalent of fantasy, science fiction, that God is cruel and vindictive, and that the errors are so great as to make the whole account a grossly inconsistent fantasy.
My main point is not with answering these seven criticisms, but with how they are portrayed and the conclusions that are drawn. But first, lest I be accused of dodging the problems, here are reasonable answers:
1. The two parables: The parable in Luke is a different story than the parable in Matthew. Yes, they both involve a man giving money to servants and returning for an account. But the similarity stops there. Luke 19:11 tells us when and why this parable was told: because Jesus was about to go to Jerusalem to be killed, and the disciples did not realize the kingdom would not be completed till much later. Matthew 24:3 tells us this parable was given after Jesus gets to Jerusalem, in answer to a different question that He was asked. Further, the details of the parable are different, such as the mentioning of the kingdom and the subjects rebelling against their king.
2. Killing enemies: The end of the parable of the minas has the enemies killed. First, it’s a parable, meant to have a moral, which should be obvious. Second, in the story, these are people who rebelled against the king, and were guilty of treason. Third, the context of Jesus about to go to Jerusalem to be killed by His subjects, sets the context of the story: these people wrongly killed an innocent Jesus, and they will be dealt with justly when He returns. Fourth, saying this obscure parable is evidence of Christians wanting to kill people today is absurd at best, and an immoral insult at worst. Christians have started charities for non-believers in every location they live.
3. Dating of the Tax Decree: A tired old objection. Luke 2:2 gives us the key, when he says it was “the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Logically, if there is a first, there was at least two, or the sentence makes no sense. Also, the Greek here allows for the phrase to read, “before Quirinius was governor” although most translators do not use this meaning. No matter, for Quirinius, a capable leader, was given the assignment in place of Varus, who had lost some battles, since Israel had shown itself to be volatile. A Latin inscription was discovered in 1764 that shows Quirinius as serving as Governor of Syria on two occasions.
4. The tempting of Jesus: Jesus has two natures, God and man. As man, His purpose was to identify with us and pay for our sin. He needed to identify with us to be the perfect sacrifice, hence the temptation. Further, God does not annihilate evil. Rather, He shows respect for those who rebel of their own free will, treats evil creatures with a degree of respect, and allows them to go to a just punishment. As to why God does this as opposed to some other way, He does as His wisdom requires. I have done devilish things in my life. I thank God that He did not destroy me, but saved me instead.
5. The Centurion: This is an issue of language, which we even use today. If the President gives a statement to Congress, he will sometimes go in person, sometimes send a letter, or sometimes send a spokesman. But in all cases the news reports say ‘the President told Congress such-and-such.’ The same applies to the story of the centurion, who sent representatives to Jesus.
6. Nazareth: The town of Nazareth is in northern Israel, a generally rocky area. The verse in question says that the townspeople tried to throw Jesus off the cliff of the hill on which the town was built. In the passage, an enraged mob was trying to kill Jesus. All they would need was a 20 or 30 foot drop, plenty of distance to kill someone if there were rocks below. A simple internet search reveals photographs of the current Nazareth that has cliffs of this size. The verse does not require the town to be built on a large mountain, but merely enough of a hill to have a cliff.
7. Whether the soldiers realized Paul was a Roman: In the account, Paul speaks to the Jews outside in Ch. 22, who become enraged. The soldiers take Paul and prepare to flog him, until the discover he is a Roman. Then they take him inside to the Jewish Sanhedrin, who also become enraged to the point of possibly killing Paul, potentially “tearing him to pieces.” The soldiers, who at this point know Paul is Roman, take him and hold him safely. When another plot is hatched to kill Paul, the soldiers send Paul with a letter stating that they saved him because he was a Roman and the Jews had seized him. So when Paul was outside, they did not know he was Roman, but they did when the Sanhedrin seized Paul and tried to kill him. But still further, this criticism is made about a letter from a Roman soldier….Luke accurately records the statement of a Roman soldier, who could have been incorrect.
Sorry for the long setup, but all of that was so that I could get to the main points of this post, which are as follows:
First, there are reasonable answers to almost all of the skeptics’ questions. This level of criticism of the Bible does not warrant the charge of fantasy or science fiction or any of the exaggerations that are often thrown at the Bible.
Second, look at how quick and easy it is to throw out such accusations, and how much space it took me to explain. It is always easier to throw out false accusations than it is to explain the truth.
Third, people read the quick & easy false accusations, but are not willing to do the homework required for the truth, so they walk away with a false view. Some of these are corrected by simply reading the text. This method of criticism is not the way we should communicate to those we are trying to teach. The more academically-oriented non-believers should recognize this and correct those in their ranks that throw out such poor criticisms.
Fourth, are we really willing to base our eternal destiny on whether or not Nazareth is built on enough of a hill to have a cliff? Or whether a Roman soldier told the exact truth 2000 years ago? Or whether or not I think God should have killed the devil? It would seem to me that whether or not Jesus was who He claimed to be has much more significance to my eternal destiny than these minor points of contention. Does the average non-believer recognize the significance of their rejection of Jesus, and what level of evidence they are basing this rejection?
Fifth, I realize that there are much more rigorous atheists and critical examinations of the Bible. But such shallow accusations are most common, and the masses of people do not read the academically rigorous texts. They read the popular ones, and many are being led astray by such easily-refuted criticisms as these.
If the skeptics want a higher degree of credibility and respect from the Christians, they would be wise to clean up their own camp. Most of these issues are corrected with either reading the text for what it is actually saying, not what the critic claims it says, or common sense. That so many skeptics believe such shallow criticisms is what reinforces the Christian belief that underneath the non-belief is a motivation of not wanting there to be a God, of not wanting to believe. The issues, for the most part, are not one of intellectual problems, but rather of personal desire for there not to be a God. Otherwise there would not be so many non-believers giving off such easily-refuted criticisms, all laced with emotional name-calling.
Instead, I urge you to pick up the Bible and read it afresh, as the eyewitness account that it really is, and read it for the teachings that are valuable to us today.