Photo: John Snyder
A Christian member of the Atheist Christian Book Club raised an interesting quandary at our last meeting, one which I’ve honestly struggled to address. It goes like this:
Of course atheists don’t believe the Gospels are reliable! If they agree, you say they’re untrustworthy because they copy from each other! But if they disagree, you say they’re untrustworthy because they tell different stories!
A valid point? Maybe on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper here. What if there was a way to avoid these questions entirely? I’ve already done a post suggesting that maybe God wouldn’t have bothered with a book at all, but let’s say God wanted to leave us a book for reference, or some other reason that only he understands. How could God provide the message he wants to present in the gospels in a way that will not provide additional stumbling blocks or difficulties?
- Tell the same stories with no contradictions – This is the most obvious idea. Why would God inspire the gospel authors to write incompatible narratives? This is not to say that you can’t have differences in the gospel stories, i.e. you can still tell the same story from different perspectives, or you can have one gospel tell a story that another leaves out. However, contradictions only serve to inhibit understanding; they actively undermine belief in biblical authority, and any god worth his salt would make sure there were none in his magnum opus.
- Inspire a single, authoritative gospel – It’s hard to have contradictions in a single narrative! This solution may not be as ideal as you don’t have three more gospels which could theoretically provide additional corroboration, but you could also have the account supported by extrabiblical evidence (hell, it would be nice to have this with the current gospels).
- Combine the book with signs that could only come from God – Here’s an idea that also doesn’t require changing the Bible as it is, it just gives it some extra divine oomph. Anyone remember 90’s PC games and their analog anti-piracy measures? You might have to go to a certain page and count a certain number of words, and that would be the password to allow you access. What if God came to you in a dream and said, “You know that Bible on your shelf? On page 769, the fourth word from the top is ‘Verily.'” If that actually matches, that would be hard to rationalize away, right? How could you coincidentally hallucinate that exact word on that exact page? There may still be skeptics (as there will be for any evidence), but most people would find this hard to explain away.
There you have it! Three easy ways to fix troublesome problems with the Bible. Next time, God should check with me first – I promise to keep my consulting fees reasonable!