A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we watched a video* of a lecture by Voddie Baucham, who addresses the question of why we believe thusly:
"I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents, written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies, and they claim to be divine rather than human in origin."
Mr. Baucham, a very dynamic speaker, here makes reference to the vastly more abundant and authentic accounts contained in the Bible, compared to the much thinner support for other historical texts that we take at face value:
|Author||Date Written||Earliest Copy||Time Span||Copies (extent)|
|Herodotus (History)||480 - 425 BC||900 AD||1,300 years||8|
|Thucydides (History)||460 - 400 BC||900 AD||1,300 years||?|
|Aristotle (Philosopher)||384 - 322 BC||1,100 AD||1,400 years||5|
|Caesar (History)||100 - 44 BC||900 AD||1,000 years||10|
|Pliny (History)||61 - 113 AD||850 AD||750 years||7|
|Suetonius (Roman History)||70 - 140 AD||950 AD||800 years||?|
|Tacitus (Greek History)||100 AD||1,100 AD||1,000 years||20|
|Biblical Manuscripts: (note: these are individual manuscripts)|
|Magdalene Ms (Matthew 26)||1st century||50-60 AD||co-existant (?)|
|John Rylands (John)||90 AD||130 AD||40 years|
|Bodmer Papyrus II (John)||90 AD||150-200 AD||60-110 years|
|Chester Beatty Papyri (N.T.)||1st century||200 AD||150 years|
|Diatessaron by Tatian (Gospels)||1st century||200 AD||150 years|
|Codex Vaticanus (Bible)||1st century||325-350 AD||275-300 years|
|Codex Sinaiticus (Bible)||1st century||350 AD||300 years|
|Codex Alexandrinus (Bible)||1st century||400 AD||350 years|
(Total New Testament manuscripts = 5,300 Greek MSS, 10,000 Latin Vulgates, 9,300 others = 24,000 copies)
(Total MSS compiled prior to 600 AD = 230)
(Note: I observe that the last two columns don't fit on the blog. Click the link for the rest.)
Now all this strikes me as pretty compelling in its way. But I have to ask myself: if I didn't know all this, would I still believe? I would; indeed, I did: upon hearing the gospel, I simply believed, and without asking for proof or evidence beyond the power of the message itself. And furthermore, if you assented to the bare facts cited above, this wouldn't make you a Christian.
In fact, I can't account for my faith in human terms at all, nor would I try. Evolutionists hear my testimony, and reply that this is strictly a neurological phenomenon, the evolved response of our brains to (1) natural selection favoring a hypertrophied social intelligence at the individual level, and to (2) social selection favoring collective mythologies that discourage free-loading and establish ingroup solidarity at the social level. Like I always say, that's probably part of the story. But it's not the entire story; according to theShorter Catechism:
Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Or the Bible itself:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
"Dead in the trespasses . . ." With respect to Mr. Baucham, dead things don't choose to believe. Dead things don't choose anything. Dead things just lie there, rotting and stinky. God is the one that calls us to and enables our faith.
I was put in mind of all this upon reading Bobvis' account of his adherence to Hinduism:
As a man of science, I believe that there are mystical experiences that are:
- marked by pure joy
- marked by blinding clarity
- marked by a calming sense of connectedness with the world
He quotes the great Razib Khan, who writes:
Reading the Bhagavad Gita, I am struck (as usual) by commonalities between mystical philosophies rooted in a method of psychological introspection and meditation . . . . The heightened consciousness of mysticism and the sense of the One is probably reflecting underlying neurological realities.
Now, both Bobvis and Razib are smart guys. Bobvis has an above-average understanding of the fundamentals of Christianity, and Razib, truth be told, probably knows the Bible better than I do. Having said this . . . I read at the Bhagavad Gita**, and the nicest thing I can say about it is that it is not culturally accessible to me, nor did it induce any mystical experience, repeatable or otherwise. But then, I'm not really in the market for a calming sense of connectedness with the world, or even its analogue within the Christian tradition. One could fairly say, "but you haven't tried it!" Alas, I can no more summon a felt need for mystical experience than a Hindu can summon a felt need for substitutionary atonement. And since the stakes in Hinduism are otherwise fairly low (Bobvis: straighten me out on this), it will have to be an opportunity I let pass by.
I felt the same way about the Koran***: as John Derbyshire once noted, it has no narrative thread, and such profundities as it may contain were not accessible to me. So, Islam spreads by (1) demographics and (2) the sword. Like Hinduism, it's appeal outside of its native cultural mileu is, shall we say, highly limited.
Christianity arguably enjoys the broadest cross-cultural penetration, which proves . . . nothing, or a whole lot, depending on your perspective.
*Footnote: We don't usually do videos in church, which I would find very . . . Baptist.
**Footnote: I was mainly curious to find the passage allegedly quoted by J. Robert Oppenheimer at the culmination of the Manhattan project. I decided that I didn't know what "I am become death" means exactly, but I was pretty sure it doesn't mean, in context, what Oppenheimer thinks it means.
***Footnote: I was checking on all those passages about killing Jews. I am inclined toward humility about my exegetical skills on others' sacred texts, but that is the subject of another post.