Yes, I really have heard that objection. But there are many ways one can cast doubt on the Bible. It’s a huge subject, and it quickly becomes technical. But, for starters, here are two things to keep in mind.
One, how the Bible came down to us. The New Testament was preserved along many lines of transmission, and copying the Bible was a serious matter to the people involved. The United Bible Societies edition of the Greek New Testament lists hundreds of manuscripts, a few dating as far back as the second and third centuries. By contrast, my copy of the Loeb edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is mostly derived from five manuscripts, the best of which dates to the tenth century A.D., about 1300 years after Aristotle. Bruce Metzger, an expert in the field, wrote, “The textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his material” (The Text of the New Testament, second edition, page 34). We don’t have to re-create a lost New Testament.
And in the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, though medieval in date, was carefully preserved. The scribes obsessed about accuracy. Take Isaiah. There are around 25,000 words in Isaiah. But the Revised Standard Version of 1952, which had no axe to grind for a conservative view of the Bible, decided for a wording in the Dead Sea Scrolls Isaiah against the Masoretic Isaiah in only around 15 cases. Why? The traditional text is a more convincing witness to antiquity.
Two, what Jesus thought of the Bible – in his day, the Old Testament. Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Significantly, he never breathed the slightest hint of doubt or unease about anything in the Bible. He affirmed its truth-value repeatedly, including some of the hard-to-accept parts, like Jonah and the whale (Matthew 12:40). John W. Wenham summarizes Jesus’ view of the Bible: “To him, what Scripture said, God said” (Christ and the Bible, page 37). If we respect Jesus enough to believe him about other things, why refuse him here?
Some will object, “But everybody back in Jesus’ world believed that. He was a man of his times. We know better now.” We do? Isn’t our skepticism a function of our own times? What is so striking about Jesus is how unlike his times he was. That’s what got him crucified. He spoke his mind, no matter what anyone else thought. So let’s not patronize Jesus. He was a competent thinker for all times — or so he thought. Have we stared at that fact long enough for it land on us?
Jesus demonstrated a wisdom that – if we’d accept it today – would advance our thinking on all the most important fronts. What if suddenly we all believed everything he taught? Would the world get better or worse?