Review: Why Should I Trust the Bible?

whyshoulditrustthebibleAuthor: Rev. A Trevor Sutton
Publisher: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016
Rating: 5/5 stars
CPH Price: $11.99

Bottom Line

Every Christian needs to read this book. Why? To quote from Rev. Dr. Patrick Ferry in the foreword, “Absolute truth is a concept inherent to the Christian faith but not much in step with the relativist worldview that is so much in vogue. Truth assertions of the Bible seem groundless in a relativistic culture” (Sutton, 8). We live in a relativistic culture. In our culture, truth is relevant. In our culture, truth is only what is good for the individual. This makes truth subjective rather than objective, meaning truth is constantly changing where ultimately there is no more truth. This is in direct opposition to the Christian way of life, which claims God’s Word is the truth. For the Christian, truth is not relevant; it is absolute, which is revealed in the Word of God, and we have His Word in the Bible.

In the growing moral relativism of our culture, it leaves young Christians pummeled with its lies as their parents are attempting to catechise them in the Truth while the youth are simultaneously trying to live out that Truth in a culture whose majority of children are catechised that truth is relative. Ferry comments this book “may not satisfy the severest critic” of Christianity because the audience is not the critics of Christianity; the audience is “God’s people whose hope is built on Jesus Christ who loves us” (10). We need to keep this in mind not only throughout the book, but throughout this review as well. Therefore, I highly encourage every Christian—whether you’re Lutheran or not—to read this book and become solidified against the oppositions that often bombard our faith.

Disclaimer: I will only be reviewing in detail the first four chapters of the book. The above “bottom line” and the conclusion are the result of having read the entirety of the book.

Review: Introduction

Fundamental to truth is trust, Pastor Sutton writes. All relationships are built on trust whether it is a personal relationship like a parent, friend, or spouse; or whether it is an institutional relationship to something like the government, a church, or our workplace. “Trust is built. And trust is also broken. Although trust is built slowly, it is destroyed instantly” (13). It takes a long time to build trust, but it can be broken in an instant. At the beginning stages of my relationship with my ex-fiancé eight years ago, trust was slowly built, as it is in any relationship whether romantic or not. But as soon as I was told she cheated on me and got pregnant with somebody else’s kid while I was at basic training, that trust was instantly shattered. The supposed truth in our relationship was shattered the moment she decided to be a liar, thus shattering my trust in her and my heart along with it. 

Some people trust in celebrities and political figures and ultimately themselves—the sacred self, thus self-worship. Christians trust in the Bible. And there are plenty who seek to “break trust in the Bible” because of their distrust in it (14). We have seen this from Marcion of Sinope (AD 85-160) to Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the latter of which who cut out every miracle Jesus performed. Of course, today there are still people attempting to dismantle trust in the Bible. They make many claims—that it’s merely a human text and not the Word of God, it’s archaic and therefore out of date, and many other claims. Yet after thousands of years of criticisms in every generation, we still have God’s Word because “every attempt has failed. Every effort to expose the Bible as fraudulent has ended in disappointment. Even the most brilliant scholars have been unsuccessful in dismantling trust in the Bible.” Thus, “The incessant effort to break trust in the Bible has had an unexpected result: every new analysis of Scripture further reveals its legitimacy” (15). Instead of breaking trust in the Bible, critics have instead unintentionally built trust in the Bible.

Thus, Pastor Sutton lays out the fundamental standard for our trust in the Bible, which is anchored in Jesus Christ. “His life, death, and resurrection provide the trustworthy foundation for every page in the Bible” (16). He will be addressing certain claims to distrust the Bible, such as the Noah and the ark account being an amalgamation of flood stories from other cultures, the Bible being patriarchal and sexist towards women, the Bible promoting slavery, and other false accusations. Keep in mind, however, that this book does not scrutinise every claim in exact detail since other biblical scholars have already done so, but rather it serves as an overview of the claims.

Chapter 1, A Body of Evidence

Jesus is our reason to trust the Bible. This is the bold statement Pastor Sutton makes at the start of the chapter. It is the Sunday school answer, but it is the right answer nonetheless. It really is that simple. The reason doesn’t need to be complex. Yet he assures he will move beyond one-word answers, and indeed he does:

[Jesus] is the reason God spoke through the Bible in the first place. He is the purpose of Scripture… and the primary source of its authority… He is anticipated in the Old Testament, experienced in the Gospels, and evoked in the rest of the New Testament. If God had not come to redeem His creation in the flesh-and-blood person of Jesus, then there would be no need for the Bible. If Jesus did not truly live in human history with a full human body, then the Bible would just be another good book about some fictional character. If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then the Bible would be nothing more than a history book. Take Jesus out of the Bible, and there is nothing left. (19-20, bold print added.)

This is why Jesus is the Good News, from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangélion). Pastor Sutton makes the interesting observation that news “is not a piece of advice or one person’s opinion… News is about something that actually happened” (20). At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. Today’s media is infamous for spreading fake news in order to propagate their biased agenda. Before this corruption, the media used to spread real news. Real news is based on facts, not opinion, and the facts that the good news of Jesus Christ speaks on is His life, death, and resurrection, who is the very reason why the Bible was written.

Pastor Sutton anticipates a good question, “If trust in the Bible is based on trust in Jesus, then how can I trust in Jesus without first trusting in the Bible? How could I possibly know anything about Jesus apart from the Bible” (21)? A challenging question to answer. Even I—a devout Christian—wasn’t sure how to answer this question. Thankfully, Pastor Sutton gives us the answer, “Even if the Bible ceased to exist, the risen body of Jesus would still exist. The resurrected body of Jesus is why you can trust the Bible” (21).

Anticipating a likely reaction to this, Pastor Sutton acknowledges one may say they haven’t seen Jesus’ body. So he challenges the reader to reflect on things they believe to have happened without having seen it themselves. For example, no one alive today saw Abraham Lincoln get assassinated, the military conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte, or those of Alexander the Great, yet we know they happened because of the eyewitnesses who recorded their testimonies. “But those are written in history books,” you may say. Yes, they were, but so is the Bible. The Bible is certainly the Word of God, but it is also a historical document written by human authors who were eyewitnesses. God is the Author (see 2 Timothy 3:16), but He graciously used people and their experiences to record the testimony of Jesus Christ with their eye witnessing accounts. God’s desire is for people to hear His Word and to know Jesus, and what better way is there to do that than using people to reach people?

Jesus’ resurrection happened whether or not it was written, just as I went to my Hebrew class this morning whether or not it was written. Jesus predicates the Bible; the Bible does not predicate Jesus.

Chapter 2, Myths and Mixtures

Right away Pastor Sutton begins addressing similar creation accounts: Gaia, evolution, YHWH, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Genesis account is dismissed as being just as trustworthy as other myths. So how does the Christian account for such claims?

The first claim Pastor Sutton addresses is that “the Bible is merely a mythological story similar to Homer’s Odyssey” (31). Pastor Sutton’s response to this claim made me chuckle. “Any person making this argument proves only one point: he or she knows nothing about the study of mythology, the Bible, or Homer’s Odyssey” (31). While the word “myth” has been used to ascribe things as being fictional and fabricated, mythology is no longer viewed that way. Currently, “Rather than overlooking myths as historically accurate, modern scholars study how they functioned within a culture” (32). For example, there are history books giving accounts on the British monarchy that are similar to Shakespeare’s play, King Richard III, but this does not mean the history books are myths. Therefore, “Scripture can share similarities with mythological texts yet not be a myth” (32).

As Pastor Sutton points out, the Bible has been found to be historically accurate time and time again, unlike Homer’s Odyssey. Furthermore, making the claim that the Bible cannot be trusted just because it shares mythological similarities to Homer’s Odyssey and other mythological writings doesn’t make the Bible less trustworthy; on the other hand, it makes the one making the claim less trustworthy.

The next claim he addresses is what I mentioned earlier: that there are many other creation accounts from fictitious stories. Pastor Sutton makes the wise observation that pondering humanity’s purpose in the world is natural in every culture, so it’s not surprising “that every culture throughout history would have an account of human origins” (36). All these creation accounts, Pastor Sutton observes, all agree the world came from somewhere—whether it’s Greek mythology, the big bang theory, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Here, he is exercising the apologetic method of coming to common ground with an opposing view to move on to an absolute truth claim. Indeed, there are differing creation accounts, yet they all agree on the same thing: the world originated from a single source. With this agreement, now we can discuss which one is correct, for they cannot all be correct. One of the laws of logic, coined by Aristotle in his Metaphysics, is the law of non-contradiction, which states, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time in the same respect” (Groothuis, 46). In other words, if there are multiple hypotheses to a question, only one can be true; there cannot be two or more truths, only one. Thus, if evolution is true, Christianity cannot be true; if Christianity is true, evolution cannot be true. If Christianity is true, Islam cannot be true, and vice versa.

The unbeliever will not be satisfied with the reasons and evidence Pastor Sutton gives, for again, his intended audience is Christians. Thus, the answers he gives are for the Christian. (If you are the more pragmatic type and/or are not Christian and are interested in reading a pragmatic stance on the case for Christianity, I highly recommend Douglas Groothuis’ book for further reading: Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. This is not to say Pastor Sutton doesn’t utilise pragmatism and logic, for he certainly does that. However, most claims he makes are more likely to be accepted with Christian faith, which his audience possesses.)

But I digress. Jesus treats the book of Genesis as authoritative. “He affirmed God as creator (Mark 13:19) and recognized that Adam and Eve were real people in God’s Creation (Mark 10:6). Jesus further upheld a six-day creation when He affirmed the Old Testament teaching that God created for six days and then rested on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28)… He never suggested that Genesis was an option among many other equally valid options” (Sutton, 38). So, why should we, as Christians, believe God is the Creator of the universe and it was created in literally six days? Because Jesus affirmed it.

Pastor Sutton also uses science as a reason, for there is scientific evidence supporting the Genesis creation account. One of the untrue critiques against Christians is that we are an unscientific people who don’t believe in the laws of science. I remember a Family Guy episode that made fun of Christians for not believing in gravity since they don’t believe in science, which is a fallacy called hasty generalisation. This is an absurd claim and is not true. While there are certainly some misguided Christians who think in such a way (known as fideism or “faith-ism”), this is certainly not representative of all Christians, which most do acknowledge the usefulness of science, hence the hasty generalisation fallacy. Those who practise fideism separate logic and reasoning from faith, for since our reason is affected by sin, it ultimately cannot be trusted. Yet as Groothuis contends, “While Scripture warns us that every aspect of humanity is corrupted by sin and that reason alone is not sufficient to receive the things of God, it also speaks of God’s general revelation in nature (Romans 1-2)” (Groothuis, 61). It is true that God transcends logic, but we’re still created imago Dei, who gave us reason as one vehicle to relate to Him. God is a logical Being, and He created the world to function in logically consistent ways (e.g. inertia, the laws of thermodynamics, etc.). Logic certainly does not create faith, but it can certainly serve as a tool to assert our faith.

Pastor Sutton also uses history as a reason for Christianity’s truth. Looking at God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:3-6, Pastor Sutton notes how “over half of the world’s population identifies with one of the three Abrahamic religions,” which are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Sutton, 39). The Genesis record of the dispersion of tribes and nations is also historically proven.

Pastor Sutton discusses an additional claim in this chapter that is certainly worth reading, but these are the two I wanted to address.

Chapter 3, Errors and Edits

The first claim he addresses is, “The Bible has so many textual errors that it simply cannot be trusted” (50). Before he starts addressing this issue, he first makes note that such claims on the Bible’s supposed errancy are ancient. These claims have come up many times throughout the centuries and they have never been proven. Such an antiquated claim, therefore, has no place in postmodernity. Right off the bat, Pastor Sutton exposes the inherent error in asserting such a supposed error: “Asserting that the Bible cannot be trusted on account of the many errors suggests that the person making this claim has never taken the time to learn about how the Bible came into existence” (50). Today, we are fortunate enough to have photocopiers, and we even have devices we can carry around in our pockets to take a photograph—smartphones.

In addition to this claim, skeptics will contend that the Bible is unreliable because it’s made from copies of copies of copies. Again, the misunderstanding of the copying process undermines their thinking. “Creating copies of a text in the ancient world was time-consuming and expensive; literate scribes were hard to come by and the material needed was costly” (51). We can make careless mistakes in our writing today—whether electronically or print—because virtually every person knows how to write in their native tongue, it’s much quicker today, and it’s cheap. In biblical times and the first century, however, people who knew how to read and write were extremely sparse, it was extremely time-consuming, and it was very expensive. Ergo, the room for error was extremely minimal, especially compared to today with our vast resources. Scribes were less likely to make errors than we are today, and the skeptics making this claim do not factour this in because, well, they lack the knowledge. Or they’re just ignorant of the facts.

However, scribes did commit what are called textual variants where one copy of a text slightly differs from another (Pastor Sutton discusses this in detail from pages 53-57). Yet “the vast majority of textual variants are insignificant and do not change the biblical narrative in any meaningful way” (54). There are also textual variants in Shakespeare’s works. Yet we don’t discredit them as being Shakespeare’s actual plays. In the same way, we cannot discredit the Bible simply on the basis of textual variants if we won’t do the same with other works of literature. As a matter of fact, this very review on Pastor Sutton’s book is a type of textual variant (just as a newspaper article on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was as well). Like the ancient scribes, I am copying a few of his words down (and referencing him accordingly) while adding my own words to it in order to make it more understandable, which some biblical scholars also did. My expounding on Pastor Sutton’s words does not discredit him or his book. “Textual variants are not always errors. Calling them errors is a misunderstanding of how texts have been reproduced throughout history” (57).

There is another type of textual variant Pastor Sutton does not cover. There are textual variants when we’re translating Scripture into another language. This is because we have to always remember there are much different cultural understandings. For example, in Western civilisations (ancient Greece and Rome, modern day Europe and America), white is our colour for the symbolic representation of purity, so in our biblical texts white serves as that colour. However, if we are going to translate Scripture into India’s language, their colour for purity is red. White means something completely different to them, so when translating “white” to their language when it’s talking of purity, it is necessary to change the word to red since the aim is to translate a text’s meaning and not just its literal word. Pastor Sutton talks about the translation process in chapter 7—one being word-for-word and the other thought-for-thought (not their technical terms). When translating Scripture into another language, the thought-for-thought translation method is the wisest option. These textual variants are not errors in the Bible; they are simply necessary alterations to accommodate a culture in order that they may have the same doctrinal understandings we have.

Also, as Pastor Sutton points out, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls disproved the claim that textual variants discredit the Bible. Before they were discovered, we only had the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, which dated back to the 10th and 11th centuries. At the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of them were written between 200 BC and AD 68, which “pushed the date of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts back almost a thousand years,” and “the differences between the manuscripts were insignificant” (51-52). If there were any discrepancies worth discounting the entire Old Testament, these scrolls would have done so.

We have a lot more manuscripts for the New Testament because “the Greco-Roman world enjoyed widespread literacy and writing material,” thus we have over 25,000 New Testament manuscripts (52). This is significantly more than Homer’s Iliad (only 2,000 manuscripts), which recounts some major events at the end of the Trojan War, yet no one is skeptical that the Trojan War happened just because there are only 2,000 copies of the Iliad. It is illogical to willfully accept such an account as factual when there’s minimal copies of it yet not prescribe that same willful acceptance to documents that exceed the other.

Pastor Sutton continues at length more on the subject of “errors” in Scripture. After discussing textual variants, he addresses the claim that the Bible cannot be inerrant since people wrote it. I definitely recommend the Christian read this section. As he says, “This claim deserves thoughtful reflection” because it is serious (58). This is an especially important read for some “evangelicals” who assert the Bible is errant and fallible.

Chapter 4, Disputes and Disagreements

“History is perspectival,” says Pastor Sutton (71). History will be told differently depending on the perspective of the one recounting the story. Pastor Sutton uses Columbus as an example. Columbus viewed his arrival in what is now America as a victorious discovery, whereas the Native Indians and their sympathisers view it as invasive. Thus, “Postmodernity has recognized that history is deeply contextual and depends greatly on where the historian is situated in both time and space” (71). For centuries, people have fulminated the Bible’s history. They have devised many claims to do so without any success, and they still remain as reasons for people to doubt today. The Christian claim, however, is that the Bible is historically reliable and God is a personal being who directly involves Himself in history. Thus, biblical history tells historical stories from a biblical—or theological—perspective. This in itself does not mean we cannot trust biblical history, Pastor Sutton contends. So, he starts off with addressing the claim that biblical history cannot be trusted.

In postmodernity, many exercise cultural relativism—that what is “true and untrue, right and wrong, fact and fiction are strictly confined to the context that gives rise to them; what is true for one person is not true for another” (72). As Pastor Sutton illustrates, relativism does make sense in some contexts. For example, I can argue red wine is the best wine while another will argue white wine is the best wine. Both of these claims are right and true since they are dependent on the individual’s taste. This is subjective truth. However, truth claims—objective truth—cannot be relevant. In the laws of logic, it is impossible for multiple truths to exist for one particular subject. For example, if I am standing in a patch of grass where there’s only one flower, there can either be one flower or no flowers. Objective truth says there is one flower—its very existence in the grass says there is one as opposed to none whether or not I think there is one or zero, not because I feel there is one flower. If I feel there are zero flowers—subjective truth—I would be wrong and irrational because the objective truth of its existence says otherwise no matter what I say.

In the same way, Pastor Sutton contends relativism and history cannot correspond since “history is about events occurring in time and space. It is not a matter of personal preference, individual inclination, or overt opinion. History recounts real happenings that occurred in real places, involving real people” (73). Therefore, we are certainly able to receive true, untrue, right, wrong, facts, and fiction from history. All of history is written from different perspectives, for they each have different agendas—different purposes of recounting; therefore, each historical perspective will recount different details because of the agenda that serves the perspective. The Bible’s perspective just happens to be one that is theological—that is, the study of God’s Word and how we relate to Him and neighbour.

Furthermore, “content and context” are essential components to scrutinising a historical account. Such as: who’s the writer, when was it written, who was it written for or spoken to, and what are the cultural significances of its claims? “Context can help reveal when a historical account is propaganda” (73). If we know it’s propaganda, then we know it’s biased and unreliable. “Content is another way to analyze historical discourse… A historical record that reveals no mistakes or shortfalls is likely biased” (74) and cannot be trusted. In both the Old and New Testaments, we read of the mistakes and shortfalls of the Israelites, especially the kings of Israel, and even the apostles. The apostles themselves were unafraid to admit their shortcomings and failures. If the Israelites and their kings and the apostles were depicted as seemingly perfect people who never made a mistake, then this would indicate it was used for propaganda and cannot be trusted. However this is not the case. Sutton affirms this:

The historical context reveals that the Bible is not a history commissioned by a dictator, a king, or ruler; instead, the history in the Bible was composed in the midst of slavery and freedom, subjugation and power, poverty and wealth. The historical content of the Bible is not exclusively praise or pompous acclaim; instead, the history of the Bible is full of military defeat, personal failure, and shady characters. (74)

He gives more detail on the context and content of the Bible, which I also highly recommend the Christian to read.

Conclusion

This concludes my review. Each chapter is far too interesting to review that it would make this review go much longer than it already has. In each chapter, Pastor Sutton continues to give superb reasons with supporting evidence to show how the Bible really can be trusted.

One of the evaluations to test if a worldview is correct is coherence. For example, Christianity itself is coherent because “the being and the behavior of God are interrelated with the human condition” throughout the entire Bible (Groothuis, 54). In other words, there is a coherence throughout the entire Bible where God’s relationship to His created humans and their condition is the fundamental issue. Pastor Sutton’s Why Should I Trust the Bible? shares this same coherence, for throughout the entire book every issue is always rooted in Christ. Everything falls back on Christ our cornerstone for Pastor Sutton, and so it should.

The only critique I have is that Pastor Sutton include footnotes in his next book to show his sources. It is easy for me to agree with him because most of what I read in this book I have learnt in my pre-seminary education, so I take him at his word, as may other Christians. It is also easy for me to take him at his word because as he will be my future colleague, I trust his pastoral office and, therefore, his intellectual prowess. Knowing him personally also aids in the trust factour. However, for one who is not Lutheran or Christian, they may not be so willing to take him at his word; they will want to see sources. Merely saying something is factual is not convincing to the non-Christian. While I contend his evidence is reliable, I maintain that he show his sources in footnotes (whether at the end or on the same page) for the unbeliever’s sake. He does provide footnotes in some places and he also provides excellent excursuses at the end of each chapter, yet for other claims he could show where he got the evidence from (e.g. when he makes claims of archaeological evidence supporting biblical historicity). However, in numerous cases he does use the laws of logic excellently to dismantle false claims made against the Bible.

I doubt many unbelievers will read the entire book, but for those few unbelievers who remain intellectually objective, providing sources will be helpful. With this critique, however, I acknowledge I have to keep in mind Pastor Sutton’s intended audience: believers. He did not write this with the intention of unbelievers picking it up and coming to faith. With that in mind, this critique does not affect my rating. Still, though, it is possible for an unbeliever to pick up the book, for the title is indeed striking. Even if not a single unbeliever reads this book, providing sources will be helpful to believers as well.

Regardless of my small critique, as the audience Pastor Sutton is writing to is Christians, Why Should I Trust the Bible? serves to recertify the Christian whose faith is suffering in Christ the cornerstone. This is a terrific resource for the Christian to return to time and time again when giving an apologetic defence for the faith. I expect to do this myself. This is not a book to be read just once and then placed upon one’s bookshelf to collect dust. The mark of an epic book is one that is picked up multiple times. This is one of those books. This is most certainly a book to be utilised repeatedly to maintain the Christian faith, for Pastor Sutton’s words hold timeless wisdom rooted in Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our faith.

References

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

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