A few weeks ago I wrote on the subject of origins and garnered more response than I’ve had in awhile. It’s good to know people are reading this column.
The subject of our beginnings is an important one, because ultimately what we believe about origins affects what we believe about life itself. So, what I am about to suggest probably will start it’s own little firestorm, but please bear with me as I try to lay out my case.
Does one have to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to be a Christian? Firestorm answer No. 1 — no. Knowing as I do the Christian community, there are some that have already stopped reading this column and are preparing their strong responses to what they will surely see as my compromise.
If you haven’t stopped reading yet, let me assure you that I have not compromised my beliefs, but simply want to point out here that sometimes we make peripheral issues into major stumbling blocks for people.
Firestorm question and answer No. 2: Does my faith rest on the authority of the Bible? No. And neither should yours.
Now, before you write me off as a heretic and burn me in effigy, please give me the courtesy of allowing me to explain my answer. If your faith rests on the authority of Scripture, here’s what I know from experience.
Someday someone is going to approach you with a question that you can’t answer. They are going to undermine your faith in the Scripture’s authority, either by presenting you with some “conflicting passages” (which generally are easily resolved if you know hermeneutics, the science of good interpretation) or they are going to get you to doubt whether we really have accurate copies of the originals.
The former tactic is the one that Bart Ehrman, James A Gray Distinguished Professor of the University of North Carolina, uses quite convincingly with those who are not familiar with the historical evidence. Bottom line, he gets people to renounce Christianity by attacking their faith base which is the authority of Scripture, particularly the New Testament Gospels.
Ehrman rightly argues that there was no Bible for the first four centuries in which the Christian faith developed. Indeed, the book we call the Bible did not come into the form we have it today until the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.
That doesn’t mean that the manuscripts that form our modern Bible were not developed until 397 A.D. It simply means that the various manuscripts that existed before that time were finally recognized as authoritative.
Men like Ehrman argue that since all we have is “a copy of a copy of a copy we know that what we have is not accurate.” Of course, the problem with Ehrman’s attestation is by what measure do you determine it is not accurate? You have to have something you believe is accurate if you are going to level the claim that something else is inaccurate. (But that’s another column for another time.)
Where Ehrman is right is that for the first four centuries the church didn’t have a Bible, but rather various writings that existed. Therefore, these early believers did not base their faith on the authority of Scripture, but rather on an event they believed to be true: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
There were eyewitness accounts (according to the various writings they did have, one of which goes back as early as 25 A.D.), and the evidence of a guarded tomb that was definitely empty.
Something transformed Jesus’ earliest followers from a cowering group of 12 to a courageous force that changed the world. These men had heard His teachings, had observed His life. However, the transformation did not occur because of what they heard, but because of what they saw: the resurrected Christ.
Peter put it this way, “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16 NIV).
Stop hiding behind what you don’t believe about the Bible and consider the event that so changed history that even our dating system was impacted. If you are a Christ-follower, make sure your faith is first and foremost in the event of the Resurrection, and when those difficult things arise that you can’t answer, your faith will remain intact.
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.