Tag Archives: Biblical Criticism

Teaching youth can be a difficult task for any Bible study leader. Selecting an relevant topic is the first step. This Bible study is perfect for a group of high school juniors and seniors who are planning on attending college. Many Christian college students end up having their faith questioned or challenged, so preparing them for this possibility is an important task. Use this Bible study as a starting place for your own!

High School Bible Study on Biblical Criticism

  1. Historical/Literary Criticism: The Bible is untrustworthy.
    1. This is stuff that you will encounter in some religion classes you take, and is certainly in the air at most American colleges.
    2. The objections to the Bible’s reliability fall into one of a few main categories:
      1. The transmission of the text is unreliable; Jesus didn’t really say what the disciples say he did, the Old Testament likewise is hard to rely on.
        1. Documentary Hypothesis (DH)
          1. The DH basically says that the first 5 books of the Bible as we have them today were written in the 7th century BC from a variety of sources, notably a northern tribes edition of the Bible (E), a Judah specific version (J), a Josiah era writer (D) and a priestly writer who put the final pieces together and tried to legitimize his class (P).
          2. Archeology disproves the timing and assumptions of this theory
          3. Deuteronomy, which for the DH to be true had to have been written about 621 BC, shows evidence of being written much much earlier
            1. Talked about desert life rather than farming life
            2. Didn’t mention at all very important places like Jerusalem, Shiloh, Ramah, which existed later but not when the book itself claims to have been written.
          4. The sources overlap so much (100s of verses are said to have different sources) that it’s difficult to imagine how they made something of such lasting value as the Bible by cutting and pasting
          5. The sources also contradict each other by using the “wrong” names (YHWH or Elohim) in several spots. These are claimed to be “mistakes” or literary freedom of the redactors by DH folks, but this is a call to miracles and really shows that the theory breaks down under too close scrutiny.
        2. The copyists altered portions of the text in response to controversies of their day to gain favor for their side
          1. For instance the P writer of the Documentary Hypothesis, or arguments about the role of women in the NT, etc.
          2. That this doesn’t occur is easy to show false from the copious instances where the Bible includes very inconvenient facts, like Peter’s denial or Jesus’ “My God My God” statement from the cross, and especially as it fails to address topics directly that were of obvious concern to the writers of the day
            1. Eg, In the Gospels, Jesus never said word one about eating meat sacrificed to idols, even though it was one of the major controversies of the early church.
        3. Over such long periods of time we don’t have any idea what the original text really looked like.
          1. Dead Sea Scrolls disproved this
            1. 50 years ago, everyone thought we were going to be rewriting our Bibles, but that turned out to be nonsense; the Dead Sea Scrolls are almost identical to what we already have, save for things like prepositions, alternate spellings, articles (a, the, etc) and conjunctions.
          2. Science of Biblical Literary Criticism also disproves this; we have about 99% confidence in our current text, and no major doctrines are in that 1% we’re not absolutely sure of.
          3. There is more certainty of what the Bible says than of any other book in antiquity.
        4. The presence of miracles in the New Testament indicates that these are just legends.
          1. Not so, since they were written within a generation of the events. It would be like me saying Richard Nixon shot fireballs from his butt. Easy to disprove.
            1. Paul quotes Jesus, Peter quotes Paul, etc.
            2. 1 Cor 15, written very close to the events, describes hundreds of eyewitnesses to the Resurrection
          2. Either someone without antecedent or follower anticipated the modern style of novelistic fiction, or this was intended to be read as history, not legend or myth or fiction.
          3. Eyewitness accounts, carbon dating also date the Gospels to be within a generation of the events.
      2. The selection of books included in the Bible was biased
        1. The Gnostic Gospels (Judas, Thomas, etc)
          1. Jesus seminar, Dan Brown, etc rely on these books to show us a supposedly more historical Jesus
          2. They were written hundreds of years after the fact, far away from the original events, and cite no eyewitness accounts, etc.
            1. A document disputing the revolutionary war written in 1850 in Ohio has about as much force.
      3. The text of the Bible itself is unreliable
        1. Depiction of miracles; we’ll cover this one later, but basically it just assumes that miracles aren’t possible, which isn’t really an argument.
        2. Historical inaccuracies
          1. No historical evidence in Egypt for the exedous (would you build a monument to that debacle?)
          2. In general doesn’t match the archeological record (Jerico, etc)
            1. Settling of Israel not all at once
            2. There was a claim that there were no Hittites
              1. Found ‘em, actually.
            3. Claims about the New Testament not matching the archeological record have been shown false in the past, and there’s never been evidence found that contradicts the Biblical account (although some things are lacking, that’s not a great argument).
          3. No mention of Jesus outside of Bible (false)
            1. Simply foolish; Christianity didn’t come out of a vacuum.
            2. There is more evidence for Jesus than any other founder of a world religion. Facts such as Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and followers’ belief that he was God are documented in many sources outside of the Bible.
          4. No Adam, Abraham, Isaac or Jacob.
            1. Some of those stories are repeated
            2. No historical evidence, these stories were made up to create a false sense of national identity around the time of David (of course there’s also no reliable historical evidence for this argument)
        3. The disciples made it all up to create a cult
          1. Would be the first time that was successful
          2. Rather than personally benefiting, they all were put to death, every one, and all they had to do to save themselves was admit it was a lie
          3. Historical Jesus nonsense
            1. A hundred years or so ago it was very popular to go back supposedly beyond the Bible to look at the “evidence” and filter out the Disciples’ propaganda, and discover the “real” Jesus. Turns out there were as many vastly different “historical Jesus”es as there were authors, and each Jesus reflected greatly the biases and agendas of the authors.
          4. Resurrection didn’t really happen.
            1. Popular Dan Brown novels.
            2. 1 Cor 15 happened so close to the date, it couldn’t have been faked (again, like me saying Nixon was Black)
            3. First witnesses were women; if you’re making it up, the first witness would have been the High Priest or maybe Nicodemus
            4. None of Christianity’s ancient critics (Jews and Romans) claimed that Jesus was still in his tomb.
            5. Disciples died for it, even Paul and James, who were skeptics
            6. Can you come up with another historically plausible explanation for the existence of the church? I didn’t think so.
          5. Gospels don’t agree on the details, so they can’t be true
            1. This is what you’d expect if they’re coming from different, real, eyewitness accounts (ever do that “what color was the thief wearing” experiment?)
            2. Also, they agree on the substantive details: Jesus thought he was God, died unfairly on the cross, and came back to life
    3. Resources:
      1. The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
      2. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
      3. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, William Lane Craig
    4. Point by point refutations:
      1. Why not circumcision or eating meat sacrificed to idols? These were clearly hotly contested items of the day
        1. By the way, people do this today. We “reinterpret” the meaning of the Bible in ways that bolster our own positions rather than being faithful to what was said.