Should we believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible, or the other way around?

Reading the Bible

Have you ever thought which came first – your belief in Jesus or your belief in the Bible? Do you think it matters?

Greg Boyd thinks it matters

Greg Boyd is an American christian author and pastor. In an interview a year ago, Greg talked about why he thinks it is important. It comes down to five observations.

There are some difficulties in believing the Bible

“The historical accuracy of some biblical stories are questioned by many scholars, and it’s hard to deny that the Bible contains some apparent contradictions and some material that seems to fly in the face of modern science.”

Many christians are taught the Bible is perfect

It is part of many churches’ creeds that the Bible is without error because it is the word of God – although the Bible nowhere specifically claims this.

This can cause christians problems

“This is “unfortunate” because this way of structuring our faith leverages everything on the perfection of this book, forcing the Bible to carry more weight than it was ever meant to carry. Every single problem people find with scripture now threatens to undermine their faith.”

“The number one reason young people today are abandoning the Christian faith and why other people can’t take the Christian faith seriously has to do with problems they have with the Bible.”

It was different for the early christians

“The earliest disciples didn’t believe in Jesus because their scripture (Old Testament) proved to them that he was the Son of God. They were rather convinced by Jesus’ claims, his unique life of love, his distinctive authority, his unprecedented miracles, his self-sacrificial death, and especially his resurrection.”

It should be the same today

“The things about Jesus that convinced the earliest disciples that he was Lord continue to be compelling enough to convince open-minded people today that Jesus is Lord, and they do not presuppose the view that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.”

If we are convinced by historical, philosophical and personal arguments that Jesus is Lord, Boyd argues, we will then have a reason to value the scriptures as Jesus did. But notice that “my reasons for believing in Scripture are now based entirely on my faith in Jesus, which is why my faith need not be threatened any longer by any historical inaccuracies or contradictions or scientific inaccuracies I may find in it.”

But how can this work?

This approach seems to me to require a few more questions to be answered ….

How can we come to believe in Jesus without believing in the Bible?

There seem to be two ways of believing in Jesus without having faith in the Bible:

  1. Historians treat the Bible as they would any other comparable historical documents, and are able to conclude that many things Jesus taught and did can indeed be considered to be historical. These are sufficient to support christian belief in Jesus.
  2. Personal experience of Jesus, via healing, vision or answers to prayer lead many people to put their trust in him.

Thus faith in Jesus doesn’t require us to believe the Bible is inspired or authoritative or the “word of God”.

If the Bible contains errors, doesn’t that make it impossible to believe it?

Again there seem to be two answers:

  1. It isn’t certain that there are errors in the Bible. Notice Boyd’s words – “historical accuracy of some biblical stories are questioned by many scholars …. the Bible contains some apparent contradictions and some material that seems to fly in the face of modern science”. For every apparent contradiction and question there is an explanation that preserves the Bible’s accuracy. But whether any of us can and should believe all these explanations is another question. Boyd’s approach doesn’t assume error, but uncertainty and doubt.
  2. We gather useful and generally reliable information every day from newspapers, textbooks and personal experience without assuming that these sources are 100% accurate. In the same way, historians can draw reliable conclusions about Jesus without necessarily assuming the gospels are 100% reliable.

I believe Boyd is correct

Building our belief in Jesus on a particular view of the Bible is, in a sense, making the Bible more important than Jesus. It makes our faith vulnerable to changing perceptions and evidence about the Bible, rather than being based on the more certain historical facts about Jesus.

Any belief we have about the Bible is a faith statement that we can base on our belief in Jesus and the truth of what he said and did. I think these leads to a less dogmatic and more creative view of the Bible than most christians think, but that is not a conclusion essential to faith in Jesus.

Photo: MorgueFile

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4 thoughts on “Should we believe in Jesus because we believe in the Bible, or the other way around?

  1. Mark says:

    I say the Bible and I think Jesus would too. Reason is, Jesus is The Word made flesh. Jesus Himself said He did not come to reject the law, but to fulfill it. But, like life in the world, the Bible is complicated and I believe is meant to be taken holistically and with humility. The fact is we know, really know, almost nothing. Even many of the things we think we know seem to get revised ever generation or two. I believe it’s possible our translations and interpretations of the Bible may be flawed, but as we have no indication that Jesus objected to even a single verse in His knowledge of the Bible encourages me to be patient in drawing conclusions about the elements of the Bible I don’t understand. It’s OK to not understand so long as we continue to seek understanding. I believe we err when we depart, confident in our own knowledge, from Jesus’ own beliefs. The better part of wisdom is appreciating the magnitude and potential significance of what is not known.

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  2. unkleE says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for your comment. I agree with your comments about us not knowing as much as we’d sometimes like to think, but I’m not sure I agree that “we have no indication that Jesus objected to even a single verse” For starters, several times in Matthew 5 he quotes an OT passage and says “you have heard it said …. but I say unto you …” and in a sense corrects or sharpens an OT command. And many times when he quotes an OT passage he changes the meaning a little, sometimes more than a little. But he certainly respected the OT and treated it as scripture.

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