In my last post I began to discuss the importance of “truth” to conservative evangelical Christianity, through a bit of autobiography. You don’t need to have read that post for this one, so I begin here with the final paragraph that I left off with there. This is from my book Forged.
One of the ironies of modern religion is that the absolute commitment to truth in some forms of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, and the concomitant view that truth is objective and can be verified by any impartial observer, has led many faithful souls to follow the truth wherever it leads, but where it leads is often away from evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. That is to say, if you can, in theory, verify the “objective” truth of religion, and then it turns out that the religion being examined is verifiably wrong, where does that leave you? For many one-time evangelical Christians it leaves them in the wilderness outside the evangelical camp, but with an unrepentant view of truth. Objective truth, to paraphrase the not-so Christian song, has been the ruin of many a poor boy; and God, I know, I’m one.
Before moving outside into the wilderness (which, as it turns out, is a plush paradise compared to the barren camp of fundamentalist Christianity) I was intensely interested in “objective proofs” of the faith: proof that Jesus was physically raised from the dead (Empty tomb! Eyewitnesses!) , proof that God was active in the world (Miracles!), proof that the Bible was the inerrant word of God, without mistake in any way. As a result, I was devoted to the field of study known as Christian “apologetics.”
The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which does not mean “apology” in the sense of saying you’re sorry for something, but in the sense of making a “reasoned defense” of the faith. Christian apologetics is devoted to showing not only that faith in Christ is reasonable, but that the Christian message is demonstrably true, as can be seen by anyone willing to suspend disbelief and look objectively at the evidence.
The reason this commitment to evidence, objectivity, and truth has caused so many well-meaning evangelicals problems over the years is that they – at least some of them — really are confident that if something is true then it necessarily comes from God, and that the worst thing you can do is to believe something that is false. The search for truth takes you where the evidence leads you, even if, at first, you don’t want to go there.
The more I studied the evangelical truth claims about Christianity, especially claims about the Bible, the more and more I realized that the “truth” was taking me somewhere that I very much did not want to go. After I graduated from Moody and went on to Wheaton College to complete my bachelor’s degree, I took Greek so that I could read the New Testament in its original language. From there I went to Princeton Theological Seminary to study with one of the great scholars of the Greek New Testament in the world, Bruce Metzger; I did a master’s thesis under his direction and then a PhD. During the years of my graduate work I studied the text of the New Testament assiduously, intensely, minutely. I took semester-long graduate seminars on single books of the New Testament, studied in the original language. I wrote papers on difficult passages. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was passionate about my studies and the truth that I could find.
But it was not long before I started seeing that the “truth” about the Bible was not at all what I had once thought, when I was a committed evangelical Christian at Moody Bible Institute. For one thing, I became puzzled by the fact that we don’t any longer have the original copies of any of the books of the New Testament, but only later copies, most of them dated many centuries after the originals. All of these later copies have mistakes in them, many thousands of minor mistakes, but also hundreds of major ones, alterations of the text that change what the text means. I began to wonder why I should think that God had inspired the very words of the text – the view that I had at Moody – if he had not seen fit to preserve the words that he inspired. It would take no greater miracle to keep the words intact than it would have been to inspire them in the first place. In fact, it would be less of a miracle: it is not impossible to copy a text correctly, after all. But Christian scribes never did. If I knew for a fact that the original words had not been preserved, why should I think that they had been inspired?
But the problems that I had with the Bible came to be much bigger than that. For the more I studied the more I came to realize that the Bible contained discrepancies and contradictions. If you read the Gospels very carefully in relation to one another, it is quite simple to show that the same story is frequently told in more than one Gospel, but the accounts differ, depending on which Gospel you read. And some of these differences are not merely an additional detail found here or there; sometimes the accounts are actually at odds with one another. After Jesus was born, did his parents take him and flee south, to Egypt, to escape the wrath of Herod, or did they head north, back home to Galilee? It depends which Gospel you read. Did Jesus die on the afternoon before the Passover meal was eaten or on the afternoon after it was eaten? Depends which Gospel you read. Did the disciples go to Galilee to meet Jesus after he was raised from the dead, or did they never leave Jerusalem? Depends which Gospel you read. These are three simple discrepancies. There are dozens. Hundreds. Maybe thousands.
The more I saw that the New Testament (not to mention the Old Testament, where the problems are even more severe) was chock full of these kinds of discrepancies, the more troubled I became. At Moody, as a committed evangelical Christian, I thought that all discrepancies could be objectively reconciled. But eventually I saw that in fact they could not be. I wrestled with these problems, I prayed about them, I studied them, I sought spiritual guidance, I read all I could. But as someone who believed that truth was objective and who was unwilling to believe what was false, I came to think that the Bible could not be what I thought it was. The Bible contained errors. And if it contained errors, it was not completely true. This was a problem for me, because I wanted to believe the truth, the divine truth, and I came to see that the Bible was not divine truth without remainder. The Bible was a very human book.
But the problems didn’t stop there. Eventually I came to realize that the Bible not only contains untruths or accidental mistakes. It also contains what almost anyone today would call lies. That is what the present book is about. [I’ll say a bit more about the book, Forged, in a future post]
 I have explained this problem at greater length in my earlier book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).
 This is the problem I address in Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009).