CHAPTER 1: WHY I BELIEVE IN THE BIBLE
Dr. Kennedy begins his book with a chapter on the why he believes the Bible. I must say, a right proper beginning. After all, the Bible forms the whole basis for his beliefs; therefore he must establish the validity of this basis. Before I even opened the book I was most curious about how he would go about doing this.
I found it interesting that he relies on fulfilled prophecies as a foundation for his belief in the Bible. He makes a good case, but one can't help feeling uneasy about it. Prophecy is an area so full of snakes that it's hardly a strong point for the faithful. It's almost a skeptic's paradise; nearly everything that can go wrong could easily have gone wrong in terms of provability of the Bible. Kennedy wrote his book to provide believers with "ammunition" to counter challenges from nonbelievers, but intelligent skeptics, or even Biblical scholars, can easily dismiss many of the examples he presents.
I think I can provide a better rationale for believing in the Bible, which may stand up to challenge better. I will try to do so later.
The Bible does indeed contain many fulfilled prophecies. It contains both hits and misses, however, but Dr. Kennedy doesn't say so. In this chapter he relies on a logical pitfall known as the "fallacy of composition"; i.e., assuming that a property shared by parts of something must apply to the whole. In other words, he implies that if some things in the Bible are demonstrably true, then that is sufficient reason for trusting the soundness of the entire book. Unfortunately the converse is equally valid, so this kind of "ammunition" does not convince.
Examples of prophecy in chapter 1
Let's get on to the interesting stuff: the prophecies. There are many the author could have selected as examples. He chose first Ezekiel's prophecies concerning the destruction of the city of Tyre, so I will do the same. I must confess amazement at the use of Ezekiel 26-28 as an example here, since it is in fact an excellent instance of unfulfilled prophecy. Here's the account in an old standard textbook, Introduction to the Old Testament, by R. H. Pfeiffer:
In a series of oracles against Tyre (26-28), Ezekiel in 585 BC anticipated its capture by Nebuchadnezzar (26:7-14). In reality, Josephus, quoting Philostratus . . . and Phoenician sources report that Nebuchadnezzar vainly besieged Tyre for thirteen years. . . . Accordingly, a later oracle dated in 571, when Nebuchadnezzar had abandoned the siege, states that as a reward for his services against Tyre, for which he had received no wages, the Babylonian king would conquer Egypt (29:17-20; cf. 30:10-12). This Babylonian conquest of the Valley of the Nile, anticipated also by Jeremiah (43:10-13), remained a dream. . . . the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Amasis did not result in a conquest of Egypt; at most it barred the Pharaoh from interference in Palestine.
Why does Kennedy consider this prophecy about Tyre a hit rather than a miss? Ezekiel predicts disaster, sacking of the city, etc. by Nebuchadnezzar, but after 13 years (or 15, depending on which Bible you have), the city wasn't sacked. He reached a settlement with Tyre instead, so the terrible destruction in Ezekiel 26 and 27 was a bit less than predicted (the siege probably did great harm, but Tyre had put up with this sort of thing off and on throughout its history). God relents in Ezekiel 29 and gives Nebuchadnezzar Egypt as a consolation prize for trying to do God's will. In reading the prophecy, however, one gets the distinct impression that Tyre would be taken, sacked; the prediction is long, poetic, but also impossible to mistake. It just didn't happen, and the Bible even admits this. Perhaps Ezekiel's prediction simply illustrates his overenthusiastic loyalty to Babylon (he said nothing against Babylon, only against its enemies including Judah). In the grips of nationalist pride, a prophet could make mistaken predictions.
But Kennedy insists that this prophecy was fulfilled after all, 250 years later when Alexander the Great came through and leveled the newer island city of Tyre after building a road using the ruins of the old mainland city of Tyre. This is irrelevant. Ezekiel quite plainly named the conqueror, saying of Tyre (26:7-12) that Nebuchadnezzar and his troops would bring down its towers, enter its gates, kill its people, and break down its walls. That did not happen, as we know from other sources including a later statement by Ezekiel himself. What Alexander may have done two and a half centuries later has no bearing on it. It's like predicting that the President will die this year of liver disease. If he actually dies of a heart attack fifty years from now, that does not "fulfill" the prediction.
More serious, though, is something easily missed: Dr. Kennedy misrepresents Alexander's conquest of Tyre. Let me sketch a bit of the city's history. There's a whole book about it, by W. B. Fleming; for Alexander's siege, there are several ancient sources, notably Diodorus.
This walled city stood on an island; it also controlled some territory on the mainland coast, about a half mile away. It passed peacefully into Persian control before 500 BC. After Alexander defeated the Persian king Darius at Issus (late 333 BC), he turned south toward Egypt, and Tyre held out against him. Unwilling to leave hostile forces in his rear, he laid siege to Tyre. He adopted the unprecedented stratagem of using stone and wood from the mainland to build a wide path to the island, and he conquered the city within less than a year. Women and children had long since been evacuated, but he did sack the city, and a good part of it burned. He then marched on south.
Alexander used stone from the mainland to build the path to the island. But of course it wasn't rocks from the actual walls of Tyre; these were on the island, and Alexander hadn't yet conquered it when he built the path. Furthermore, we know that the city not only recovered quickly but was being besieged again (by Antigonus) less than 20 years later - proof that the walls still stood! In fact, Tyre remained a major city for another millennium and a half. Thus Dr. Kennedy's defense of the prophecy is not only illogical but depends on an outright falsehood.
Kennedy also mentions Micah's predictions of doom for Jerusalem around 700 BC (the date is identifiable from the kings mentioned). These predictions also were not realized. In fact, this example became famous, and a century later Jeremiah refers to it, quoting Micah 3:12 and adding the "explanation" that "the LORD repented of the evil which he had pronounced against them."
A fundamental problem exists with prophecies of a regime's downfall: they are generally self-fulfilling, and therefore can't be considered as bona-fide prophecies, especially when they don't give dates. Look how easily the downfall of a regime can be predicted:
I hereby prophesy that the United States of America will be on the ash-heap of history.
Sad to say, it will, hopefully centuries hence and only because we dream up something better. Civilizations come and go, governments come and go, countries come and go, borders change. There's nothing remarkable about this example, but by the standards of many believers, one would call it a "hit."
You might ask, what about those truly clear prophecies that require no force-fitting? Surely they cannot all be lucky guesses. Well, chance is underrated by most observers. I find that most people seem a little too eager to claim "hits" that don't withstand skeptical scrutiny. Perhaps as important, "misses" are either ignored or explained away.
Some prophecies not mentioned 
Let's begin with Daniel. The book describes a figure with a head of gold, upper body of silver, lower body of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. The Bible says that these all represent four kingdoms from "gold" to "iron," each inferior to its predecessor, and then goes on to make various predictions about their fates.
The trouble is, scholars throughout history have been force-fitting this into several lists of governments. They do this because the time-frames for these four kingdoms are vague and to the extent they are specific, no one has tied them convincingly to world events. They argue over which four kingdoms are meant and arguments are taken largely on the grounds of making the prophecy look good or look bad, or at least match one's own view of history, depending on one's preconceptions.
Or take Jeremiah; possibly the best example of a false prophet. In Jeremiah 22:24-30, Jeconiah was cursed of God. According to Jeremiah, God had doomed Jeconiah to childlessness. Yet according to I Chronicles 3:17-18, Jeconiah did indeed have children. In Jeremiah 34:45, Jeremiah predicts that King Zedekiah would die in peace. In reality, his son was killed before his eyes, he himself was blinded, and he apparently died while languishing in a Babylonian prison (II Kings 25:7). Finally, Jeremiah 29:10 predicts that the Exile would last 70 years. It actually lasted 48.
How about Matthew? Thomas Paine, one of our country's founding fathers, went through all of Matthew looking for passages that were claimed to be fulfillment of prophecy, and debunked each one (see the chapter 1 appendix for a more in-depth exploration of messianic prophecy). One example is Matthew 2:23, "He shall be called a Nazarene." Paine writes: "Here is good circumstantial evidence that Matthew dreamed, for there is no such passage in all the Old Testament; and I invite the bishop and all the priests in Christendom, including those of America, to produce it." 
Now let's look at the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This is a spectacularly undiscussed topic. In fact, there were two exiles. The first, the Assyrian, deported 27,000 Israelites, traditionally known as the Ten Tribes, into another part of Assyria. The Judeans were left in charge, probably because they didn't oppose the Assyrians. These inhabitants of Judah were exiled two centuries later. It was touch and go, but in the end the Judeans survived.
The Assyrians were brutal and heavy-handed. The ten tribes they took ended up disappearing from history. However, the Bible is full of prophecy that assumes and presumes they will someday return in spite of their apostasy. Or, at least, a lot of folks over a lot of centuries expected them to return; the sanest story comes from the Jewish historian Josephus who reported that the Ten Tribes existed as a powerful nation beyond the Euphrates. Most likely the Ten Tribes intermarried with the people of a new region and vanished by assimilation.
In any case, their disappearance raises many difficult problems that are not easy to explain or resolve even if one takes the standard line that they got the covenant curses they deserved. So did the Judeans, but they somehow survived. What the difference was isn't really clear, because the Judeans weren't really any more pious monotheists than the Israelites.
See how pliable Biblical prophecy can be? In short, it's a lot less impressive than it looks. I am told that these critiques are well-known in seminaries but seldom seen or heard outside of them.
General problems with prophecy
Self-fulfillment has already been discussed above in relation to predictions of ruined regimes; also vagueness in the case of Daniel. In general, prophecy supplies fertile ground for the proliferation of other quandaries:
1. Uncertain time periods.
Isaiah is often regarded as two or even three different individuals, separated by a significant amount of time and space. This is not so odd as it sounds. There are many ancient manuscripts which purport to be by Moses or some other ancient worthy, but which are so obviously written later in time. Older books of the Bible had ample opportunity for such accretions, because the most ancient Bibles we have are circa 150 BC (i.e. the Masoretic texts for the Old Testament) and even these aren't the source of most modern translations. Much of one's view of Biblical prophecy could hinge on whether one takes Isaiah in particular at face value. Many scholars do not, but traditionalists do.
2. Shrewd predictions.
A wag once wrote "If you must predict, predict often." What is needed is a demonstration that prophecy works on a level that cannot be explained by chance. Note that if someone predicted the fall of Fidel Castro "within five years," that would be a reasonably specific prophecy, but the odds of it coming true are better than 50/50, too. We must not discount ordinary shrewdness in the matter.
Long-range prophecy presents problems; it's hard to find a genuinely convincing unarguable hit. For closer-range prophecy, one has the problem that it's not always correct (see Tyre for a splendid example) or that it's often a pretty shrewd bet. So, distinguishing it from chance is not an easy proposition.
3. Non-fulfillment or allegorical fulfillment.
Much of what is touted as prophecy sometimes comes true and sometimes does not; hardly a proof of anything. Kennedy contends that Biblical prophecy is absolutely reliable. But, there are many prophecies in the Bible that have not come true or did not in the time frame one would expect, reading the text straightforwardly. It is not convincing to argue that these will come true later on or did come true later in some allegorical sense. And in some cases, there is no real evidence that the predicted event ever happened at all (for example, the casting of lots for Jesus's clothes at the Crucifixion).
4. Intentional fulfillment.
Biblical prophecy also stumbles against the fact that people of various cultures paid some attention to divination in those days (astrologers frequently held powerful positions in government) and they may have tried to fulfill known prophecies. It could hardly hurt for a politician to fulfill cheerfully a well-known old prophecy, since this might demoralize his political opponents. Possibly the Three Wise Men came, not necessarily because they were Jews (they probably weren't) but because as scholars in foreign parts, they studied everyone's prophecies. These things are hard to prove or disprove, but undeniably, there's nothing remarkable about people of those times paying attention to the prophetic literature of others.
5. After-the-fact editing.
The above discussion and examples highlight some difficulties with Biblical prophecy without even mentioning the painful possibility that a prophecy was made to look good after the fact! Ample scope for tampering clouds the credibility of Biblical prophecy. Our earliest Old Testament texts date to circa 150 BC, centuries after what appears to have been the original era in which they were first written. Our current reverence for antiquity was not yet fully developed in this age, and in the Bible, signs of a certain amount of editing abound, if you go by the average scholar. The most accessible is the book of Jeremiah; the Septuagint text varies substantially from the Masoretic text, in sequence and even in the number of chapters. Another example is a prophecy concerning Josiah in I Kings 13:2, but evidence inside the Bible itself indicates that much of the Old Testament was not written until the time of Josiah (II Kings 22:8+, in which the book of the Law is conveniently "found" in the temple, and contains some laws that nobody had heard of before). Another example: the end of the Book of Mark has or has not the last chapter, depending on which ancient manuscript one uses. Certainly, when one looks at 20th century prophetic claims, the same sort of problems (vagueness, after-the-fact "improvements") occur.
Let's look at Daniel again. The Book of Daniel contains outright errors about its own time-frame, supposedly contemporaneous to "Darius the Mede" (who was actually Persian, not Median, and who was preceded by Cyrus, not the other way round as written in Daniel), and also contains apparent confusion about the historical relationship of Chaldeans and Medians. However, it makes some stunningly accurate prophecies about the future. How is it that Daniel is so fuzzy about its own "present" and so accurate about the "future"? Well, there are clues (such as referring to angels by name) that the book was actually written in what it claims is the future, and contains a hazy history as the "present." The clues indicate that the writer was probably a man of Greek times. In fairness, I doubt that the book disguises history as prophecy with intent to deceive. In this view, it was likely never meant as it is so often taken today, but rather as stories to comfort the Jews in more modern times.
It should be obvious by now that one cannot possibly regard prophecy fulfillment as a validation of the Bible. Too many uncertainties, unanswered questions, and examples of non-fulfillment clutter the Biblical prophecy landscape.
Other issues related to chapter 1
In reading his book, I noticed that Kennedy sometimes succumbs to another major pitfall, or fallacy, of logical argument by citing Scripture as proof of concepts originating in Scripture. This is known as circulus in demonstrando, or circular reasoning, in which a premise is used as the conclusion one wishes to reach, as in "Biblical prophecy is true because God says so in the Bible. And the Bible is true because it is the word of God."
Fundamentalist Christians go one step further by insisting on the inerrancy of the Bible. Lloyd Averill (Professor of Theology and Preaching at Northwest Theological Union in Seattle) describes it like this:
What the Bible says is true without exception.
However much that flawed syllogism may read like a caricature, it is not. There is no need to caricature what is already so egregious that its exaggeration cannot be improved upon.
The Bible is inerrant? Kennedy appears to think so, although he doesn't actually say it outright. He is very selective in what he presents to support his reasoning, and he completely ignores the abundance of Biblical inconsistencies that have jumped right out at me. Because he says he wrote the book to help Christians deal with challenges from unbelievers, and the Bible is often challenged on its inconsistencies, I ardently hoped he would address them somehow. Contradictions are understandable for a hodgepodge collection of documents, but not for a carefully constructed treatise reflecting a well-thought-out plan. Here are just a few Biblical inconsistencies; those that relate specifically to God I will leave for a later chapter:
The Virgin Birth story was almost certainly inspired by the numerous tales of pagan gods making mortal women pregnant. Even such historical people as Pythagoras, Plato, and Alexander the Great were imagined to have divine paternity - Apollo for the first two and Zeus for the third.
How did Judas die? What were Jesus's dying words? So many incongruities! I'm getting into too much detail here and feel the urge to run off on tangents. I'd better stop now. Even the great 3rd century church father Origen declared that some passages in the Bible "are not literally true but absurd and impossible." An exhaustive list of all the inconsistencies would require a whole book (and such a book does exist: The Bible Handbook by W. P. Ball and G. W. Foote, though I haven't seen it myself).
Despite the way it's advertised, Why I Believe fails to supply adequate answers to challenges from nonbelievers. I would like to suggest an answer the specific question "Why do you believe in the Bible?" that a skeptic would have more difficulty arguing with. There is a price, however; although honest Christians should not find it too steep: One must admit that the Bible is imperfect. If the documentation I have presented so far seems antagonistic, let me first offer more palatable evidence based on the Bible's own witness to itself:
The Bible does not witness to its own inerrancy. The author of 2 Timothy wrote about "all scripture" being "inspired by God." This does not apply to the New Testament. Keep in mind that the Old Testament was the only scripture that existed for Christians at the time (the term translated as "scripture" in 2 Timothy was commonly used among Greek-speaking Jews to refer to the Old Testament). Similarly, the passage in 2 Peter that speaks of the "prophecy of scripture" clearly refers only to the Old Testament messianic anticipations. Also, 2 Peter itself was not originally part of the New Testament in the second century when many churches came to accept a Christian canon of 20 books. Neither passage speaks to the issue of scriptural inerrancy, but rather only to that of scriptural inspiration and authority.
As far as the Old Testament goes, Jesus himself was clearly not tied to the reliability of the Jewish scriptures, although he revered them. Averill writes:
He felt free to differ from their precepts when he thought them wrong, and to urge upon his followers similar nonconformity (healing on the sabbath, gathering food on the sabbath, refraining from ceremonial cleansing before meals, for example). Even more, he declared unequivocally the inadequacy of some Old Testament moral teaching ("You have heard it was said to the men of old . . . . But I say unto you. . . ."). From his teaching we must conclude that he found the Law and the Prophets to be insufficient in themselves. . . . The best evidence that Jesus differed from the prevailing scriptural view of his time lies in the fact that his interpretation of that scripture resulted in the charge of blasphemy leveled against him by religious authorities.
Even if one accepts "Thus saith the Lord" as authentic communication from God, that doesn't guarantee the accuracy Leviticus's endless legalisms or the Chronicles' monotonous begats. And Paul makes it clear four times in 1 Corinthians that what he is writing is not the word of God but rather his own opinion (7:6, 12, 25, 40). Lastly, there's the issue of begging the question: One cannot claim that the Bible is in all respects true because the Bible says it is, since the truth of what the Bible says is precisely the thing to be proved.
Now, to answer the question "Why do you believe in the Bible?" Remember, the discussion so far has been restricted to belief in the Bible, without addressing the related issues of belief in God or Christianity. Those beliefs are more difficult for me to justify. For the Bible, here is an answer I, as a nonbeliever, propose would satisfy a skeptic better than any other:
I believe the Bible expresses higher truth than literal history or science. What the Bible has to say about the meaning of our human existence is not tied to having all of its facts straight about the structure of our human existence.
I believe that the main business of the Bible is to deliver an authoritative message. That message stands independently of whether or not there was such a man as Bildad the Shuhite; whether or not Daniel actually wrote the book that bears his name; whether or not the original creation was accomplished by God in six 24-hour days; whether or not a flood covered the earth, whether or not Revelations has any truth to it, or whether or not God inspired every word. I understand and accept the flaws in the Bible, but those things only distract, not detract, from its message.
The Bible has much to say on the nature of humanity, which makes it a book worth reading, enjoying, and learning from. The central message, embodied in the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus, is that we are made by Love for love. About that, historical and scientific scholarship are silent and unknowing.
In other words, stick to the main message; the rest is excess baggage. Just as important, those who make this argument should make their views explicit, should not try to defend the Bible as history or the literal word of God, and should not complain about criticisms of it as such. Besides, considering the Bible as sacred and perfect amounts to idolatry, and isn't that a sin?
My proposal is far from perfect. A Jew might make the above statement more easily than a Christian. The main message, or fundamental core of worth, might be disputed. You are likely to receive objections to this answer: Why the Bible then? Why not some other book that expresses higher truth? Can you prove that universal truth cannot exist independently of God? What is the Bible's real core of worth? These are extremely difficult questions to answer. But at least it moves the debate to a deeper level, into a more constructive direction than bickering over historical accuracy, unfulfilled prophecies, and contradictions.
I can suggest possible answers to some of these deeper questions.
Q. Why the Bible then? I can get the same message from the writings of other religions.
Q. Why not some other book that expresses higher truth?
Q. Can you prove that universal truth cannot exist independently of God?
The subjective basis of believing in the Bible, or for adhering to any belief system, is unavoidable. It is important to deal with this by pointing out how a belief system, in this case the Bible, can give life meaning where history and science might not. If you want meaning in life, you'll have to develop it somehow, get it somewhere. If meaning is not objective, but subjective, then the Bible is as good a place as any, depending upon how it affects your life. If meaning is objective and not subjective, then it's still impossible to prove that this meaning is not in the Bible somewhere.
It is important to remember that belief systems are essentially subjective. Choosing one or another depends upon personal tastes, circumstances and goals. Aside from healthy objective skepticism, there is no objective reason for preferring strong atheism to theism, or vice versa, only subjective reasons (however, those who have no belief at all, one way or the other, will argue that their system is most objective). If you take the position that beliefs are subjective, you do not need to provide independent confirmation for a "personal experience with God." Instead, you need only point out that it is a part of your own belief system and that you have made your choice, despite the possibility of alternate interpretations. Taking this position does not require you to prove that the Bible is right with any of these "higher truths," but merely requires you to show how you are better off for believing in them.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information, see also "The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah" by Jim Lippard.
 R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament.
 Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (1981), p. 587. This is a magnificent reference book detailing history surrounding events in the Old and New Testaments. Asimov does not preach nor proselytize nor pass judgments; he simply integrates all geographic, biographical, and historical knowledge existing today into an enlightening book to illuminate the Biblical aspects of the first 4,000 years of human civilization.
 I am grateful to William C. Waterhouse of Pennsylvania State University (email removed) for providing me with fascinating e-mail correspondence about the history of Tyre and Alexander's siege, using the references by W. B. Fleming and Diodorus.
 Larry Loen of IBM (email removed), Richard Daniel (email removed), and Robby Berry (email removed) contributed to this discussion of specific Biblical prophecies through e-mail correspondence.
 Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism edited by Gordon Stein. A good explanation of all the passages claimed by the New Testament to be prophecies of Christ.
If you wish to read something shorter, see Appendix 1 for a more concise essay about messianic prophecy.
 Robin Layne Fox, The Unauthorized Version (1993), p. 318. This is a firsthand account by a historian and Bible scholar of what he thinks the Bible really is and how it came to be.
 Lloyd J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong (1989), p. 33. This is one Christian scholar's critique of the Fundamentalist movement. Though I disagreed with some of his Christian assumptions, I found him to be quite an enlightened individual.
 Averill, p. 85.
 Quoted in "The Bible: The Believers Gain," Time, December 30, 1974, p. 38.
 The words in this proposal, and the discussion that follows, were collected together from various places in Averill's book, and from personal email correspondence, primarily by Austin R. Cline (
email removed) at Princeton University. Other contributors are Larry Loen, Aaron Bilger (email removed) at Purdue University, Herman Miller (email removed), and one anonymous person (email removed).
|Top of Page|