Text Size: Zoom In

A Realistic View of the Bible

The Bible pays a price for being one of the most quoted and talked about books in the world. Even those who haven’t read it for themselves often assume they’ve heard enough to know what it’s about.

But there’s more to this Book of books than its reputation may suggest. Being anything but predictable, first impressions of the Bible can give way to very different conclusions:

1. The Bible is full of embarrassing stories. Both testaments describe the dark side of the people whose stories they tell.

The prophets of the Old Testament didn’t overlook the moral and spiritual failures of their own people. Nor did the authors of the New Testament Gospels ignore the self-centeredness of Jesus’ disciples or the sins of the church they founded.

Such honesty and self-disclosure does more than give historians indicators of authenticity. It also resonates with the realism of our own lives.

2. At some point the Bible becomes a tough read. The world’s bestseller has a reputation of being the greatest story ever told. Many of its stories are easy enough for a child to understand. But it takes considerable effort to read the Book of books from cover to cover. Just ask anyone who has tried to slog through its intermingling of ancient history, ritual sacrifice, case law, subplots, genealogies, songs, poems, and prophecy.

The surprise, however, is that all of these details eventually morph into the story of one person, Jesus of Nazareth, who claims that Moses and the prophets are telling His story.

Yet even if we are convinced that the Old Testament points to Jesus, we may need to take another look at how it does this.

3. Some of the ways the prophets anticipate Jesus are not clear in the Old Testament. All are not as direct as the prophecy of Micah who foresaw that an ancient ruler would come out of the small town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-6). Sometimes when the New Testament says that an event in Jesus’ life fulfills the Scriptures, it is difficult to find a corresponding Old Testament prediction (E.G., Matthew 2:15, 23).

The need for clearer and more direct predictions, however, turns out to be less important than it at first seems. Before the New Testament is done making its case for Christ, it uses His life, death, and resurrection to give fullness of meaning to patterns, principles, and word pictures of the Scriptures and history of Israel (Matthew 5:17). For a culture focused on temple worship and schooled in the practice of atoning sacrifice, Jesus is presented as the ultimate Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

But if all this is true, why do we find differences in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life?

4. The Gospels offer eyewitness accounts that are sometimes difficult to reconcile. For example, Matthew says there was one angel at the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:5); John says there were two (John 20:12).

While there’s no point in denying such problems, is it a necessary contradiction? Could the gospel writers be describing different moments or perspectives?

Many believe that the apparent discrepancies in the gospel accounts are a mark of authenticity. Rather than suggesting collusion to deceive, they sound more like witnesses in a court of law who agree on the basics while offering different perspectives on the details.

5. Like so many ancient religious myths, the Bible builds its story around supernatural events. But is there a difference? The main storyline of the Bible is not told in the language of “once upon a time.” Instead, from Moses to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the drama of the Old and New Testaments is linked to specific events, times, geographical locations, and people.

The result is that while the storyline of the Bible moves forward on supernatural claims, the validity of those claims rests on the credibility of the individuals and communities who witnessed these events in real times and places.

Many of these witnesses died for their refusal to deny what they saw and heard. Their suffering and deaths deserve consideration. While millions have died for what they believed to be the truth, how many have died for what they claim to have seen, while knowing it to be a lie?

Conclusion: At first sight, there are reasons to wonder why so many view the Bible as the Book of books. The embarrassing stories; the effort it takes to read it from cover to cover; the foreshadowing that doesn’t always look like prophecy; the apparent differences of eyewitnesses; and the Bible’s claims of miracles all can seem like real problems. On closer look, however, the same facts combine to become important dimensions of the Bible’s credibility and witness to the Living Word of God (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Father in heaven, we are beginning to see that You have given us a book that we’ve too often taken for granted. Please help us to continue to find, in the story of Your Son, a realism that puts all of our struggles and doubts in perspective.

Vote on whether you think this post is something you'll be thinking about:
Vote This Post DownVote This Post Up (+84 rating, 89 votes)

10 Responses to “A Realistic View of the Bible”

  1. remarutho says:

    Good Morning Mart –

    There are difficulties in “handling” and “getting into” the Bible. You mention five. A couple of these are particularly challenging, in my opinion:

    #3 – The obscure references to Messiah in the Old Testament that point to other Judahites – or other figures by way of pointing to Jesus of Nazareth, for example Moses’ anticipation of Messiah that lands on King David as well as Jesus (Gen 40:10).
    #4 – The seeming differences in the Gospel accounts – things that are endlessly discussed and pointed out by those who start from a basis of skepticism rather than faith. You mention the number of angels at the tomb. There is also the manner of Judas Iscariot’s death. (Matthew 27:5 v Acts 1:18)

    There are other challenges such as the fact that the Book’s original language is not “King James,” but rather two languages that are no longer spoken in the same form as in ancient times. After a while, some attention must be given to Hebrew and Greek when we depart from accepting what others say about Scripture and begin to seek the realistic view you mention.

    With all the obstacles to discerning Emmanuel, God with us, we continue to be attracted to the wonder of the risen Son: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:3, 4)

    There is no substitute for, and there are no shortcuts to reading the Bible. It increases our faith – and strengthens us to stand in the face of the illusions of life.

    Yours in Christ,

  2. remarutho says:

    My Genesis reference is Gen 49:10 — sorry!

  3. SFDBWV says:

    “A Realistic View of the Bible”.

    A little child that has been indoctrinated into the faith of Jesus of Nazareth will see only a simple view of the Bible.

    They will have to grow up and learn to ask questions or doubt before they would question the simple story of God and man.

    They are at peace with their understanding of this and many things.

    I know of no other historical book on earth that has underwent the scrutiny of the Bible, both OT and NT.

    Yet under its attacks and critics it still stands up to its uniqueness of being the written Word of God.

    It in itself has a power that tyrants and oppressive rulers fear and is why they don’t want it available to their population and make it a crime to own one or read one.

    No matter what seeming discrepancies one may find while looking for faults in the pages of the Bible, the discrepancy is in ones inability to understanding what is said as well as trusting what we don’t understand to God.

    Faith is all about faith, not about making it fit our standards of understanding.


  4. poohpity says:

    Mart, that is all so true. It is the unfolding story of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and if one may not understand some of it just ask, wisdom is only a question away.

    I spent 4 years away from reading it because I thought I knew it but little did I realize how important it was to my everyday life to knowing God. So much more to learn and I doubt very seriously that I will ever learn it all until it is time to go home. It was not hard for me at first to read because the desire was so strong but then when I was feeling stronger in my faith I let it slip by and thankfully the Lord showed me how important it was to my daily relationship with Him to fill me mind and to keep my feet grounded.

    When any life circumstance happens or any discussion takes place my mind now naturally goes to a scripture which backs it up. My mom in her last weeks of life lost a lot of her memory and mental capacity but she never forgot scripture. She may not have known where she was but she sure did know her the verses that she found comfort in.

    In my whole life I have never enjoyed or loved anything quite as much as the bible no matter what translation I read. Whether I want an easy read or one that is from the 17th century speak it is all about being in the school of our living God that speaks through the pages to my heart. It is the only addiction I have ever had that was good for me.

    Many give up so soon when the reading gets ruff but there is no time like the present to start or begin again. His word will never return void. Isaiah 55:11 NLT

  5. oneg2dblu says:

    pooh.. I’m with you all the way on that statement about
    where how it reads upon the pages into the heart. I’m loving the word of God and loving being in it every day as well.
    The funny thing is it that it seems to supprot many different views, or interpretations depending on who is doing the reading and what they are searching for, does it then become their mine of thought unearthed.
    When one presents a strongly held different point of view about certain elements, it is like telling someone you saw a UFO where they saw a definite flash of light instead. When both have clearly witnessed the same event
    but explain it from their different perspectives.

  6. poohpity says:

    Gary, I think one will find that the more it is read the gaps in interpretations, views and different points of view will become narrower and narrower until it all comes together to bring all, who put the time into it, together in unity rather than differences of thought or perspectives.

    It is very apparent when talking to anyone whether they have spent time in the word or not. The ones it separates are those who wish to “use” the bible to prove points rather than learning to know God better and better.

  7. SFDBWV says:

    I am guessing that the technical problems of yesterday are why there are so few responses to this topic. I certainly miss hearing from Bill as well as our old friend Jackie up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to mention a couple.

    I never questioned the authenticity of the Bible, never, what Mart calls taking it for granted is for me just believing it because it is.

    I have never needed archeological proofs or the approval of philosophers, intellectuals, or what some may consider experts in the study of ancient literature. I have always just believed.

    As I have mentioned before there are no discrepancies in the thread of Scripture only our inability to understand and see. With prayer and meditation either the answer will come or peace. Either way it is God who determines what we need to know versus what we want to know.

    Perhaps it is that this subject has no where to go and why so few have piped up, I don’t know, I suppose I will leave it alone as well as see if I have missed something someone else sees.


  8. tcochrun says:

    We may forget the Bible is a tool, to be used. Reading and meditating on those God inspired words open us to the spiritual connectivity that draws us into the presence of the Divine. The teaching of Christ illuminates and His life demonstrates. This creates a state of readiness that enables the transformative power of the indwelling Christ to work in and through us.

    I fear that in this age we too often “worship” the scripture. We argue about its “authority” or inerrancy. Yes, there are those inconsistencies, but it is after all a human labor. It is the best human response to God’s call, that innate longing that is planted in each of us. It defines, shapes, identifies, even codifies our understanding of and relationship with our creator and with our savior. We call it Holy and indeed it is, but it is a tool, given to us, to be used to build and create a better person to in turn assist in strengthening the body of Christ and Kingdom building. There is no end to its purposefulness despite the human finger prints around its edges.

  9. cplus0 says:


    It is man, not God, who is uneasy when we ask questions of “why” and “what” concerning His guidebook for humankind. The Bible has proven itself uniquely as opposed to other “holy” books of the world. The proof is history written in advance, i.e. fulfilled prophecy. When I find myself in discussion (debate) with other self-described “Christians” concerning points of confusion or interpretation, I always suggest we look together at scripture to understand why we see things differently. Often we find a presented position results from stretching God’s word to reflect what man says rather than simply letting His Word stand on its own as scripture is compared with scripture. Two important verses to keep our perspective humble are Deut. 29:29 and Isaiah 55:8-9. There is a reason we have so many denominations and there is a reason I seek to be a follower of Christ rather than a “Christian”. Relative to pursuing study of the Bible, I have my own definitions which follow. Each time I find myself debating a Biblical topic, I review my motives by re-reading these definitions.

    “Bible Scholar” – One who devotes their time to studying the Bible in its original languages in order to nit-pick its perceived geographic, grammatical, and contextual conundrums in preparation for meaningless arguments with others in an attempt to appear far superior in Biblical knowledge than those with whom they interact. The Bible scholar approaches God’s Word as a problem to be solved, a task to be mastered; driven by the brain. Emphasis is on challenging another person’s assurance of salvation because of that person’s lack of intellectual acumen and spiritual commitment, as perceived by the “scholar”.

    “Student of God’s Word” – One who loves Christ and wants to understand all they can about God’s plan for the ages and how to most accurately share the simple Gospel message of ‘Christ plus nothing’ with those who are seeking, while also sharing/learning with other Christ followers the message of trust, peace, grace, and deliverance from bondage as an encouragement in times of struggle. The student of God’s Word approaches the Bible as a source of peace and encouragement; with burning curiosity but with the innocence of a child’s faith, driven by the heart while asking the Holy Spirit to show them the truth; this all occurring during their ongoing process of sanctification.

  10. kingdomkid7 says:

    Cplus0, that was as God-affirming a comment as I have ever seen on this blog. Thank you.

    As an added thought, I will say that I think we sometimes project our insecurities onto God, or the Bible, because we can’t admit that we are unsure of ourselves. We perceive a problem, but then we place it outside of ourselves.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.