Today's Broadcast

The Bible and Apologetics

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Wouldn’t it be right to say that the proper starting point in apologetics is the defense of sacred Scripture? In this first lesson of “The Bible and Apologetics,” Dr. Sproul shows that the first thing to do is to establish the existence of God. Here the study moves on to the subject of how we defend the church’s confidence and belief in the authority and inspiration of the Bible.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Be Prepared

  2. devotional

    A Gentle Defense

  3. article

    Weighing the Evidence

Be Prepared

R.C. Sproul

Never argue with the man with the microphone. On several occasions, I’ve been invited to appear on radio or television programs for interviews by controversial hosts. For the most part, I have declined these interviews because of the format in which they are structured. Though they promise the opportunity for open debate, such debate is rarely forthcoming. There are certain hosts who are ruthless in their treatment of their guests and get away with it because of the power of the microphone. Whoever controls the microphone controls the game. If the host makes a particular statement, the guest must rely on the mercy of the person with the microphone in order to offer a rebuttal to the host. At any time in the course of such discussions, the comments of the guest can be silenced.

I use this illustration frequently in talking with students who encounter hostile professors in college or in seminary. In their efforts to defend the truth claims of Christianity, students often valiantly charge in where angels fear to tread and are attacked viciously by the professor. I try to communicate to them that, as valiant as their attempts may be, they are in most cases exercises in futility because the professor controls the discussion. The classroom is not a place where open debate is usually encouraged. To the contrary, on the campuses of many universities and even seminaries, open season has been declared on Christian students. For some reason, it seems that professors in such settings take delight in trying to undermine the faith of their students. This is one reason why the New Testament warns us that not many should become teachers, for with teaching comes a greater judgment.

At the same time, our Lord Himself warned against those who bring harm to one of His little ones. In most cases, it is easy for a man or woman with a doctorate and years of experience in higher education to humiliate a student, no matter how strong the student’s faith is or how articulate the student may be. It’s a mismatch, and it’s a mismatch that unscrupulous teachers greedily seize upon.

These teachers explain their tactics by saying they’re simply trying to open the closed minds of the students or to bring them to deliverance from their slavery to outmoded ideas. The excuses are as endless as they are mindless. In the fi rst week of my fi rst year attending seminary, a professor was sharply critical of a student for coming to the seminary with too many preconceived ideas. The idea the seminary student brought with him that the professor described as an unwarranted preconception was his belief in the deity of Christ. I was shocked when I saw a student being humiliated for having the audacity to come to seminary with the idea already formed in his mind that Christ is the incarnate Son of God. The real question, however, was this one: Why was the professor, who was supposedly committed to the creedal statements of the seminary, denying the deity of Christ in such a situation? But this type of thing happens far more regularly than many people realize.

When I was on the faculty of a Christian college many years ago, I had a constant stream of students come to me with questions about the relationship between the truths affirmed in the New Testament about Christ and similar mythological affirmations found in the famous work Metamorphosis by the poet Ovid. It became clear that it was the delight of the english professor in his humanities class, which included a study of Ovid, to draw parallels between the New Testament teachings about Jesus and the myths presented in Metamorphosis.

I had the opportunity to meet in a friendly atmosphere with this professor over coffee in the student union, and I began asking him questions about his knowledge of the biblical worldview compared to the worldview of Ovid. I pointed out the remarkable number of differences between Ovid’s worldview and that of the New Testament, which the professor acknowledged existed, and I said: “It’s just simply not good teaching to point out similarities between different positions without at the same time acknowledging the signifi cant differences between them. In your critique of Christianity, you have failed to mention these differences, which is not a sound approach to the matter.” He was contrite and committed not to do that anymore. But again, that was one incident out of literally tens of thousands that take place every year on campuses, not only at secular universities, but at church-related colleges and even in theological seminaries, as I’ve already mentioned.

One of the problems we have here is the criteria we use when choosing colleges or universities to attend in the first place. So often parents are impressed by the beauty of the campus of the particular institution or by their own remembrance of the commitment of the institution a generation ago, overlooking the reality that the approach to Christianity changes in various institutions as the faculty changes. The most significant barometer for choosing any kind of institution of higher learning is not the beauty of its campus but its faculty.

If you’re looking to send your children to an institution that has a Christian history or a Christian relationship, do not assume that the current faculty is fully persuaded of the truth claims of Christianity. You may indeed be throwing your children into the fi re of a crucible they are not expecting and are not really prepared to withstand. I am not for educating people in a sheltered environment where there is no interaction with the secular mindset and with pagan worldviews, but we need to be fully prepared to understand when and where those worldviews come into collision with Christianity and how to avoid collisions that may be disastrous.

A Gentle Defense

As people who have identified with the Lord Jesus Christ through repentance and faith, we should not be surprised when persecution comes our way. After all, to suffer is part of our calling as Christians (1 Peter 2:21). Whether mild or intense, persecution and discrimination are an inevitable result of our profession.

Left to ourselves, we would not be able to withstand the onslaught of fallen humanity. However, we have not been left to ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit who, by illuminating our hearts and minds to understand His Word, enables us to stand firm in our faith.

In His providence, God has provided us with the first epistle of Peter as a powerful reminder of His work and a strong encouragement to stand for Christ in the midst of great suffering. We have been reminded that we have been brought by God into a living hope of salvation that can never be taken away from those of us with true faith (1:1–12). Because of this we are now God’s true people and will receive all of the blessings promised to His children (2:4–10).

As a result, we must live lives that reflect holiness and love (1:13–25; 2:1–3; vv. 11–12). Doing so will not be easy; in fact it will result in suffering. Yet to stand firm for Christ in the midst of such difficulty means that we patiently endure suffering and submit to God’s established authority structures (vv. 18–25; 3:1–7). Rather than be concerned with retaliating against those who cause us to suffer, we must instead offer them blessing (vv. 8–12).

That we must bless those who persecute us shows us that we are not always to endure suffering in silence. Today’s passage confirms this, calling us to give a gentle and reasonable answer to those who ask about our living hope. As we respond to suffering with patience and blessing, some will want to know what motivates us to do so.

Therefore, we all must become apologists. We all must equip ourselves to defend the faith. Yet in our defense we must be gentle, avoiding the temptation to be pridefully harsh or overtly contentious so that the non-believer to whom we relate may see the true character of the Lord who dwells within us.

Weighing the Evidence

Jay Smith

When in dialogue with a Muslim, how often do we find ourselves put on the defensive, fending off the same five or six standard questions which seem to repeat themselves time and again? The objection to the Trinity leads the way, pursued hard on its heels by the disbelief that God could have a Son, followed by the contention that these doctrines were erroneously created by the apostle Paul, and therefore not part of the original canon preached by the “historical Jesus.” We play the part and answer as best we can, quoting from our Scriptures the oft-repeated responses we have been taught from our days in Sunday school. Yet, sooner or later we find ourselves returning to that which is our foundation—the Bible—just as they do likewise with the Qur’an. Therein lies the problem. Regardless of the topic we may choose, the discussion we have with Muslims leads back inevitably to that of revelation. Much as “all paths lead to Rome,” so do all apologetical discussions lead to the repository of our respective beliefs, the Bible or the Qur’an.

This should not surprise us, for both Christianity and Islam derive their sets of beliefs from their revelations. Yet we find that the two scriptures disagree in a number of salient areas. One need only compare how both the Bible and the Qur’an deal with Jesus, sin, atonement, and salvation to understand that they are quite different from one another.

So then we need to begin with the fundamental question: Which revelation is the true Word of God? Until we seek to settle that question we will not be able to judge the value of what the Bible and the Qur’an say. The answer, however, will not be simple.

Whenever two documents which claim to be true are contradictory to one another, one must ask whether, using criteria which a neutral third party can accept, one or neither meet the standards for historicity. Essentially one must ascertain whether the Qur’an or the Bible can stand up to an external analysis for its authenticity. Since both Islam and Christianity claim to receive their beliefs from the revealed truth which they find in their respective scriptures, to suspect the source the scriptures claim to have for their revelation is to put the integrity of both Christianity and Islam on trial.

Obviously this can only be done by asking whether there is historical data that can help us verify that which they profess is true. If we accept that God has intersected time and space in order to reveal His truth to His creation, then we should expect to see evidence of those revelatory events in history.

Both the Bible and the Qur’an claim to have been revealed at certain places, to special people, and over a specific period of time. For whichever claim is true, we should be able to find evidence for its claims by looking at the historical data which exists. This we can do by looking at three areas of evidence: that provided by manuscripts, documents and archaeological data. If the evidence supports the claims for the Bible or the Qur’an, then we can assume its reliability. However, if the evidence denies their historicity, then we have to question their authenticity.

It is this type of study which will show not only the paucity of credibility for Islam but underline the enormous authority which we have for our own scriptures. We have nothing to fear by such a critical historical study, as it is not new. Since the scholars at Tubingen in the last century began critically analyzing the Bible, we have scoured the deserts and monasteries of the Middle East and have retrieved manuscripts, documents and archaeological artifacts which place the events and personages of the Bible in the time and place to which they claim, adding even greater historical credibility to our scriptures.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, has not had the same success. For too long westerners have been content to assume that Muslims had evidence to substantiate their claims. It is only now, as secular historians of Islam re-examine the Islamic sources, that evidence is being uncovered which puts into question much of what we have been led to believe concerning the historicity behind Muhammad and “his revelation,” the Qur’an.

The new crop of historical experts on Islam are now looking more closely at earlier Middle Eastern sources to ascertain clues to Islam’s origins. By looking at the syntax of the language, the names of certain places and historical references, their findings indicate that the Qur’an was not revealed to just one man in the early seventh century, but was a compilation of later redactions (or editions) formulated by a group of men, over the course of a hundred or more years. It was during this time, the Orientalists say, particularly in the late eighth to early ninth century, that Islam took on its classical identity and became that which is recognizable today. This is troubling for a document which claims outright that this process did not occur.

As for the Bible, with the abundance of existing manuscripts of the New Testament (230 of which were in existence before the compilation of the Qur’an), we know little has been lost through the transmission of the text. As far as we can know, the names, places, and events mentioned in the Bible have been recorded accurately so that what we have is indeed accurate. We also know that, outside the few copyists errors, the historical events and personages are correct, as they do not confuse names, dates and events, and continue to coincide with major archaeological findings.

This is significant, since with each successive year, ongoing documental and archaeological discoveries move us toward, rather than away from, affirming the historicity of the Scriptures. The Ebla, Amarna, Mari and Nuzi tablets continue to corroborate what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years.

The conclusion of this type of evidence is that the Bible, much more than the Qur’an, can be trusted as an accurate and reliable historical document. While we continue to unearth data which substantiate the Bible’s accuracy, we likewise unearth data which eradicate the validity of fundamental points of the Qur’anic account. If a scripture claims to be a revelation from God, it must substantiate its claim by establishing its historical credentials, to the extent that a third party can agree upon the evidence provided. This the Bible and not the Qur’an does adequately, which gives us great confidence. For once we have established the historical credibility of the Bible, we can then open its pages and trust what it has to say, knowing that it is indeed authoritative as a foundation for that which we believe. This the Qur’an has not done satisfactorily, and therein lies one of our best apologetics.

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