“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July 2018

The written word is not authoritative.

I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.

For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.

And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impressed when I inform ’em it was written by dead brown men… but not by much. They don’t respect the Bhagavad-Gita either.)

This is why apologists feel it’s very important to establish the bible’s credentials as an authoritative book. This way when anybody responds, “Oh ‘the bible says’—well who cares what the bible says?” we have an arsenal of arguments as to why the naysayer has to take the scriptures seriously.

Personally I’ve found I don’t need an arsenal. Whenever a former pastor of mine was challenged with “What’s the big deal with the bible?” he’d respond with, “Have you ever read the bible?” Few to none have. “Well perhaps you oughta read it before you dismiss it.” So either they’d read it, and the Holy Spirit would work on ’em thataway; or they were never gonna read it, but rather than say so, they just quit trying to put down the bible.

I just presume pagans have their doubts about the bible, and how valid it is. So I don’t bother to point to it. I point to Jesus.

Wait, but where’d I get all my Jesus stuff from? Oh I fully admit for the most part it comes from the bible. But pagans never really ask where I got my Jesus stuff from. They assume I learned it in church. (I kinda did.) If they want to know where in the bible I got this stuff from, I can point ’em to the book and chapter, and sometimes the specific verse. They don‘t ask, though. They just take my word for it… until they don‘t wanna take my word for it anymore. Same as they would with the bible.

Referring to the book and chapter only impresses Christians, anyway. Doesn’t impress a single pagan. In fact, peppering my conversation with bible addresses leads them to believe I’m not really speaking from the heart; I’m quoting a script, ’cause only somebody who wrote all this stuff out as a lecture would include footnotes. And they don’t wanna hear a canned spiel. They want something “more real” than that. Or what feels more real.

So ditch the bible references.

I know; it outrages certain Christians when I recommend this. And not just the bibliolaters. They assume I’m telling people to ditch bible. I am not. By all means, base every declaration you make on the scriptures. But do you need to regularly interrupt your speech with “John 3.16” and “Romans 3.23” and “Ephesians 2.8” and all the addresses which they’re never gonna remember to look up later anyway? Like I said, this only impresses Christians, and they’re the only people we do this for. But they don’t need to hear the gospel; pagans do. So quit pandering to them and consider your audience. The references aren’t actually helping. Ditch ’em.

“The bible says…” is too impersonal anyway.

Billy Graham kinda popularized the saying, “The bible says…” in public preaching. Not that other preachers haven’t used the phrase; plenty of ’em still do.

But which saying makes a greater impact on a pagan? “The bible says” or “Jesus says”?

(Heck, which makes a greater impact on you?)

Yet that’s how Christians talk. We’ll quote something Jesus specifically said in his Sermon on the Mount, something which would have a much greater impact on people when they realize Jesus himself stated this, but out of force of habit we’ll preface it with, “And the bible says…” and muffle its impact. It’s not just in the bible: Jesus said it!

It muffles its impact because many pagans like Jesus. They don’t really know him, but they still think he’s a great guy. They have their doubts about the bible though. So they’re far more likely to remember something Jesus said, than the anonymous words out of a dusty ol’ bible.

The same is true of any other biblical author. “The apostle Paul wrote,” or “Simon Peter said,” or “Jesus’s brother James said,” or even “The author of Hebrews wrote.” When we tell people “The bible says,” they don’t necessarily make the connection between the people who wrote it, and Jesus. They don’t know who wrote the bible. And a surprising number of pagans assume bishops or cardinals wrote the bible; people who lived centuries after bible times, who weren’t eyewitnesses and didn’t know any of these folks personally.

That’s why it’s a good idea to identify the authors whenever possible. Remind pagans “the bible says” really refers to people who knew Jesus personally, and kinda knew what he was about. Their relationships with Jesus make them authoritative. That, all by itself, bridges a whole lot of the trust gap pagans have with the bible.

That’s why the authors of the New Testament prefaced their bible quotes by pointing to Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the authors they knew about. These were prophets with known relationships with God. They weren’t nobodies.

So if you’re gonna point to bible, go ahead and name-drop those prophets. “King David wrote,” or “Abraham said,” or “The prophet Habakkuk said” (you do know how to pronounce “Habakkuk,” right? Look it up). Remind people these aren’t just dusty words in a book. They’re testimonies. God did stuff with and through these long-ago middle easterners, and God can do stuff with and through the people you’re speaking to—if they’ll let him.

(True, we don’t know the names of everyone who wrote Old Testament. Work with what you have.)

They still gotta learn to trust the bible.

When we first turned to Jesus, we didn’t necessarily respect the bible as authoritative. We had to learn to do so.

(Well… assuming we have learned to do so. The way some Christians misquote it, I tell ya.)

I was a little kid when I became Christian, and trusted the adults in my life, and they said to trust bible, so I did. Others weren’t little kids, and had to learn to trust bible the old-fashioned way: Read it, live by its teachings, and learn from experience how its authors knew what they were talking about.

More often, people “learn to trust bible” through good old-fashioned brain-dead acceptance. They learned that all true Christians trust the bible, and they imagine themselves true Christians, so they trust the bible. Haven’t read it, don’t live by it, but they’ll still claim, “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” It’s hypocrisy, but it’s what passes for faith these days. But that’s another rant.

So we can’t expect pagans to immediately believe the bible and all it has between its covers. They’re gonna have to become Christian first. Pushing them to believe the bible first, is cart-before-the-horse stuff, and kinda unnecessary: They like Jesus. So quote Jesus!

After they become Christians, fill ’em in on all the apologetics arguments as to why the bible is valid, authoritative, impressive, Spirit-inspired, and all that. I’ll write about ’em sometime. But in the meanwhile, drop the verse references, drop “The bible says,” and share the gospel. Don’t let their doubts unnecessarily sidetrack the gospel.

Christian apologetics.