How Can I Reach Someone Who Is Skeptical of Christianity?
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How Can I Reach Someone Who Is Skeptical of Christianity?

Is the Bible a Work of Fiction?

Maybe you’ve heard the saying that you don’t need to defend the Bible any more than you need to defend a lion—just let it out of the cage![1] While it’s true that the Bible is God’s word and that it can stand its ground independently of our arguments in its defense, intellectual honesty demands that we take claims made against the Bible seriously.

One common claim made against the Bible is that it’s a work of fiction. Someone has even made the (doubly) bold assertion that God is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”[2] This claim sets high stakes. If the Bible is nothing more than another work of fiction, then the most it can offer is inspiring food for thought. But far worse, if the Bible claims to be historical yet proves itself inaccurate, then it misrepresents itself and is not to be trusted!

So it’s important to answer such a claim and not to dismiss it outright—is the Bible a work of fiction? Here are three ways to respond to this claim:

Response #1: The Bible Positions Itself as Historical

The first words of the Bible position it as a grand historical narrative: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).” Historical narrative makes up a large swath of the Old Testament—books such as 1–2 Kings and 1–2 Chronicles present “concise annals of the two Hebrew Kingdoms, Israel and Judah,” often in painstaking historical detail![3]

In the New Testament, the physician Luke penned the two-part historical account Luke-Acts. In the Gospel of Luke he penned the work of Christ on earth and, in Acts, Christ’s ongoing work through the Holy Spirit. In the opening of Luke, author Luke says he’s offering an orderly account of Christ’s earthly ministry based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). His account of Jesus’ life and ministry is historical in nature from the very beginning: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1–2).

The New Testament epistles—correspondence between the apostles and the early churches—are filled with localities, known individuals, past encounters, and future plans for visitation and ministry. One can hardly read these letters and conclude they are self-consciously works of fiction.

The claim that the Bible is a work of fiction certainly stands in stark contrast to the Bible’s own claims about itself. It unwaveringly claims to deal in facts, not fiction.

Response #2: Old Testament Evidence of Historicity

Ancient Near Eastern historian and Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen conducted an in-depth exploration of Old Testament historicity in a book called On the Reliability of the Old Testament. After walking the reader through a copious amount of data comparing the Bible and the historical record, Kitchen concludes that the Old Testament writings “are by no means pure fiction—in fact, there is very little proven fiction in them overall.”[4]

Kitchen acknowledges that less direct historic evidence is available for earlier portions of Scripture, requiring attention to other kinds of evidence.[5] However, even the first five books of the Bible called the Pentateuch are not without such evidence. For example, Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. points to the prophet Balaam as an example even in the earliest biblical writings of direct external evidence.

Balaam son of Beor (Num. 22–24) was an Old Testament prophet who prophesied concerning the coming Messiah (Num. 24:17). An Aramaic inscription found at Deir ‘Allah, Jordan, in 1967 dating from 800–700 B.C. confirms the existence of a prophet named Balaam with remarkable correspondences to the biblical prophet.[6]

So, from the earliest pages of the Old Testament, the Bible “fits the known facts of history.”[7]

Response #3: New Testament Evidence of Historicity

“The texts of the New Testament surpass the texts for the Roman Caesars.”[8] This claim by Paul W. Barnett is a bold statement for the historicity of the New Testament. Barnett writes, “It is instructive to contrast the literary evidence for the Roman Caesars and the literary evidence of the New Testament.”[9] After surveying available evidence, he concludes: “These are sources of great importance, but they are significantly further removed from their earlier subjects than the Gospel authors were from Jesus. They wrote only four or five decades after him.”[10]

Take one example: The oldest extant manuscript of Caesar’s Gaelic War was written 900 years later, and New Testament Greek manuscripts outnumber those of Gaelic War roughly 500 to one![11] If we accept as historically reliable the later accounts about the Roman Caesars, surely the far earlier New Testament accounts with far more extant documentary evidence deserve equal if not greater consideration.

Furthermore, Barnett observes the counter-intuitiveness of such expansive New Testament evidence: “History is said to be the chronicle of the victors. The early Christians, however, had little to commend them by this canon. They were Jews from a remote corner of the empire, and their leader had been crucified. Their claims about his resurrection were laughable.”[12] The extensive preservation of New Testament texts, despite every incentive to the contrary, speaks to the historical reliability of its contents.

These three responses represent just a sliver of the evidence favoring the historicity of the Bible. In light of the available evidence, the claim that the Bible is a work of fiction is unconvincing.

[1] This idea is often attributed to 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon.
[2] Dan Barker, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2016).
[3] K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 7.
[4] Ibid., 499.
[5] Ibid., 4-5.
[6] Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Is the Old Testament Historically Reliable?” in In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, ed. Steven B. Cowan, Terry L. Wilder (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2017), 207.
[7] Cowan and Wilder, “Introduction,” in In Defense of the Bible, 9
[8] Paul W. Barnett, “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” in In Defense of the Bible, 228.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), 10-11.
[12] Paul W. Barnett, “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” in In Defense of the Bible, 228.

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Dan Warne

Dan Warne grew up on the mission field in Sinaloa, Mexico, where he met his wife Mariana. They have one daughter and another child on the way. Dan studied at Westminster Seminary California (M.Div., 2017) and serves as a pastor and worship leader at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Temecula, CA. He is a speaker for Haven Ministries leading El Faro de Redención (Redemption Lighthouse), a Bible teaching radio broadcast airing weeknights in Cuba and across Latin America and the United States.