There are many interrelated questions when it comes to the reliability of the Bible. Most importantly, those questions include: How were the books of the Bible selected? How do we know we can trust the Bible’s authors? How do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote? and Does the Bible have errors and contradictions?
Admittedly, that’s a lot of material to cover when you’re just starting to read about these subjects. But each question really does warrant its own book recommendations. I’ve grouped recommendations below according to those subjects, starting with my pick if you really can only fathom reading ONE book in this area.
If You Read Only One Book
Searching for the Original Bible
By Randall Price
Any book that thoroughly covers all of these issues is going to be intense, given the breadth required. There are also a lot of reference-type books available, but, honestly, no one wants to read a book like that cover-to-cover. The best book I’ve seen that covers a wide variety of these topics in a detailed but not overwhelming way and actually reads like a book rather than a reference source is this one. It’s definitely not light reading, but it’s the best balance I’ve seen. If you get overwhelmed by details, skip some of the hairier discussions and you’ll still get a great big picture understanding of the subjects covered. (If you’re new to these topics, you may want to first read chapters 25-29 in my apologetics book for parents. They’ll give you brief introductory answers to the key questions so you’ll be prepared to then dig deeper with this one.)
If you would rather start with a book that covers a specific question in depth, jump down the page to Cold-Case Christianity.
How Were the Books of the Bible Selected?
This question deals with the development of the biblical “canon” (which books were selected, and, importantly, which books were rejected). I’m going to tell you up front that this is not a very exciting subject for most people to study. Most Christians have never even thought to ask the question about what books were “selected” for the Bible in the first place. However, this is a subject that skeptics love to talk about because they claim that the selection of books was political, that it was something that happened hundreds of years after Jesus, and that it ignored many other versions of Christianity that were around at the time. In other words, they suggest that the picture we have of Jesus in our current New Testament may be all wrong. Clearly, this is an important subject to understand.
That said, for most parents, the coverage of the canon topic (why books were selected and why books were rejected) in my overview recommendation, Searching for the Original Bible, will be a sufficient introduction if you’re just trying to gain a basic understanding of the subject. However, if this is an area of particular interest for you, I recommend the following two books for deeper study (followed by a recommendation for a book advocating the opposing viewpoint).
The Canon of Scripture
By F.F. Bruce
This is an excellent scholarly book that lays out the history of the canon in great detail.
The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities
By Darrell L. Bock
All kinds of stories have made the news in recent years about “missing Gospels”—books that have been discovered and purportedly tell a different story about Jesus. This book is a fantastic resource, written for a popular audience, that explains what all those books are and why we don’t need to worry that they aren’t in our Bible. If you’re interested in early Christian history, I highly recommend this very accessible read.
Bart Ehrman is an ex-Christian Bible scholar and professor who writes popular-level books teaching why many scholars believe the Bible isn’t a reliable source for faith. Ehrman is an engaging writer and does an excellent job of making skeptical scholarly claims understandable for the average person (even if you don’t agree with their conclusions). While books written by Christian authors often engage to some degree with what skeptics say on the same subject, it’s not the same as reading someone advocating the opposing viewpoint directly. I highly recommend that you read at least one of Ehrman’s books (I’ll recommend several on this page) to get acquainted with non-Christian views on the New Testament. In this book, Ehrman discusses early forms of Christianity and shows how they (purportedly) came to be suppressed, reformed, or forgotten.
How Do We Know We Can Trust the Bible’s Authors?
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
By J. Warner Wallace
J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective and former atheist. In this book, he applies his investigative expertise to the claims of the Gospels. This is my favorite apologetics book and my first recommendation to anyone who asks. Given that the Gospels are our key source of information on Jesus, it couldn’t be more important that we understand why there’s good reason to believe we should even trust what the authors said. Wallace focuses on four key questions about the writers: Were they present? Were they corroborated? Were they accurate? and Were they biased? Not only does this book offer critically important information about the reliability of Gospel claims, it’s written in a very engaging way (who doesn’t enjoy a detective’s approach?). Simply put, you need this book.
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
By Richard Bauckham
Whereas Cold-Case Christianity is written with a popular audience in mind, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is a much more detailed and academic read on why we have reason to believe the Gospels are truly based on eyewitness testimony. If you’re new to this subject, I highly recommend reading Cold-Case Christianity first. If you’ve read it and want to go much deeper, Bauckham’s book is the perfect choice.
Whether you read one or both of the recommendations above, you should additionally read this book to understand the opposing viewpoint offered by many scholars: that the New Testament isn’t based on eyewitness testimony, and that the writers aren’t who we think they are.
How Do We Know the Bible We Have Today Says What the Authors Originally Wrote?
We no longer have any of the original texts of the Bible. The reason we have a Bible at all today is that the original texts were copied many times for use by different people in different places. These copies were, of course, made by hand, in a process that introduced both intentional and unintentional changes. So how do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote? That’s the subject of textual criticism, and I highly recommend the books below to learn about this topic.
The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue
Robert B. Stewart, Editor
The first chapter of this book is a 47-page transcription of a live dialogue between Bart Ehrman (presenting a scholarly skeptical viewpoint) and Daniel Wallace (presenting a scholarly Christian viewpoint). This transcript alone makes the book worthwhile. It’s a highly valuable 47 pages for any parent who wants to understand two sides of the debate at the same time. The remaining chapters of the book cover related topics in more detail and are a good resource if you’re interested in learning more about the reliable transmission of the text. But at the very least, read the debate and you’ll get a great overview of the subject.
In this book, Ehrman makes the case that many core Christian beliefs are the results of intentional and accidental changes by scribes over time. If you want to read a detailed case against the reliability of the Bible’s transmission over time, this is the book.
Does the Bible Have Errors and Contradictions?
Skeptics charge that the Bible is filled with hundreds of contradictions and factual errors (statements that are verifiably untrue). One website, called www.bibviz.com, lays out 472 alleged problems from the Skeptics Annotated Bible and “conveniently” offers a slick graphic interface to further explore them. This is undoubtedly a very serious claim, but it can be difficult to address because there’s no blanket answer that applies to every alleged problem. In my book, I offer an overarching framework to use in discussing this issue with your kids, but if you’re looking for a reference source that addresses the specific alleged errors and contradictions, you’ll want the following recommendation.
This is a reference source. You won’t want to read it start to finish, but it’s a good book for your library, especially if your kids start asking about this claim of biblical errors and contradictions.
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