"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 2



Chapter 2: "A Scientific Approach to the Bible (1)"




Chapter 2: A Scientific Approach to the Bible: Theoretical Considerations


Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words

I have made a covenant with you and with Israel ." (Ex 24:27)




Chapter 2 Contents

2.1 A clash of world views is the true debating point

2.2 Analysing the Bible scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'

2.3 Questions to be asked about the Writers of the Bible

2.4 The Environment that demanded Integrity in Writing

2.5 To Summarise



A claim that is often made by sceptics, in discussions about the Bible, is that belief is not ‘scientific' or not ‘rational'. The inference is that all religious beliefs are purely ‘mind things', things that the gullible fall for and which do not stand up to scrutiny.

The Heart of Chapter 2: Certainty is not the tool of modern scientific atheists. Apart from pure mathematics, all investigatory endeavour looks at the evidence and draws logical conclusions, and the same is as true about examining Biblical faith as it is about any other scientific endeavour.


This Chapter is the first of a pair of chapters about approaching the Bible objectively. In this chapter we will talk in generalities about ‘a scientific approach' and about ‘evidence'. In the following chapter we will take a particular case study and then consider a variety of reasons why it is legitimate to trust what we have in our Bibles today.



2.1 A Clash of World Views is the True Debating Point


A major weapon of deception in the armoury of the atheist appears (certainly from the writings of the more infamous atheistic crusaders of the early twenty-first century) to be a claim that they have certainty on their side and that ‘faith' cannot be considered in the same way. An atheistic delusion! Let's think about some of these things.


A Clash of World Views

It is worth noting in passing that unbelief has little to do with science. There are very many top scientists who are Christian believers or, at least, believers in God. The debate is less to do with ‘science versus religion', but more to do with a materialistic world view versus a theistic (believing in God) world view.But we need here to look at those atheistic sceptics who claim to have materialism on their side.


The clash is NOT

 - Science versus Religion

 but it IS

 - Materialism versus Theism


A Scientific Approach?


A scientific approach is
examining the evidence by whatever means possible, drawing conclusions and making a statement of faith that says that whenever this ‘thing' is tested, it will produce the same results.


I use the expression ‘statement of faith' because modern scientific philosophy often declares that a hypothesis can only say that ‘we believe' it will always continue to work like that. Now I know that is not the usual definition that is found in scientific textbooks but scientific textbooks usually have in mind the discovery of laws of the physical sciences, a somewhat limited sphere. But not all areas of discovery fit neatly in the usual definition.


Problems with Psychology

The area of psychology is illustrative of this point. There have been psychologists who have sought to explain human behaviour on strictly materialistic terms. The existence of a variety of ‘schools' of psychology, clearly indicates that many eminent psychologists consider that materialistic view to be far too limiting when it comes to human behaviour.
Different schools of psychology suggest human behaviour is more  than material


So strong has been the debate on occasion that sometimes outsiders to the profession have even claimed that psychology can not be considered a science – yet is it obviously an area of important material investigation (people and their behaviour) even though it appears to defy some of the narrow tramlines of more traditional scientific endeavour. The same can be said of psychiatry.


Problems with History?

When we come to study history, historians would claim we are on less shaky ground. We think we know what happened in the past because we have fossils, archaeological remains and ancient documents.

History is about studying the EVIDENCE  of fossils, relics, documents etc.


The study of these collectively, together with the relatively recent scientific use of carbon dating, helps build up a picture of what happened in the past. Yet, even in those areas of study, those with no axe to grind will confess that everything is not always as clear as we would like. Again and again today we find historians “rewriting” history maintaining that previous views of how life used to be, were inaccurate.


Furthermore the science of carbon dating is based upon the assumption of uniformity, but of course it is impossible to measure and verify incredibly long periods because we haven't found or don't know of other things that might have changed the rate of radio active breakdown. In the meantime we have to assume uniformity, although this is impossible to verify. History may not be so specific as we might like to think.


Science is not always so certain

Indeed the history of the scientific world reveals two specific areas of intellectual embarrassment. First there are those who have falsified evidence – and this is a much bigger issue than is often acknowledged. This undermines scientific integrity. Next there are those who have had to change their hypothesis as later evidence shows previous assumptions to be false.


In the former area as well as the later, the scientific world was quite happy, often for many years, to accept what was eventually shown to be false. These are very real issues which are normally quietly brushed under the carpet by the scientific fraternity as of little importance. The only reason I mention them is that scientific certainty is increasingly shown to be a mystical thing.


Have you ever paused to think why it is that people create a false opposition between ‘science' and Biblical belief? Is it to do with prior prejudice or a question of evidence?


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2.2 Analysing the Bible Scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'


We have two different things to consider here. The intellectual superiority that is often claimed by atheistic sceptics is not so clear or certain as might be thought when listening to their proclamations. The Bible is the easier one to quantify and analyse but that doesn't mean to say we cannot say anything meaningful about God.


And so to the Bible

When it comes to the Bible and its claims about God, about mankind and about parts of history, as I asserted in the first chapter, the unbelief claims of some atheists appear to be made on emotional grounds and not intellectual grounds.

Biblical History is about studying the EVIDENCE


The challenge of this book is to think through these issues carefully and, by all means, on the same grounds as we would examine the evidence as observed above in other spheres of investigation.

In other words it is quite legitimate:

- to examine HOW the Bible came into being on the evidences of history that we have already spoken about and

- then examine WHAT it says, and measure that against what we know in history and what we know in life.


It is merely a matter of weighing up the evidence. These are things that Christians scholars have been doing for the last two thousand years – but perhaps you weren't aware of that?


Considering God

When we come to God we face a different problem. We are dealing with an invisible and mostly intangible personal being who exists in a form that is different from the purely material existence that we mostly know about. Our atheist friend demands that God be put under the same scrutiny as anything else but actually doesn't go on to do that.


The problem that occurs so often, it seems to me, is that many people appear to have never thought about the essence of God and so when they talk about God they actually have in mind a ‘nothingness entity' so it is not surprising that they find disbelief easier to have than belief.


There is the material word, they say, and as God is not material, God cannot exist. But the Bible doesn't leave us with that vacuum for it clearly states, “God is Spirit” and very often refers to the expression of God as ‘the Holy Spirit'.


"God is Spirit"



The implication of this is that the Bible clearly demands that we believe that God is ‘something' or ‘someone' and the fact that we either have never thought about Him or have not thought carefully about Him, doesn't mean He doesn't exist. I may never have given any consideration to the existence of a particular star far out in the Solar System that a few astronomers have observed, but my belief or disbelief about that star is irrelevant when it comes to the actual existence of that star.


So what is Spirit?

A coexisting problem is that today we don't know what ‘Spirit' means.


We happily refer to ‘energy' even though we're not sure what it actually means. Within this framework of discussion I would suggest that when we refer to God being spirit, we actually mean that He is energy with personality. Obviously, from studying the Bible, that personality is benign, and also has the ability to direct its unlimited energy how 'He' will.


Is 'Spirit' energy

with personality?


Now how that can be I really don't know, yet there are those on the fringes of modern science who are thinking beyond the traditional views of a ‘materialistic world' to try to take into account the myriads of examples around the world, and throughout history, of things that are not explainable in simple ‘traditional' materialistic terms. Thus the fact that today we have not been able (or allowed?) to register or define or measure ‘spirit' doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. The signposts to an occult world or a spiritual world are myriad around the globe. The refusal of atheistic sceptics to believe these things is more about their unwillingness to go and investigate them than it is about the validity of the existence of such things.



Have you ever thought about God as “energy with personality”? What do you know of descriptions of Him in the Bible that add to that description?

What things or experiences can you recall that suggest that the world is more than the narrow traditional view of ‘material' that science has often suggested and to which scientists have confined themselves?

What ‘evidences' do you think there are to be examined to provide substance for faith?


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2.3 Questions to be Asked about the Writers of the Bible


In the above discussion, at one point I suggested a very general definition of scientific investigation might be examining the evidence by whatever means possible, drawing conclusions and making a statement of faith that says that whenever this ‘thing' is tested, it will produce the same results. We also noted that in historical investigation we have to rely upon fossils, archaeological remains and ancient documents, and this is no less true for Biblical documents which, we maintain, CAN be subjected to the same investigative scrutiny as any other historical artifacts.


The Writers

When we view the many and varied writers of the Bible we will find that is simply up to us to decide whether to believe what they thought they heard and saw and recorded. Similarly we might ask, did they record accurately what happened, or did they write what they wanted to see?


We will shortly see that the wide variety of individuals who wrote what we now find in our Bible wrote:

•  of the experiences of individuals and of the nation of Israel – what they believed 


•  with a consistent uniformity about God and His ways of dealing with people,

•  in an historical timeframe that can be checked (i.e. mostly as history).


Requirement of Open-Mindedness

If we wish to be genuine ‘scientific' investigators, we must approach the problem without any preconceived ideas or prejudices, and we should simply examine the evidence in as open-minded way as possible. This means that we should start with an open-mindedness that neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of God, but is willing to take the evidence and then consider the possibilities.


As I have commented previously, I believe this, for many people, is very difficult. Emotional experiences they have had earlier in life have left them feeling jaded about the Bible or the Christian faith, and means that objectivity is often a very rare commodity.


A Bad Example of ‘Scholars'

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, so-called ‘scholars' failed to be objective and started from an entirely materialistic worldview and thus wrote off large parts of the Bible as not being possible – miracles and prophecy. However to start from a purely materialistic viewpoint prejudges the issue. The whole point about the Bible – and all world religions for that matter – is that it declares that there is MORE than a purely materialistic experience.


If we want to be objective in our research then we must start with an open mind that considers ‘miracles', ‘prophecy' and all other ‘acts of God' and consider whether they are a more reasonable explanation given the evidence. It is reasonable to consider the alternatives though.



Have you understood that STARTING with definite views means that we prejudge the outcome? If we start with the belief that there cannot be a God, then whatever evidence to the contrary is presented, our closed mind cannot view the evidence objectively.

How much have our own views (prejudices?) been created by the words of others and by emotional experiences, rather than by careful objective consideration of the evidence?


The Range of Possibilities

If we are investigating the Bible with an open mind, it is legitimate to consider all the possibilities. So such questions might include:

•  Why did this man bother to write what is often extensive writing in an era when writing was not

   the easy exercise it is today? i.e. what drove him to write?

•  Why did he write unless he sincerely believed in what he wrote?

•  What other alternatives are there to the fact of God, as explanations of what happened?

•  Are such explanations valid in the face of the evidence and the consistent belief that appears in

   these varied writings that came over a thousand year period?


Suppose some Writers got it Wrong?

Now most conservative evangelical scholars will have apoplexy at this paragraph, for most statements of faith speak about the whole of the Bible being the inspired word of God, but this is for you, the seeker, and I don't want to ask you to believe something without there being a strong background for you to lean on. Suppose, just for a moment, that for one or two, bits of the writings of the Old Testament writers were wrong – that they were confused or misinformed about what happened.


Now I would like to concede a lot more to you, but the uniformity is so strong that if there are “questionable bits” they are few and far between.

So take out the odd bits if you will; you are still left with a vast amount of material that conveys the same message: there is a Supreme Supernatural Being who speaks and acts in a uniform and consistent manner – and it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to write off all the reports of His acts and words, and hold onto our intellectual integrity at the same time!

IF some of the writers had got it wrong, the sheer volume of writing, variety of writers & yet uniformity of it, requires acceptance


Now the reason I say I would like to concede a lot more to you, is that even supposing we were able to write off say even 50% of the Old Testament writings (and we haven't any legitimate grounds to do that) we would still have an incredibly large amount of writing, still with the uniformity I have spoken of which still points in the direction of the existence of God!


But the truth is, as we shall shortly see, that we do not have good grounds to write off and throw away large parts of the Bible. What anyone who reads the Bible with an open mind finds, is that there is a remarkably harmonious, historically systematic flow of writing, possibly by over 40 different writers and the more we look at what happened the more difficult it becomes to legitimately take parts away.


A Need to Study the Bible

The fact that we may not understand what parts of the Bible teaches, or we may not understand how certain things happened, does not mean that we should take out such passages. As I have studied the Bible over a long period of time in, I hope, an open-minded manner, the more I have seen the uniformity of what is there, with passages I previously found difficult making sense when seen in the light of the whole. The more we can see the whole, the clearer individual parts become.


Facing your Presuppositions

This is so important that, although we have touched on this already, it does need reiterating. Remember, there are two possibilities:

•  If you start out by saying there cannot be a God, then you can only conclude that what is

   there in the Bible is clearly myth.

•  If you start out believing that there is or can be a God, then what you find in the Bible is

   consistent and easily understandable.


Most of us tend to start out somewhere in between these two positions and come to believe when we start studying the evidence before us – but you do need to study it! Classic examples of those who followed this path are J.B.Phillips who translated the New Testament afresh in the middle of the twentieth century, and Frank Morrison who ended up writing ‘Who moved the Stone?' Both men started from a position of agnostic-sceptic and ended up clear believers as they examined the evidence.


Have you understood how significant ‘prior prejudices' are in hindering people from objectively approaching the evidences for faith in the Bible?

Have you ever realised the incredible volume of material that makes up the Old Testament that testifies to the presence and experience of God by so many different writers over such a long period of time?


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2.4 The Environment that Demanded Integrity in Writing


The writers of the Bible wrote within a specific, historical, geographical and cultural context and it is important to recognise and understand that. That understanding can really only be fully appreciated by reading the Old Testament and catching the nature of what we are talking about, although we can make some meaningful comments to start us in the right direction.


Writing in the God-fearing Community

Some might try and say that the accounts about God found in the Old Testament are simply the writings of superstitious scribes – and there has always been superstition among primitive tribes – or even that such writings were the means of controlling a superstitious people.


There are some difficulties in respect of these suggestions:


a) Good & Bad shown

The accounts that are clearly supposed to be historical narrative include both the good and the bad aspects of both individuals and of the nation of Israel, and these accounts seem to have no motivational purpose, i.e. they do not appear to have been written to influence present generations except in very general ways.

Reporting good and bad about an individual suggests integrity of the writer

For example, as we note elsewhere, Abraham may have been the ‘father of the nation' or the ‘father of faith' but we are certainly shown his feet of clay.


If I were seeking to impress and convince people about my ‘heroes' I suspect I would play up all their good points and play down their bad points. I don't think I have ever heard spin doctors pointing out all the failings of the politicians they are seeking to boost before us, the voting public, yet that is exactly what we do find in the Bible.


b) The prophetic element

Accounts of activities attributable to God are frequently linked to prophetic insights, saying what He would do, that were spoken before they happened – and then happened. The argument of the sceptic may say, well the scribe made it up and so it was just ‘good luck' that a victory over an enemy came to Israel and the ‘prophetic word' was made up by the scribe to bring superstitious power to the reputation of the nation.


The problem about that is that such ‘prophetic words' were only acceptable if they were brought by a leader or acknowledged ‘prophet' with a trustworthy reputation and any writing that misused their names and distorted the truth would have been the subject of a hue and cry. They may not have been accountable to the modern media as we are, but they would certainly have received public censure if they strayed away from the truth.

Moreover the record is clear that these ‘prophets very often got into trouble with the current ruler for not portraying a good enough picture. Being a scribe or a prophet in those days was not always a safe job. A classic example is that of Jeremiah and Baruch. Baruch was a scribe who wrote for the prophet Jeremiah. Their combined writing caused the current king to issue an order for their arrest (see Jer 36, especially verse 26).

A prophet's integrity was attested to by the nature of his prophecies, how they were fulfilled and the accountability that was required of him by his peers and leaders.


The example of Jeremiah is especially good. He wrote in a clearly historical context, he prophesied what would happen to a series of kings during whose reigns he lived – and it all happened – and he prophesied exactly about the downfall and overthrow of Jerusalem by Babylon and it exactly happened. Now he was not a big influential figure; exactly the opposite if anything. There would have been no point in him recording his prophecies for personal gain, for the nature of his writings indicates that he wasn't that sort of person. Moreover he wasn't the only one to record what took place and confirm that it took place in accordance with what he had said. Again to suggest that other later writers made it all up to create some national strength beggars belief when you read it all in context – and it is worth reading.


c) The Awe of God

Possibly the greatest factor, that would have prevented speculative or wildly inaccurate writing, is that of the presence and experience of God in their midst. The whole understanding of God by Israel did not come through teaching by priests, although that did follow, but by living experiences of this God.

This involved Him delivering them out of Egypt, dealing with them on their travels to the Promised Land, taking them into that land and then having dealings with them in that land.

There thus grew up an awe and respect for God that meant they knew they were accountable to Him. Particularly this meant that they must be truthful about their recollections of Him.

The fear of God is a legitimate means of creating accountability for the writers.


Now the arguing sceptic may suggest that this demand for reverence of His name only helped provide the uniformity of report that we have noted previously. However, there were clearly many times when Israel drifted away from God and in such times it is instructive to note that, although they may have drifted into worship of idols from other nations, they never denied the experiences that recorded history showed they had had of God in the past. They may have tried to ignore their history but they never denied it.


Have you ever thought about the factors that would have prevented writers in Israel from casually and carelessly writing about God? Have you ever considered the factors that required them to be scrupulously accurate in their recording the history of Israel with God?


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2.5 To Summarise


Again let us recap what we have seen in this chapter:

2.1 A clash of world views is the true debating point

2.2 Analysing the Bible scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'

2.3 Questions to be asked about the Writers of the Bible

2.4 The Environment that demanded Integrity in Writing



This chapter has been the second of various foundation stones that I wish to lay in preparation for the rest of the book. It has laid out some basic difficulties that are found in science of measuring or assessing the world in purely materialistic terms. Yet we have suggested that more thought needs to be given to who or what God is by those who would criticise, while accepting that it is quite legitimate to assess the Bible using exactly the same criteria as we would use for assessing any other historical documents.


The big challenge comes, not so much about the facts of its existence, but what it records in history – evidence of the presence and activity of God. If we come with prejudging minds that say there CANNOT be a God then of course we will deny and weakly try to explain away the records. However if we come with an open mind that seeks to fairly weigh up the realities of what is there, we will almost certainly come up with a strong and clear understanding of what took place, just as millions of intelligent people have done down through the centuries to the present day.

I would like to conclude with a plea to Christians: don't be overwhelmed by Goliath's appearance! In 1 Samuel, chapter 17 we find the account of David and Goliath. When David arrived at Israel's camp, they found them paralysed by fear of the giant who came out every day and challenged someone to come and fight him. Goliath imposed on them his standards: might is right!  What always amazes me is why Saul didn't just send out ten men to take him out. If you are going to fight, why have 'gentleman's rules' that require you to fight on their terms. Why fight one on one with a man much bigger than you? Take him out!

Now the point that I would make is that these 'giants' who shout their atheistic wares are actually men of clay. They are human beings with frailties just like you and me and maybe they don't stand up to scrutiny. Even more importantly their writings don't stand up to scrutiny. I remember when I first read Dawkins' God Delusion. his arguing about statistical odds sounds compelling until you start realising that the world isn't built on odds, because odds prove nothing - they are purely speculative! And then there was Hitchens' God is Not Great. He moves with a fluidity that is mesmerizing and almost bewitching - until you slow down and take apart bit by bit what he is saying and you realise it is right off the subject and open to much criticism.

You will find the same thing with philosophers and philosophies. So many of these 'great' men of the past (like us) had feet of clay. We shouldn't take all they said as Gospel. They have taken on a 'Goliath' type of feel with the passing of time. We shouldn't give them that. Relativism, I have commented elsewhere, makes out there are no fixed values, and yet take the individual and try and kill him and he will soon tell you it is wrong to kill someone - or rape his daughter or steal his goods. Oh, yes, he has values all right! Don't let the giant overwhelm you by his appearance, especially that conveyed by other people. Challenge him, question him. The truth is out there; you have nothing to fear!



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