Is the biblical narrative true in the same way that a mathematical theorem is true? Is it true in the same a natural law is true? What about a historical account of an event? What about an eyewitness account?
Even on this moving scale of "truth" the question of how the Bible compares to similar documents has become an increasing preoccupation in relationship between the Church and Society. There are Christians who claim the Bible is literally, inerrantly true similar to claims some Muslims make that the Koran is true. There are Christians who, like Anglicans, will say the Bible "is the Word of God contains all things necessary for salvation". And there are Christians who approach the Bible with a strong sense of skepticism.
Could the problem be that we are trying to use the wrong norm when we speak of Biblical truth? David Lose, the author of "Making Sense of Scripture" argues that we are. He writes, in part, in an essay posted last week on Huffington Post:
"The dubious nature of biblical 'history' and 'science' and the multiple discrepancies among the four evangelists led to a great schism in Christianity, each side assuming that truth is equated unequivocally with facts. On the liberal side of the divide, scholars concluded that because the Bible was not factually accurate it was in a profound sense not true. Witness, for instance, Bart Ehrman's recent post on who wrote the Bible (and, for that matter, his entire literary career). Conservatives, on the other hand, asserting that the Bible was obviously true, concluded that it therefore must be factually accurate. Hence, they have written tomes that rival the Bible itself in length that engage in intellectual gymnastics in order to iron out all the 'so-called' discrepancies in Scripture.
Both sides, however, miss the literary nature and intent of the Bible as stated within its own pages. Take for example Luke, who in his introduction acknowledges that he is not an eye-witness to the events he recounts but depends on multiple other stories about Jesus. He writes what he calls 'an orderly account' so that his audience may believe and trust the teaching they have received (Luke 1:1-4). Or consider John, who near the end of his gospel comes clean about carefully arranging stories of Jesus so as to persuade his readers that Jesus is the messiah (John 20:30-31). The gospels -- and, indeed, all of Scripture -- do not seek to prove but to persuade. And so John, convinced that Jesus is 'the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world' (1:29), portrays Jesus as clearing the Temple of money changers at the very outset of his ministry because he, himself, is God's sacrifice. Similarly, Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation at the exact moment the Passover lambs are slaughtered. John's aim is thoroughly theological, not historical.
For this reason, the Bible is filled with testimony, witness, confession and even propaganda. Does it contain some reliable historical information? Of that there is little doubt. Yet, whenever we stumble upon 'verifiable facts' -- a notion largely foreign to ancient writers -- we should keep in mind that the biblical authors deployed them not to make a logical argument but rather to persuade their audiences of a larger 'truth' that cannot be proved in a laboratory but is finally accepted or not accepted based on its ability to offer a compelling story about the meaning and purpose of the world, God, humanity and everything in between. To attempt to determine whether the Bible is 'true' based only on its factual accuracy is therefore to make a profound category mistake, judging its contents by standards its authors were neither cognizant of nor interested in."
Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans.