When Critics Ask

Ryan Goodwin




          We will always have critics to deal with, as Paul notes in several places in the New Testament. “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:6-7). There are more people than we can count who wish only to sir up strife and cause trouble. Refusing all reason, these people fight and argue against the Bible, the church, and the very existence or nature of God. Others, to be sure, criticize the Bible out of an honest distrust for hypocritical “Christians” or glaring inconsistencies in denominational theology. No matter what the motivation, critics of the truth only need to be taught to be silenced – either the pure gospel will convict them to change or it will send them elsewhere for a less capable sparring partner.

          When talking to critics, remember another verse that is helpful. “Solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness” (2 Timothy 2:14-16). We need to keep in mind that we have the truth, and when that is handled properly, it can dispel any myths, supposed inconsistencies, or clever arguments. “Most skeptics have only heard the questions and believe that there are no answers. But we have some great answers… Christianity is true. That means reality will always be on our side” (When Skeptics Ask, Geisler and Brooks, 11). Most of the criticisms that people offer, in any case, fall into the category of “word wrangling”:


·        People believe that a discrepancy in the Bible is cause enough to lose faith in God (or disprove Him to others). Yet problems with dates, numbers, and census figures proves nothing. Many of the most noted inconsistencies in the Old Testament are due to the fact that Hebrew numerical notations are very difficult to decipher. Some figures have almost no differentiation between them, so that the difference between 1,000 and 10,000 is only a stroke or line. Human error in translation of something so inconsequential should not be cause for a loss of faith.

·        Word meaning also is a constant source of argument. However, many of the common criticisms have to do with words that have no bearing on the meaning of a text.

·        Even in cases where words play an important role in textual meaning, it is only modern day thinkers who put their spin on original Greek definitions that affect a text’s interpretation.

·        Critics will receive punishment from God for their wickedness. Remember what Enoch prophesied, saying that God will punish for “the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15).

·        There are also no new arguments that can be made, because the criticisms of unbelievers today are the same ones offered by critics hundreds of years ago. Each new generation of unbelievers will champion the same old arguments. We need to be prepared for it (1 Peter 3:15, Colossians 4:5-6).


Answering a “Fool”


          “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4-5). It is always difficult to reason with an unreasonable person. If one is inclined to speak words that are illogical, and wants to live by them, it is hard to convince him to think logically – error is like that, friends! We need to be careful, therefore, not to get sucked into the critic’s methods of argumentation because that means we are playing on his turf. As evangelists, we cannot try to play a game in terrain that favors our opponents, by his rules, and with his constraints. Otherwise, we simply join the fool in his foolishness.

          It is absolutely essential for us to bring the critic into our realm, answering him the way his error deserves. If we get into petty arguments with people it accomplishes nothing, and simply gives them what they want: one more frustrated, confused, stupid Christian who bites the dust. Instead of always lowering ourselves to someone else’s level, bring the conversation up to the Christian level, reasoning with him or her from the scriptures. Depend on logic, reason, good sense, and self-control, because the antithesis of this method of argumentation is not productive. Garrett notes, ‘To answer a fool according to his folly is to engage in the same emotional invective (abuse) that the fool uses.  On the one hand, one should not deal with a fool on his own terms lest the imitation of folly become habitual.  On the other hand, one must sometimes answer fools in the words they understand in order to reprimand them effectively’ (p. 212).  That is, force them to face the logical conclusions of their arguments.  When you answer a fool, give him the answer he deserves (a good rebuke, sound reasoning, Scripture), and do not get caught up in his foolish assumptions, that is, do not give him any ground” (“When Critics Ask”, Mark Dunagan, www.beavertonchurchofchrist.net).


Unmasking the Critic


          Many critics of the Bible claim that they are only interested in the facts and that they are completely objective in their arguments. Digging a little deeper, however, may reveal something entirely different. Often, they are jaded and bitter because they have grievances against God, the church, or Christians who have mistreated them in the past. Essentially, they have an axe to grind:


·        They may feel that a professed Christian mistreated them.

·        They may believe that God abandoned them in a time of crisis.

·        Inconsistent or convoluted dogma in organized religion (usually a denomination) left them with a bad taste in their mouths.

·        The Bible did not have the answers they wanted.

·        They rejected the Bible because it convicted them of sin.


          Norman Geisler reminds us, “The Bible is without mistake (John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:16), but critics are not. All their allegations of error in the Bible are based on some error of their own” (When Critics Ask, Geisler, 15). What we need to do is look hard at what the real problem is: any critic who is dead set against the infallibility of the Bible is actually claiming infallibility for his own beliefs and positions.


Confronting Contradictions


          We need to force our detractors to confront their own contradictions, helping them see that it is not the Bible that is in error, but their own hearts. Why is it that those who do not like the Bible because of its claim to the truth have no problem with other fields of learning that claim the same thing. Math, for example, is a discipline that is inherently truth-oriented. There is no variation or room for error in calculus, so why is it so surprising when something as important and significant as religion claims the same. The world is filled with issues, questions, and subjects that only have one right answer. It is simply inconsistent to complain about the exclusivity of the Bible while taking more obscure answers from science, math, and history as valid. Some will go so far as to criticize the Bible’s exclusivity while applauding Jesus’ charge to teach the world. “Well, while I don’t believe that Christianity is the only true religion, I do think Jesus was a great man who taught a lot of beneficial concepts.” But wait a minute!


·        Jesus’ teaching is very exclusive (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, 14:6, Matthew 7:13-14).

·        It is inconsistent to love Jesus but hate what He taught (John 12:48).

·        The same goes for His apostles, who only wrote and spoke what was commanded (John 13:20).


          Still others will claim that everybody in the world has the right to exercise their freedom in choosing a religion (or not), but will criticize a Christian for believing in the inspired Bible and verses like John 14:6. The critic might try to argue that just as people have different tastes in respect to different foods, each person can also have their own taste in reference to spiritual food as well.  The problem with this is that there is a huge difference between food that perishes and truth.  Jesus said that He is the bread of life (John 6:48).  He might claim that the spiritual needs of one man are not the same as another man, but this argument completely ignores the fact that one God created us and is able to provide a revelation that meets the needs of all men.  If we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), then why do spiritual needs have to be different?” (Dunagan).


“My way or the highway, monkey head!”


          Critics often complain about people telling them what to do or believe. They resent that others out there are trying to pull them into a mindset, but fail to realize that they are guilty of “My way or the highway” mentality. The critic needs to be reminded, though, that when they are confront by the Bible, they are not being persuaded by the opinions or dogmas of men, but the supreme truth of God. The Father has every right to tell somebody what to do! Even worse, some will try to assert that the exclusivity of Christianity has led to all of society’s ills (the Crusades, Salem witch hunts, intolerance in the middle east, etc.). They say that abortion happens because of unloving, uncompromising Christian parents. They say that marriage is ruined because of violent fundamentalists. But this is a skewed view of Christianity, and there is no place in the Bible that ever advocates violence for the cause of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4).




          Some critics will overstate their case by claiming that certain alleged discrepancies have never been countered by Christian historians or theologians. But the claim is false, because the same supposed contradictions in the Bible have been around for ages, just as the answers have been. It is only out of ignorance that critics say things like, “The Bible is the most flawed book in history”, “Christians are always stumped by this or that”, “Christians are ignorant, uneducated people.”


“It’s all just propaganda”


          A very common complaint by unbelievers is that the gospels are written in a distinctively propagandistic manner, meant to brainwash people and trick them into believing a deceptive, exclusive cult. However, this attitude reveals a complete lack of objectivity on the part of some critics. How can the Bible be a piece of propaganda when its writers are very straightforward about its message and intent? There is never any deception or trickery, but plain and simple language that is openly meant to prove that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:30-31 clearly states that the Gospels were written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ…”). Where is the deception in any of the Bible? Where is the fake promise, the feigned love, or the hidden messages?