The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

The Bible reports extraordinary claims in ordinary ways

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Is the Bible a book of fables and mythology? For some, this seems all too obvious. After all, there are many fantastic (in the technical sense) stories from start to finish. Given these stories, some think the Bible, and all that it claims, can be dismissed as mere fiction.

But for me, it just doesn’t read that way. When one really sits down and spends time reading the Bible, one notices sensational claims, but one should also notice a general lack of sensationalism in the telling of the stories.

The Ordinary Extraordinary

Overall, the Bible does not lack in imagery. There are sections of Scripture that paint in bright colors and imaginative word pictures. When one reads the Psalms, Isaiah, or Revelation, there is no shortage of literary beauty. However, when a biblical author is describing actual fact, it is typically straightforward and even mundane. This is not to say the narratives lack literary beauty, but just that there seems to be a lack of obvious embellishment in the storyline despite the fact that it may be describing extraordinary events.

A good example of this is the account of Jesus walking on the water. This story shows up in 3 of the Gospels. Matthew provides the longest account:

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matt. 14:22-27).

As can be seen, this is incredible and can honestly be difficult to believe given the supernatural element. A guy is claimed to have walked on the water. It’s extraordinary, but the details here are rather mundane and matter of fact. It doesn’t fill out the account with drama and imagery. It just says “And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.”

This seems unusual if these accounts are fabricated. If a person is going to go to the trouble of making up a story about Jesus walking on the water, one would think it would be spiced up a bit with more special effects. Instead this unreal story reads realistically. It is written, well, you know, as if it actually happened. It reads as if the author doesn’t know what to do with the fact that a dude walked on water, but here you go, here’s what happened.

A Mark of Authenticity

Now this is decidedly not a knockdown drag out argument. But I want to suggest it is a mark of authenticity. That is, it does lend some credence to the idea that the authors of the Bible were witness to extraordinary facts and their agenda was to share straightforwardly what happened. It fits as a piece of a broader cumulative case for the veracity of Scripture.

The fact that these stories include miracles is still going to be a stumbling block for many. I do get that. But we should ask ourselves, if one was genuinely witness to miracles, how would we expect these to be reported? I’ve come to the conclusion for a variety of reasons that the Bible contains descriptions of genuinely miraculous events and reports them as witnessed.

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