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Is the Bible still relevant today? | Objections considered

Updated: Mar 4

The church will continue to be irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as its best defence....

Some texts in the Bible can be dated going back more than 4,000 years. If the Bible is that old, how is it not a mere outdated book of primitive and barbaric fairy tales that we have since moved beyond? We need not advocate for a complete rejection of the Biblical text here, but at least for the rejection of some key passages that are in conflict with our 21st-century culture. For example, the current LGBTQ+ movement is directly opposed in the Old - and New Testament (i.e. In the Old Testament laws, and in Paul's letters to the Church in the New Testament), and as such those parts of the Bible are outdated.

Moreover, because the Bible was penned thousands of years ago during a period of human history when technological advancement was limited, communication was restricted, and cultures were largely isolated - why would we expect the Biblical text to have any insights into our experience today given that our 21st-century world looks radically different? Isn't the Bible a 2000-year-old set of rules for the people living in society 2000 years ago? Shouldn't God provide us with a new set of rules for our lives today?

Related to this objection is the claim that the Bible is merely human words penned 4000-2000 years ago. This enhances the claim that the Bible cannot be relevant for us today because the perspectives are just too far apart! Perhaps people then were opposed to homosexuality and as such the laws prohibiting it made sense, but we're no longer opposed today, hence the old laws are no longer relevant.

This isn't a problem we only encounter when engaging with unbelievers, but it is something that even props up in our churches. Some Christians have abandoned the inerrancy of the Bible. Two examples that come to mind relates to claims from within the church that (1) the Bible teaches an outdated (false) cosmology (structure and history of the universe), or (2) that the Bible has nothing to say about human origins (except that we were somehow created).

The first example assumes that the Bible teaches an "ancient Near-Eastern" cosmology. This ancient cosmology believed in a flat Earth, covered by a dome, with waters above the dome, and Sheol (the place of the dead) literally beneath the soil.

Today, we know of galaxies, that the Earth is round, that the Earth orbits the sun, that there's nothing like Sheol beneath the surface of the Earth etc.

God, the argument goes, when He inspired the text of the Bible, was accommodating the Words of Scripture to people who lived 4000 years ago, and not us who are living in the 21st century. It's easy to see how this line of reasoning can also be extended to the field of ethics (i.e. God's laws 4000 years ago were accommodated to the ethics of the ancient Near East, and not modern ethics.)

Ancient near Eastern cosmology
Ancient near Eastern cosmology

For the second example related to the origins of man, the scientific consensus in secular circles holds to the Darwinian view of human origins: That all life (including humans) came from a very long process of natural selection working on random mutations. In light of this, some Christians view the six-day Creation documented in Genesis as an outdated view of the origin of life that was merely written down to accommodate the limited knowledge of people living 4000 years ago in order to teach them the basic truth that life comes from God.

In the 21st century, the argument goes, we now know better than those who lived 4000 years ago, and as such, we need not believe in a six-day creation.

Now, the implications of the above defective views of the Bible are profound for the Christian. If the Bible is a 4000-year-old book written from the perspective of people who lived 4000-2000 years ago, even if God was somehow involved, how can it be relevant for us today?

Preliminary considerations: Let's take a step back

When you're in a conversation with an unbeliever and the preceding objection pops up, rather than attempting a knee-jerk answer (as we sometimes do as we provide immediate emotional responses), try to provide a well-thought-out answer. You can do this by simply asking questions to the person who raised the objection (this is a useful principle in all apologetic encounters). By asking questions, you can understand why they believe the objection is valid against your Christian beliefs, and you can subsequently form a more informed response that addresses their particular concern. Also, try and ascertain whether there is at least some element of truth in what they are saying, and acknowledge it as such.

Let's think about the objection.

(1) Firstly, it is the case that the Bible was penned about 2000-4000 years ago and that the first hearers and readers of God's world were those who found themselves in the ancient Near East. It is also the case that the first readers of the Bible would not have known about modern cosmology, and many (if not most) of them might have believed that the Earth is flat in some sense (i.e. holding to the ancient Near East model of the universe).

(2) Secondly, it is the case that our culture today looks radically different from the culture of the ancient Near East (especially given the diversity of the parts of the world where the Bible is read!).

(3) Thirdly, we need not agree with all the claims that our interlocuter makes. Just because the interlocuter makes a claim, does not mean that their claim is necessarily the case. For example, is it true that the Bible teaches some form of flat-earth cosmology? No.

(4) Fourthly, we need to think deeply about the presuppositions that underlie the objection. What are the implicit assumptions the person snuck into the argument? If we can identify these and refute them, we've removed the potency of the argument.

A preliminary answer

Unlike our previous article in the series, the answer to the above objection is less obvious. The answer will mainly consist of questioning the presuppositions that support the argument. Luckily, the error in the argument lies much in the same place as the above-linked article.

Let me explain:

The argument, in order to be successful (i.e. to demonstrate that the Bible is not relevant today), needs to simply assume that God is not in control of history. That is to say, there is an element of reality (i.e. Chance or absolute human freedom) that is outside of God's authority. If Chance was something independent of God's control, it would be impossible for God to deliver a single Word at a single point in time that would remain applicable for all eternity. If reality consisted of some element outside of God's control, it logically follows that God's Word that was delivered 4000 years ago would not be relevant to the chance-generated circumstances 4000 years later (i.e. today). We would need an updated Word of God with every new day (or even every hour) to accommodate our new circumstances.

However, if it is the case that God is in control of human history and that nothing happens outside the will of God, the Christian has no problem in affirming that the Word of God once-and-for-all delivered will retain its absolute relevance no matter the stage of human history. God can authoritatively speak, and His Word can remain authoritative for all time.

I believe most people today (including Christians) have a defective view of God's authority. So, let's talk about the concept of God's authority.

The authoritative Word of God

Sinners hate the idea of a clearly identifiable authority over them. They do not want to meet God. They would gladly make themselves believe that there is no clearly discernible, identifiable revelation of their Creator and Judge anywhere to be found in the universe.

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

We need to keep in mind that according to the Bible, sinners hate God. If successful, the objection we are considering will absolve the sinner from all responsibility toward God as if the sinner can somehow establish that the Word of God is irrelevant to his life today, then the sinner can sin in comfort (i.e. ignore the requirements of God's law, and substitute it with his own law).

The absolute authority of the Word of God is an implication of God's nature. There is "no third thing" (e.g. Chance, human freedom) that is greater than God. God is what we call "self-contained", "independent", and "absolute". Thus, He is not dependent on time (creation), but transcends it and sits in absolute control of it. Because of this, when God speaks, His Word comes with absolute authority, not expert authority. Expert authority (as the word implies), is the authority of someone who knows a lot more than you, but who knows in the same way as you (for example your boss at work, or your professor in the university class). Expert authority is something that changes and develops with time. For example, expert authority in medical science 2000 years ago is nothing compared to expert authority in medical science today. However, absolute authority is different in that it establishes all other authority of knowledge and cannot be questioned or verified using independent means. If absolute authority was up for questioning, it would cease to be absolute as it would mean that there is "some third thing" that is greater than the absolute authority to which it must conform in order to be an authority (which reduces it to expert authority). Whatever that "third thing" is, would then be the true authority.

We can follow Van Til when he connects God's absolute nature and the infallible nature of God's Word.

All facts of history are what they are ultimately because of what God intends and makes them to be. Even that which is accomplished in human history through the instrumentality of men still happens by virtue of the plan of God. God tells the stars by their names. He identifies by complete description. He knows exhaustively. He knows exhaustively because he controls completely... Such a God, and only such a God, identifies all the facts of the universe. In identifying all the facts of the universe he sets these facts in relation to one another... Such a view of God and of human history is both presupposed by, and in turn presupposes, the idea of the infallible Bible

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

The timeless Word of God

And so, as an implication of God's nature, we know that God doesn't react to the facts of nature, but He is the one Who calls them forth. He names the stars, He designed the plants and the animals. He determines the significance of historical events, and He is intimately involved in our lives today. The facts and relations between all facts are what they are because God is Who He is. In addition, the concept and development of language (that we use to communicate and the format which God has ordained to give us His written Word) are in His hands.

Human history and scientific and cultural advancements are not developments that happen in independence to God's sovereign control. He works all things according to the good purpose of His will. For this reason, the context in which the Word of God came, and the context in which it is received today is all within the authority and control of God. God is in no way dependent on some independent human factors to successfully deliver His Word. He can deliver His Word such that each verse and chapter remains applicable to us today as it was to the Christian 2000 years ago.

Perhaps this point can be made clearer by focusing on the issue of language. An objection related to the one we are currently discussing relates to the issue of Bible translations. People would generally claim that we cannot trust the Bible because of the multitude of translations available. Which one of the translations is the real Bible? The claim is, therefore, that the true Word of God was "lost in translation" long ago. Related to this is the issue pertaining to the transmission of the Bible throughout the ages.

Now, it is no secret that Christians would not claim that all translations are "infallible" and "without error". This description relates only to the original autographs. However, we can still hold to "essentially" reliable and "substantially" accurate representations in our Bibles today - and we can truly describe them as the Word of God. The reasoning to reach this point is once again dependent on the correct conception of who God is, and His involvement in human affairs. Van Til writes:

Such a view of God [as indepdent, self-sufficent] and of human history [as depdent on God] is both presupposed by, and in turn presupposes, the idea of the infallible Bible; and if such a God is presupposed then it is not a matter of great worry if the transmissions are not altogether accurate reproductions of the originals.
Then the very idea of “substantial accuracy” or “essential reliability” has its foundation in the complete control of history by God. Then it is proper and meaningful to say that God in his providence has provided for the essentially accurate transmission of the words of the original. Without such a view of history as wholly controlled by the plan of God the idea of essential dependability would be without foundation. If history is not wholly controlled by God, the idea of an infallible Word of God is without meaning. The idea of an essentially reliable Bible would have no foundation. In a world of contingency all predication is reduced to flux.

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

And so we see that language itself, the transmission and translation of the Bible is again not something that happens independently of God's sovereign involvement. If there was an element of Chance in the process of translation and transmission, God could not guarantee that His Word would have been preserved over thousands of years of transmission and translation. But there is no element of Chance, so God can be trusted to preserve His Word as He promised.

The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6, ESV

And so we can know that God's Word is preserved for us throughout the ages in its content, and moreover that the content of the written Word will remain ever relevant to us this side of eternity.

We now move to consider the human element in the origin of the Scriptures more deeply.

The human element of Scripture

It is useful to briefly contrast the Christian view of the Bible with the Islamic view of the Quran to better bring our point across.

The Islamic conception of the Quran believes it (the word of God) to be as eternal as God himself. The words of the Quran are, therefore, independent of human history. For this same reason, the Quran can only be read/recited in Arabic, as the Arabic language is as eternal as the Quran itself. All translations of the Quran are fundamentally flawed, and Muslims should learn Arabic to read the Quran as soon as possible. Muslims, for prior reasons and more, believe the Quran (the literal book) to be divine - and as such, you cannot open the Quran if you have not "cleaned" yourself beforehand.

The Christian conception of the Bible does not ascribe divinity to the literal book that is the Bible itself. You can drop your Bible on the floor, write in it, accidentally tear some pages and so forth without feeling guilty about it. The words on the pages only become the Word of God when they are read, and the Spirit works in your heart to affect change. The book itself, if left unopened, is about as useful as a closed tin of tuna in your kitchen. Moreover, the words in Scripture have a very real human element to them. God inspired human writers to write at a certain point in time, given certain historical events surrounding them. For example, David wrote quite a few Psalms when he was persecuted by his son Absalom. The book of Acts documents the acts of the apostles as they worked to spread the Gospel in Asia. So, the historical context of the Bible is also important to correctly understanding the Bible, lest we fall back on a one-dimensional view of Scripture as mere dictation from God to men.

Now, just because humans were involved in the writing of Scripture, does not subtract from the divinity of Scripture. God deemed it fit to use people over a period of approximately 4000 years in widely different historical and political circumstances to pen the pages of Scripture. For each of these writers, it is the case that:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16, ESV


This brings us to a brief consideration of the study of hermeneutics and exegesis.

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the theoretical principles involved in bringing out to this and every age the relevance of the Bible and its message.

E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Nutley, NJ, 1971), 145.

For a good and proper hermeneutic, theologians use what is called the "exegetical circle". An article on the exact nature of this will be left for future consideration. The brief idea is that the theologian spends time with Scripture to continuously refine their hermeneutic. The exegetical circle is a concept springing from recognition of the truth (for truth it is) that (1) exegesis presupposes (2) a hermeneutic which in its turn is drawn from (3) an overall theology, which theology in its turn rests on (1) exegesis. This is not a vicious circle, but one that works like a successive approximation. On each pass, you get closer to the truth.

For example, when you read the Bible for the first time, you might take some pre-conceived ideas to the text. You then encounter passages that challenge those ideas and reform your thinking. On the second pass of the Bible, you might then encounter passages that you've read before (but didn't think too much about) that are suddenly cast in an entirely new light based on your new and corrected notions.

Now, the hermeneutic that is generally accepted is called the grammatical-historical method. This method is dictated, not merely by common sense, but by the doctrine of inspiration, which tells us that God has put his words into the mouths (and caused them to be written in the writings) of men whose individuality, as men of their time, was in no way lessened by the fact of their inspiration, and who spoke and wrote to be understood by their contemporaries [1].

The thoughts and speech about God from these human writers of Scripture constitute God’s own self-testimony. If God’s meaning and message through each passage (when set in its total biblical context) exceed what the human writer had in mind, that further meaning is only an extension and development of the writer's, a drawing out of implications and an establishment of relationships between his words and other, perhaps later, biblical declarations in a way that the writer himself could not do [2].

Think of the messianic prophecies or the sacrificial system in Leviticus. The original writers of those texts could not have appreciated the full meaning of their words given what we now know about the person and work of Jesus Christ captured in later revelation.

And so, the words of Scripture can mean more than what the writers originally knew, but they cannot mean less.

The question before us now, is whether God was in any way limited because of the knowledge of these human writers, or whether He had to accommodate His message to them in any way that would cause at least parts of Scripture to lose their relevance for us today. For example, does the Bible teach an incredibly outdated cosmology, or does the Bible teach an outdated ethic? Stated more clearly, does the Bible explicit teach falsehoods because of the limitations of human knowledge when the Bible was first penned?

The timeless relevance of Scripture

The clear answer to the above question is a simple no. The Bible is infallible and inerrant in all of its aspects.

Any attempt to read the Bible as an accommodation to erroneous ancient mythology, cosmology or ethics is motivated primarily by the desire to constrain the absolute Biblical authority so as not to contradict any modern views that man might have of himself or the world surrounding him. It gives sinners comfort in sin and provides them with an excuse to ignore the requirements that God's Word places on their lives.

The grammatical-historical method of Biblical interpretation does not require us to believe that the Bible contains passages that have become irrelevant as human knowledge of the creation has progressed. It simply means that the writer that wrote 4000-2000 years ago had a message that is relevant to the people of his time, and the people of today. The message that we extract from Scripture should be as relevant for the people then as it is for us today (this again is an implication of God's nature), and so we cannot read the book Revelation and think about attack helicopters and modern skyscrapers (because the implication is that it would have absolutely no relevance for the 1st-century Church).

As our knowledge of creation expands, it will never (and cannot ever) contradict what God has revealed in Scripture (as He is the author of both nature and Scripture). It can, however, expand our appreciation of Scripture.


God's Word remains the standard. Culture conforms to Scripture, not the other way around. God's Word remains timeless, infallible, inerrant and completely relevant today just as it was when it was first penned. God can reveal His Word to us in this way because He is in absolute control of all the aspects of created reality.

Any claim that wishes the reduce the authority or relevance of the Bible for today's world implicitly sneaks in the assumption of human autonomy and chance - which is a non-Christian view of the world - and as such is begging the question against the Christian worldview.

Remember, when facing challenges to your Christian faith, take a step back and try to extract the underlying presuppositions that hold up the argument. In most cases, you'll be able to dislodge the argument because it sneaks in an un-argued non-Christian assumption into the argument.

Because God is Who He is, and this is His world, there is no argument against the Christian worldview that cannot be refuted. If you don't know the answer right away, step away from the conversation, read up a bit, have a coffee with us, and then return to your friend.


[1] E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Nutley, NJ, 1971), 147.

[2] Ibid.


Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.


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