Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Undeniable Reliability of Scripture: An Interview with Josh McDowell

Are you prepared to answer if a person should ask you why you trust the Bible? Can you articulate how Scripture communicates the very awe, mystery, passion, and power of God? And how God’s Word is living, relevant, reliable, and historically trustworthy?

Do you believe that God not only used transformative words to bring about the existence of all things, but that he also used words to bring meaning to lives and relationships?

A renowned speaker and apologist Josh McDowell (@josh_mcdowell) was interviewed about his book, God-Breathed: The Undeniable Power and Reliability of Scripture (Barbour, 2015).

Debate among evangelicals about the inerrancy of the Bible and veracity of Bible stories seems to be more common today than in years past. Why do you think that is?

Josh McDowell: One of the main reasons is the existence and size of the Internet. Before the Internet, people that oppose everything that an evangelical person would stand for (atheists, agnostics, and skeptics) had very little access to our young people. But today with the Internet, it has leveled the playing field. They’re just one click away. As a result, the Internet is taking the issues of inspiration, inerrancy—everything—younger and younger and younger, broader, and broader, and broader.

Now, this is also good because it gives us a great opportunity to answer some of these issues, and to use the Internet to make biblical truths clear and to defend them. But the Internet is probably one of the main reasons why it’s become more relevant today, because people have more access to the arguments against our faith.

While you were a college student, you were an unbelieving skeptic of Christianity and the Bible. How did you become convinced to trust the Bible?

Josh McDowell: When I was young and in the university, I was an ornery agnostic—the kind who says “you don’t know, I don’t know, so forget it!” Life was hard, having been homosexually raped for seven years (from six to 13 years old) and growing up with an alcoholic father. Because of this, I was very bitter, and I took it out on God.

I left and traveled to Europe. I went all throughout England, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, London, Germany, France, and Switzerland to gather the evidence to show that Christianity was not true. I checked out the manuscripts and the scrolls, because if I should show that they were not reliable or significant, then I believed my case was won. Now, you have to realize: I didn’t understand Hebrew and Greek back then, so I had to trust others. But I found out in all these universities that people were more than willing to share their knowledge with me. I became convinced that the scrolls are solid, physical evidence that the Old Testament had been recorded accurately. With the abundance of the manuscripts, and the ability to recreate such a high percentage of a pure text, I concluded that to not accept the Bible’s accuracy would mean becoming a total historical skeptic.

I would also add that a lot of the Bible was written by eye-witnesses. I didn’t believe that at first, but I was eventually convinced, and realized that this is the best historical testimony you can get. On top of that, they appealed to the knowledge of their opponents concerning the truth that they were talking about. In other words, they said “Not only do we believe this, but you do too! You saw this! You were there!” When you do that, you’re on pretty solid ground. It’s like going into a court and your opponent totally agrees with you. That carries a lot of weight with the judge and the jury!

Explain the title of your book, God-Breathed.

Josh McDowell: We chose the title “God Breathed” because the New Testament says that the Scriptures are the outward breath of God, and it’s God sharing his heart, mind, and soul with his creation. The title depicts that it came from God—he breathed it out! When that’s established, we can conclude that the Bible is accurate.

The main purpose of the book is twofold. For the believer, that they might know him better and be more committed to their savior because they walk away with a greater conviction of the truth of His Word. I’m convinced that the greater knowledge we have of the truth of the Scriptures, the greater convictions we have and courage in our faith. For the non-believer, the main purpose of the book is so that he/she will see there’s evidence that God did breath out his Scripture, and that Scripture is accurate and true.

Ultimately, I wanted to bridge the gap between the mind and the heart. I wanted to write a book that would take all this evidence with the manuscripts, scrolls, etc. and intellectually bridge it down to how it should impact our lives.

Why do you say the Bible is “alive” when it’s content extends back thousands of years?

Josh McDowell: I like to say that the Bible is alive for two reasons. For one reason, despite being thousands of years old, they’re relevant to every single generation for all people in all places at all times. It’s not static, and it’s not dead. The other reason I like to use the word “alive” is that it literally changes lives! I saw this in my own life. When I finally got up the courage to tell someone about being sexually raped, that man began to mentor me out of the Scriptures for six months. As a result, I literally saw my life change right before my eyes. My attitude, my feelings, my emotions, and my behavior started to change. As a result, I always look to the Scriptures as being alive and relevant. And let’s not forget that the Holy Spirit (who is alive) always uses the Scriptures every day to teach us things.

How did you come to acquire rare Egyptian artifacts and what role do they have in corroborating the veracity of the Bible?

Josh McDowell: I can’t go into detail how I acquired the artifacts because I want to acquire several more. But I will say this: you must always do it legally, and you do it through a broker. Don’t go to Israel, enter a shop, and think you’re buying something authentic—you’re usually not!

Try never to buy anything that’s been stolen out of a country. (Sometimes you’ll never know, but your heart’s desire should be not to do that.) Also, never use the black market. If you do, it’s often stolen goods, and it will ultimately destroy the pricing of significant artifacts.

We hired a broker who took a long time traveling and searching for items that might contain Scriptures. You have to understand: what we did was a crapshoot. We did not directly purchase manuscripts. We bought a number of items that might have biblical manuscripts within them. There was no guarantee that we would end up with anything valuable after our purchase. By God’s grace, we ended up hitting the mother-load with a number of manuscripts that are probably the oldest ever discovered.

Long story short: you do it legally and honestly, and you spend a lot of money doing it. I had thousands of dollars invested into this before we even found something to purchase, because we had to send people there to check it out, determine authenticity, etc.

What do you identify as the purpose of the Bible?

Josh McDowell: Very simply! It is “to know Him, and to make Him known.” I believe the Bible is about how God created us to be in a relationship with him. Sin entered the human race which broke the relationship, but the story unfolds as God restores the relationship through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as forgiveness for our sins. Ultimately, God revealed his heart and mind through the Scriptures that we might know him, grow in him, and make him known.

You say people commit a common error when they say “what this verse means to me is…” Explain your thinking here.

Josh McDowell: You can only understand this in the light of our culture. World culture will pretty well say that there is no objective moral truth, even to the point of denying truth altogether. It’s all individually determined, they say. From this viewpoint you get the phrase, “Well it might be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” In other words: “Look, if you believe it and it works out for you, then it’s true for you. But I don’t believe it, therefore it’s not true for me.”

Now, when it comes to the Bible, what happens is the individual becomes the source of truth, not the Scriptures. Consider how Bible studies have changed with our young people. With an adult study—say, people 35 years and older—it will go like this: “Well Janet, when Paul wrote this, what did he mean by that?” “Jim, when Jesus said this, what did He mean by that?” But if you go into a younger group, it will go like this: “Well Barbara, when Paul wrote this, what does that mean to you?” This isn’t right.

When Scripture says something, we shouldn’t look at ourselves to determine what it means. We look at ourselves to determine how it applies! But we’ve reversed that. Because you see, the individual has become the source of truth. So for our young people today, it doesn’t really matter what it meant to Jesus because whatever it means to you is just as real and true. When you do that, you open up the avenue for total relativism, where all truth claims are relevant and true in accordance with however the individual determines.

What is the big picture of the Bible?

Josh McDowell: The big picture of the Bible is God working out His salvation through creation from Genesis all the way through Revelation. What God has done to create every one of us and how we can know Him personally—that’s the overall theme of the Bible. As I’ve said earlier, the Bible is all about our purpose: to Know Him and to make Him known in our culture today. On a similar note, it’s about seeing things from God’s perspective. I don’t think we can truly understand history unless we see
it from God’s perspective. I don’t think we can truly understand who we are unless we see ourselves as God sees us.

God-Breathed focuses on the 66 books that comprise the Bible. What is your view of the Apocrypha?

Josh McDowell: My view of the Apocryphal books is that they are not Holy Scripture. I think Jesus outlined that, and I touch on that in the book.

But I think every Christian should read them and study them. The great value of the Apocryphal books is that it gives you a sense of the religious thinking, and of religious processes between the Old and the New Testaments. You get a sense of the religious tone, what people thought about it, how it influenced people, etc. All of this helps you to see the light in the New Testament when it comes on the scene. Ultimately, this helps you to understand Scripture even better.

Give one reason why the Bible should be considered reliable.

Josh McDowell: I’ll stick with the New Testament here, because the question is so broad. I would say with the New Testament that it was written by eye-witness accounts. You know, we think people today are so interested in the truth of what Jesus actually said and did. Back then, they were even more concerned about that! Why? The difference is they were dying for it. Many of us are not. They wanted to know more than anybody what Jesus said and did because they knew that they would probably be martyred for it. So they would ask the apostles like John, saying “How do you know that’s true? How do you know Jesus said that?” Remember in 1 John, he said “What our eyes have seen [not somebody else’s!], what our ears of heard, what our hands have felt, we declare onto you.”

I would say if I had to just narrow it down to one small area of confirmation of the New Testament, it would be that. You can’t get closer to a subject you’re reporting on than through eye-witness account.

How does this new book of yours fit in with your other apologetic books?

Josh McDowell: This book is a little different in two ways. The first way is that the scrolls, manuscripts, mask, etc., portrays physical, historical evidence that is firsthand to me, the author. This takes it back from somebody else saying or doing this, to: I myself, saying this and doing this. So it takes the reader back to first-hand account.

Second—and probably even more significant—is that even more than my previous titles like Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More Than a Carpenter, etc., I bridge from the head to the heart. People may say “So this evidence is true. So the Scriptures are accurate. So these manuscripts are reliable as they report on God’s Word. So the scrolls record incredible history of preserving the Word of God. So what? How does it affect my life? How should it affect my attitude, or my behavior?” And one of the keys to God-Breathed is it takes the intellectual stuff and brings it down to how you ought to live.

Bio: Josh McDowell has been at the forefront of cultural trends and ground-breaking ministry for over five decades. He shares the essentials of the Christian faith in everyday language so that youth, families, churches, leaders, and individuals of all ages are prepared for the life of faith and the work of the ministry. This includes leveraging resources based on years of experiences, new technologies, and strategic partnerships. Since 1961, Josh has delivered more than 27,000 talks to over 25,000,000 people in 125 countries. He’s the author or coauthor of 142 books, including More Than a Carpenter and The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, recognized by World Magazine as one of the top 40 books of the 20th century. Josh’s books are available in over 100 different languages. Josh and his wife, Dottie, have been married for 43 years and have four children and ten grandchildren. For more information, visit Also see the Publishers Weekly article: Christian Bookseller Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award-Winner Reflects on Five Decades of Writing.

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