Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive? – Gospel in Life

Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?

Tim Keller |  November 5, 2006

Download Agreement

By downloading this file, I confirm I understand Gospel in Life's Copyright & Permissions policies and agree to only use this file for personal usage and will not upload it to any third-party platforms.


  • Objections to Christianity
  • The Bible
Luke 1:1-4; 24:13-32
RS 192-7


Each week we’re choosing one of the things that most trouble people today about Christianity. The problem with Christianity we now come to centers around the Bible. Many people in a place like New York would say this: “There are many good things in the Bible, but you shouldn’t take every word of it literally. There are legends in there. Don’t insist on it being entirely trustworthy and completely authoritative in everything it says.”

What do we say to that? I’d like to argue (to the contrary, of course) that you should trust the Bible. You can and should trust the Bible in three ways: historically, culturally, and, most of all, personally.

Luke 1:1–4; 24:13–32

Many folks, especially in New York, find it hard to believe in Christianity because they’re skeptical about the Bible. They say that while it has good lessons, we shouldn’t take all of it literally or follow everything it says, pointing out what they see as historical errors and outdated cultural ideas. However, we can trust the Bible as a source of truth because it’s historically accurate, it’s culturally relevant, and it guides us in our personal lives.

1. Historically

There are three main reasons we can trust the New Testament’s accounts of Jesus. First, they were written early on and backed up by people who saw the events firsthand, so they can’t just be made-up stories. Second, they include things that wouldn’t have been made up just to make the church look good, like the fact that women were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection. Lastly, the stories in the Gospels are detailed and realistic, not like ancient myths or legends. Jesus himself also confirmed the Old Testament’s authority. All of this makes the Bible a reliable historical document.

2. Culturally

To really understand the Bible, we need to know the historical and cultural context it was written in. This is important when we’re looking at topics like how women are portrayed, polygamy, and slavery. For example, Genesis challenges the idea of the oldest son being favored, and the Bible’s references to slavery are about a different kind of slavery than the race-based, lifelong slavery that came later. If we dismiss the Bible based on our modern ideas, we might miss out on the deep benefits of Christianity.

3. Personally

The Bible’s authority is key to having a deep relationship with God, as shown by the disciples’ life-changing encounter with Scripture on the road to Emmaus. The main point of the Bible is Jesus, and it teaches us that we need redemption and that Jesus is the Lamb of God. It’s not about earning points or getting blessings. We need to let the Bible guide us and seek Jesus to meet our deepest needs.


June Book Offer

Deepen and Strengthen Your Marriage!

Marriage is one of the most profound human relationships — but it can also be one of the most challenging. So Tim and Kathy Keller designed a devotional book for married couples to use together.