Review of “Is The Bible Reliable?”

by hamiltonmj1983

Review of Is the Bible Reliable: Building the Historical Case DVD by True-U, from the creators of Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project.”®

In compliance with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

Is the Bible Reliable is one of Focus on the Family’s recent attempts to reach the 16-18 age group who are preparing to leave home and go to college. This series is well produced; the production quality is high, and each lesson is introduced by a “cool” guy doing something fun, whether it is walking through a college campus while being filmed at a strange angle, jumping off rocks, or otherwise just trying to draw attention to himself. Dr. Stephen Meyer is filmed inside a “too-good-to-be-true” looking classroom (I’ve never been in a classroom that looked that good). The staged audience is a group of excited young people. A lot of work was put in to make this series look very good.

As far as content, Dr. Stephen Meyer presents 10 lessons in which he argues for the historicity and literal reliability of various biblical texts. The 10 lessons are as follows:

  1. The Patriarchal Narratives and the Documentary Hypothesis
  2. The Exodus: From Egypt to Canaan
  3. The Israelite Conquest
  4. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon
  5. Historicity of the Old Testament: A Tale of Two Conquests
  6. The Babylonian Conquest of Judah
  7. Canons of Historicity: The New Testament
  8. Early Composition of Luke and Acts
  9. External Corraboration (Yes, I believe that the intended word would be “corroboration,” so this is a typo on the back of the DVD box)
  10. The Trial of Jesus

I am going to go in depth with the first and last lessons of the DVD. The others all follow the same similar style and have the same goal: proving that the bible is a reliable history.

“The Patriarchal Narratives and the Documentary Hypothesis”

Stephen Meyer opens up this first lesson with an explanation of why he is doing what he is doing. He claims that students go off to university or seminary, take courses in biblical studies, and end up questioning their faith. Meyer seems to think that questioning one’s faith is a bad thing, so he has set up to provide high school students with the tools needed to resist what is being taught in biblical studies classrooms.

Meyer then opens up with a segment called “The Critics,” wherein he basically only talks about Julius Wellhausen, who Meyer claims came up with the documentary hypothesis (apparently Meyer has not heard of Eduard Ruess or Karl Heinrich Graf, to name a couple of predecessors to Wellhausen).

Meyer, unfortunately, does a poor job of explaining the Documentary Hypothesis as a whole, as well as misrepresenting a proper understanding of the parts, J, E, D, and P. Meyer states that these were all “written” long after the events described actually took place. He does not mention the idea of editing or redacting existing, older sources. This simple fact undermines his entire argument; of course details that only an ancient culture would be familiar with would be present in a collection of ancient documents redacted at a much later date.

Meyer then comments on the idea of covenants and treaties in the Old Testament compared to the rest of the ancient world. This is an area that I feel Meyer could have gained some ground in arguing for an earlier date for large chunks of the Pentateuch, but instead of focusing on Deuteronomy and the works of Mendenhall on suzerain/vassal treaties, he instead points out small elements of treaties found in Genesis, and therefore does not advance his point at all.

“The Trial of Jesus”

In this final lesson, Meyer attempts to prove that the gospel account of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection is true based on the fact that 5 major characters in the story are actually historical.

Meyer first proves that Herod Antipas was a historical figure by quoting Josephus, Philo, Suetonius, as well as noting archeological evidence found, namely coins of the time period. Then Meyer attempts to prove that Peter the disciple was a historical figure, using a 4th century writing that refers to a church that was built atop an old house, which had graffiti inside of it mentioning Peter and Jesus (I am not sure how that is proof that Peter lived in the house, but Meyer seems to think that it is). Then Meyer quotes Philo, Tacitus, and Josephus in order to prove that Pontius Pilate existed. The fourth character is Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest that was known to have been in power from 18-36 CE. Meyer cites the Caiaphas ossuary (and I am actually surprised he did not cite the recent “discover” of the false “Jesus nails” that were said to be found in the ossuary) as proof that Caiaphas existed.

Finally, Meyer cites Jesus as the fifth major player in these stories. He cites Josephus and he cites the James ossuary. Now, if you are familiar with the James Ossuary, you know that the person credited for finding this ossuary is facing forgery charges in Israel. Any self-respecting scholar has distanced his or her self from this ossuary (Meyer attempts to explain the validity of the ossuary in lesson 9, but ignores the majority of the arguments against it that are present in scholarship).

The points that Meyer makes are either obvious to any well-read scholar, or based on likely forgeries. I think that you would have trouble finding any person educated on first century religion in Jerusalem would disagree that any of these five people existed. This is obvious. The problem is that Meyer makes the huge jump from “the bible mentions people who actually existed” to “everything in the bible must be true!” I, personally, come to the same conclusions about the death and resurrection of Jesus that Meyer does, but I feel that he has made some interesting jumps from “evidence” to conclusions when there was never a connection between the two.

Ultimately, this is not a DVD series that I would ever consider using. Dr. Meyer seems to make a mockery of higher education in his quest to prepare students to “defend” their faith instead of learning about their faith. Questioning is not encouraged, but instead is looked down upon. Finally, Dr. Meyer, a creation-scientist, has stepped out of his realm to try to tackle biblical studies as well as Ancient Near East studies in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, he seems to have overreached his capabilities, and the only people who will enjoy this series are those people who already fervently agree with his view.