Sep 162009

Torrey Portrait A Originally posted May 2006. I put this together back when The Da Vinci Code and its remarks on the authority of the Bible were the hottest topic of conversation. With the publication of Dan Brown’s new book, and with few signs of popular misconceptions about the Bible dying down, I thought it was worth reviving.

Attacks on the Bible are nothing new, and neither are refutations.   In fact, today’s skeptics are far behind the times: Most of the major misconceptions about the Bible in The Da Vinci Code were addressed almost a hundred years ago by R. A. Torrey.  I’ve arranged a sampling from his extensive teachings on the Bible into a question-and-answer dialogue (questions ours, answers his, verbatim.)  His hundred-year-old teachings have a striking immediacy today, all the more pointed for lines like “The Bible…has stood eighteen centuries of rigid examination.” It may be twenty-one today, but the answers are still relevant.

Q. Dr. Torrey, how did you come to believe that the Bible is the Word of God?

A. I did not always believe the Bible to be the Word of God. I sincerely doubted that the Bible was the Word of God. I doubted that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I doubted whether there was a personal God. I was not an infidel; I was a skeptic. I did not deny; I questioned. I was not an atheist; I was an agnostic. I did not know but I determined to find out. If there was a God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. If there was not a God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. If Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. If the Bible was the Word of God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. And if the Bible was not the Word of God, I determined to find that out and act accordingly. I found out. I found out beyond a peradventure that there is a God, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is the Word of God. Today it’s with me not a matter of mere probability nor even of mere belief, but of absolute certainty.

Q. You give reasons for this certainty in your famous sermon Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible to be the Word of God.  But is this merely an intellectual dogma, or have you found it to be true in your own experience?

A. I believe the Bible because I have personally tested scores and scores of its most astonishing and apparently most incredible statements and found every one of them true in my own experience. Don’t you think that if I knew a man who made very many statements that I could test for myself, some of them apparently incredible, and I tested these statements one after another through a long period of years, and found every one of them true, and never one single statement failed, don’t you think that I would believe that man after a while? Well, that is just my experience with the Bible, and I believe it. I would be a fool if I did not.

Q. Many people take their unbelief in Jesus and the Bible to the level of hatred and vicious attacks against it; The Da Vinci Code is one recent example.  Is this unusual? Does it mean the Bible is in danger?

A. No sooner had Christ’s words fallen from His lips than they were hated.  They have been hated through the nearly nineteen centuries that have elapsed since they were spoken.  This hatred has been most bitter, most relentless, most energetic, most skillful, most wily, most powerful, but it has been utterly ineffective.  This hatred manifested itself in literary attacks upon the words of Christ, like that of Lucian the great master of satire in his day, in philosophical attacks like that of the great philosopher Porphyry, in learned attacks like that of the great scholar Celsus, in physical attacks like that of the great Roman Emperor Diocletian, in which he summoned all the political and military forces of the empire with torch, and stake, and prison, and wild beast to obliterate from the pages of history the memory of Jesus Christ and His words.  From those early days to this, this opposition has gone on, more than eighteen centuries of it.  All the artillery of science, literature, philosophy, political intrigue, sarcasm, ridicule, worldly ambition, force, all the artillery of earth and hell, have been trained upon the words of Christ, and for centuries at a time an almost incessant cannonade has been kept up.  Sometimes weak hearts have been shaken by the roar of battle, but the words of Christ have remained absolutely unshaken.  There has not been one single stone dislodged from these fortifications. Words that can come out of eighteen centuries of such experience as that unscathed, unscarred, unmarred, will stand forever.  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the word of Christ shall not pass away.

Q. The Da Vinci Code is only one example of popular philosophies today that attack the Scripture as the Word of God.  Historically speaking, what should we think about these kinds of arguments against Jesus and the Bible?

A. In the light of history it is nothing short of preposterous, and even ludicrous, to hear men put forward the claims of the newly hatched philosophies of a day against the utterances of Jesus Christ that have stood the test of more than eighteen centuries, especially in view of the fact that just such philosophies, full of self-confidence, have appeared by the thousands in the past, and after a brief day of notoriety have flashed again into the darkness from which they had so recently emerged.  The history of eighteen centuries of human thought is largely a history of men who counted themselves wiser than Christ, but whom it took only a few years to prove utter fools.

Q. You yourself refuted many of these “new” arguments a hundred years ago, Dr. Torrey.  For instance: In its early days the Bible was copied and re-copied many times, which means there are some variations between different manuscripts.  Does that mean (as Da Vinci Code enthusiasts allege) that we can’t be sure what the Bible really teaches?

A. There are, it is true, many variations in the many manuscripts we possess—thousands of variations.  But by a careful study of these variations, we are able to find with marvelous accuracy what the original manuscripts said.  A very large share of the variations are of no importance whatsoever, since it is evident from a comparison of different manuscripts that they are the mistakes of a transcriber.  Many other variations simply concern the order of the words used, and in translating into English, in which the order of the words is often different from what it is in the Greek, the variation is not translatable.  Many other variations are of small Greek particles, many of which are not translatable into English anyway.  When all the variations of any significance have been reduced to the minimum to which it is possible to reduce them by a careful study of manuscripts, not one single variation is left that affects any doctrine held by the evangelical churches.

Q. Another common argument: Other religions and philosophies besides Christianity also have books they regard as authoritative.  How is the Bible any different from those?

A. It is quite fashionable in some quarters to compare the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of Zoroaster, and Buddha, and Confucius, and Epictetus, and Socrates, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, and a number of other heathen authors. The difference between the teachings of the Bible and those of these men is found in three points—

  • First, the Bible has in it nothing but truth, while all the others have truth mixed with error. It is true Socrates taught how a philosopher ought to die; he also taught how a woman of the town ought to conduct her business. Jewels there are in the teachings of these men, but (as Joseph Cook once said) they are “jewels picked out of the mud.”
  • Second, the Bible contains all truth. There is not a truth to be found anywhere on moral or spiritual subjects that you cannot find in substance within the covers of that old Book. I have often, when speaking upon this subject, asked anyone to bring me a single truth on moral or spiritual subjects, which, upon reflection, I could not find within the covers of this book, and no one has ever been able to do it. I have taken pains to compare some of the better teachings of infidels with those of the Bible. They indeed have jewels of thought, but they are, whether they knew it or not, stolen jewels, and stolen from the very book they ridicule.
  • The third point of superiority is this: the Bible contains more truth than all other books together. Get together from all literature of ancient and modern times all the beautiful thoughts you can; put away all the rubbish; put all these truths that you have culled from the literature of all ages into one book, and as the result, even then you will not have a book that will take the place of this one book.

This is not a large book. I hold in my hand a copy that I carry in my vest pocket and yet in this one little book there is more of truth than in all the books which man has produced in all the ages of his history. How will you account for it? There is only one rational way. This is not man’s book, but God’s book.

Q. What would you say to Christians who believe that the Bible contains errors?

A. The Bible is as clear is crystal in its teachings and claims regarding itself.  Either these claims are true, or the Bible is the biggest fraud in the all the literature of the human race. The position held by so many today—that the Bible is a good book, perhaps the best book in the world, but at the same time is full of errors that must be corrected by the higher wisdom of our day—is utterly illogical and absolutely ridiculous.  If the Bible is not what it claims to be, it is a fraud—an outrageous fraud.

Q. What about the theory that God inspired only the thoughts, not the words, of Scripture?

A. The theory is absurd in itself.  The only way thought can be conveyed from one mind to another—from one man’s mind to another man’s mind, or from the mind of God to the mind of man—is by words; therefore, if the words are imperfect, the thought expressed by those words is also imperfect.  The theory is an absurdity on its very surface, and it is difficult to see how intelligent men could ever have deceived themselves into believing such a thoroughly illogical theory.  If the words are not inspired, the Bible is not inspired.  Let us not deceive ourselves; let us face facts.

Q. So you believe the Bible is accurate in what it teaches? What do you say to people who believe that the Bible is inaccurate?

A. The Bible is the only Book that always says all that it means to say and never says anything more than it means to say.  The more rigidly one examines the Bible and the more closely he studies it, the more he will be filled with admiration for the accuracy with which it expresses the truth.  There is not one word too many and not one word too few.  It is the model witness: it tells “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  A very large part of man’s difficulties with the Bible comes from not noting exactly what it says.  Time and time again men have come to me and said, “I cannot believe this which the Bible says,” and then have quoted something which they supposed the Bible said.  But I have replied, “The Bible does not say that,” and when we have looked it up, lo, it is some minute modification of what the Bible really says that has given rise to the difficulty.  The Bible is always so absolutely exact, that I have found the best solution for very many apparent difficulties in the Bible to be to take the difficult verses precisely as they read.

Q. What about these difficulties you mention?

A. Do not be frightened when you find a difficulty, no matter how unanswerable or how insurmountable it appears at first sight.  Thousands of men have found just such difficulties Before You Were Born.  They were seen hundreds of years ago, and still the old Book stands.  The Bible that has stood eighteen centuries of rigid examination, and also of incessant and awful assault, is not likely to go down before your discoveries or before the discharges of any modern critical guns.  To one who is at all familiar with the history of critical attacks on the Bible, the confidence of those modern destructive critics who think they are going to annihilate the Bible at last, is simply amusing.

Q. What study would you recommend to someone who does not accept the Bible as the Word of God?

A. There is an inspired Book on Christian evidences, and it is worth all the libraries ever written on this subject. Turn to John 20:31, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” The Gospel of John is an inspired Book on Christian evidences. What, then, shall we do with ourselves if we are skeptics? What shall we do with others? First, find out whether their will is surrendered or not. “If any man willed to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (John 7:17 R.V.). After the will is surrendered, just say, “Take this Book and read it thoughtfully and honestly and come back and tell me the result.” The result is absolutely sure.

There is no man, agnostic, infidel, or whatever you please, whose will is surrendered to the truth, who will take this Book of God and ask Him to give him light, who will not come out believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. I have tried this with I know not how many men and women, and there has never been one exception to the rule laid down by Christ. It has always come out the same way.

Q. What will the outcome be of The Da Vinci Code and today’s other attacks on the Bible?  Is the Bible in danger? If not, why should we be concerned?

A. The Bible is in no danger.  As far as the Bible is concerned all these attacks from different sources upon the Bible do only good; they set people to thinking about the Bible, they set preachers to preaching about the Bible, they serve to illustrate the invincible truth and power of the Bible by showing the ease with which such fierce attacks upon it are repelled.  But while the Bible itself is in no danger, those who vent their spleen upon it are in danger.  It is no small sin to ridicule the Word of an all holy and almighty God.  There are others also who are in danger, those who listen to the fascinating eloquence of gifted unbelievers and allow it to lull them to repose in a life of sin, they are in danger.  Men, and especially young men, your consciences were once troubling you, and you were contemplating forsaking your folly, but you have allowed yourselves to be blinded by the voice of some brilliant agnostic, and you are now about to trample underfoot the Word of God and the Christ of God.  Do not be deceived, these voices that speak to you are not the voices of truth but the voices of falsehood, infamous, dastardly, soul-destroying falsehood.  To listen to these voices means ruin, eternal ruin.  Do not listen to such voices; listen to the voice of God that speaks to you in wondrous love from this Book and says, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”  Yes, and there is another class in danger.  All those who do not accept Jesus Christ are in danger.  This Book is not in danger, every utterance of it will stand, and this Book declares in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  It is true, and if you do not believe on Christ, if you do not speedily give up your unbelief and put your trust in Him, you must perish.

[wstlink]r[/wstlink] See also: R. A. Torrey Archive, Hymn “Bless Thou Jehovah” to Torrey’s text.

I’m not sure if I started a trend, but I saw a recent article doing very much the same thing with the writings of G. K. Chesterton.


[1] Sermon, Some Reasons Why I Believe the Bible to be the Word of God

[2] Sermon, How to Be Inexpressibly Happy

[3] The Voice of God in the Present Hour, p. 2

[4] The Voice of God in the Present Hour, p. 3

[5] Prayer and Faith, pp. 359-60

[6] Sermon, Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible is the Word of God

[7] Prayer and Faith, p. 346.

[8] Prayer and Faith, p. 384

[9] The Voice of God in the Present Hour, pp. 11-12

[10] Errors and Alleged Contradictions in the Bible, pp. 26-27

[11] How to Obtain Fullness of Power, p. 13

[12] The Voice of God in the Present Hour, p. 31