A recent campaign by the media has been making hay out of the claim that atheists know more about the Bible than Christian believers do. What’s the likelihood that this is actually true in any way that is significant?
Christians believe that God wrote the Bible
Let’s get to the essence of this. Christians believe that God wrote the Bible. They have definite ground for doing so. The Bible, written over 1500 years by more than 30 writers, shows startling inner coherency and consistency. Also, though people have been trying for centuries, there is not one item in the Bible—historical, geographical, personal or otherwise—that has been shown to be false. So that alone provides much ground for believing the Bible is a supernaturally-inspired text. Do atheists believe this? No. So if Christians are right, the most central and important fact about the Bible is unknown by atheists. That is significant.
Christians believe the Bible is the truth.
Again, given the fact that nothing in it has been shown to be false, there is a good reason to believe that it does contain the truth. And if it does, then that is another fairly crucial point of knowledge. Do atheists believe it? No again.
Now, those are two pretty important potential aspects of the Bible. That it was written by God and that it is the truth. If atheists miss those how can they be said to know more about the book than those who get it?
So the bottom line is if the Bible is what it says it is—the true speaking of God—then atheists don’t know a thing about it that is significant, because they have missed that basic fact. They have not only missed the forest for the trees, but they have also missed it for the rocks and sticks littered on the ground.
Most atheists who criticize the Bible started out by approaching the book with a definite agenda: To find ways to pick it apart. So they approach it from the standpoint of finding any detail which might provide a way to attack it.
Christians approach the Bible completely differently.
They are not looking for details of the narrative, but for God’s speaking into their lives. Christians generally are looking for large themes: love, forgiveness, support, comfort, general behavioral guidance and what God is like. Most Christians don’t care and generally don’t need to care about the order of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
But an atheist will focus on those details because he is looking for errors in the Bible—something he can latch onto to prove once and for all that the Bible is false. So naturally, the difference of approach might result in the atheist knowing more minute facts about the Bible. Whereas a Christian understands what the Bible is really saying.
Given that atheists have never been able to demonstrate that anything in the Bible is false, which is more important? A collection of details assembled to cast doubt on a book? Or the major themes of that book that have been guiding, enlightening and changing the lives of people for centuries?