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The Bible: Suspension of Disbelief or Real History?

It did not burn up when it re-entered.
Recovery of Apollo 13 Command Module

The first President Bush talked about making American families “a lot more like The Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.”1 While I understand what President Bush was trying to say, and I agree with his point, the truth is I have a problem watching either show.

While I was growing up, I watched The Waltons with my family. That was Thursday night. We were almost through the week. The Waltons was based on the actual family and growing up experiences of Earl Hamner. But as I will get to, individual episodes and movies are fictional.

My mother still enjoys watching The Waltons. But I have changed. My mother had The Waltons on one afternoon when I was over. I shared with my mother the experience of watching A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion.2

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The setting of this 1993 made for TV movie was John Boy coming back home for Thanksgiving; with his fiancée. After their arrival, President Kennedy was assassinated. What really jumped out at me during this movie was when the character Olivia said Elizabeth’s age – 28. Having watched the show growing up and my brain working like it does, I immediately knew that was wrong. The character Elizabeth would have been about 38 by that time. If Elizabeth would have been 28 in 1963, she would not have even been born yet during the earlier TV series episodes. I told my mother that “This was like a flashing neon sign to me, saying: This is just a fictional movie!” It blew my mother’s mind that this would be a problem for me. But it blew my mind that it would not be a problem for my mother. I certainly do not vouch for Wikipedia being a credible source on everything; but it does address some interesting topics. I printed out a Wikipedia article on “Suspension of Disbelief”3 for my mother; to help her understand why that continuity error was a problem for me. The fact that it was not a problem for my mother shows how our minds work differently. My mother was just able to ignore the continuity errors and I was not.

Back in the early 90s, my wife and I watched The Simpsons. Then for various reasons, we stopped watching it. Out of curiosity, I recently watched a YouTube video: The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened.4 Evidently we are not the only ones that stopped watching it. One of the reasons given for the decline of the show was the episode “The Principal and the Pauper.” In this episode, the person thought to be Principal Seymour Skinner was actually Armin Tamzarian who had assumed the identity of Skinner. Many shows have continuity problems; such as:   Whatever happened to Chuck on Happy Days? 5 Fan websites point out continuity problems. Evidently I am not the only one that notices these things. This Simpsons episode received more attention because it was not something mentioned in passing or a character just quietly not being seen anymore. The entire episode was overtly undoing a character that had been developed over a period of eight seasons.

Even in a serious historical documentary, mistakes can happen. On Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Abraham Lincoln is said to be 54 when he dies. But Abraham Lincoln was actually 56. They made a mistake. Some of the alleged inconsistencies in the Bible are simply different writers giving different details of the same historical account; which would be expected. But the reason for the continuity problems in both The Waltons and The Simpsons; as well as other programs, is the shows are fictional. The scripts are whatever the writers come up with in their imaginations. And sometimes script writers and producers are less faithful to the show than the fans. People know that they are watching a fictional show. But continuity problems remind them that they are watching a fictional show.

I would rather spend my time watching Apollo 13. Apollo 13 was a movie about the real life Apollo 13 mission. Per Apollo 13 commander, James Lovell: “The movie – Apollo 13 – was, believe it or not, very accurate. All of the incidences depicted in the movie were true.”6 So I know that I am not just watching a fiction or even an embellishment. An oxygen tank exploded on the way to the moon. As a child, my simplistic understanding of it when it happened was that the astronauts were on their way to the moon for a lunar landing; there was a problem; so they turned around and came back. It was only many years later that I became aware of the peril that the astronauts had been in.

Now the question is: Where does the Bible fall in? Is it a fiction like The Simpsons? Is it a fiction like The Waltons – higher ideas than The Simpsons, but still a fiction? Do we have to suspend our disbelief when we read the Bible; or hear a Sunday morning service on the Bible? Do we just ignore the problems of the Bible not matching up with what we see, hear, and read everywhere else we look; as my mother ignores continuity problems when watching The Waltons? Or is the Bible a true history like Apollo 13? Does it make a difference?

Paul emphasizes the importance of the Bible being a real history. In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, Paul states:  “But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”

Then later in that very same chapter, Paul states: “The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”7 So Paul emphasizes the importance of the truth of Jesus having a physical resurrection. Then Paul uses the authority of the creation account in the scriptures in explaining who Jesus is and the ministry of Jesus.

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You hear professing Christians say things like “The Bible is not meant to be read as a science book” or “The Bible is not meant to be read as a history book.” Christians need to understand that the Bible was never meant to be taken as The Waltons. If the Bible cannot be taken as Apollo 13 – real history; then the Bible might just as well be taken as The Simpsons.

Terry Read

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-T5eSUm-js – More like the Waltons
  2. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/482133/Walton – Thanksgiving-Reunion-A/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief – Suspended disbelief
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqFNbCcyFkk – The Fall of The Simpsons
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQoOdmd77Hk – Chuck disappearing
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac9cgZibpQs – Jim Lovell on Apollo 13
  7. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+15&version=NLT

Written by Terry Read

Graduate of University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) – B.S. Engineering Management, 1986; Licensed professional engineer in the State of Texas – 1994 to Present; Volunteer data entry person at the San Antonio Pregnancy Care Center – 1992 to 2007;
Member of Kirby Baptist Church – 2006 to Present; Member San Antonio Bible Based Science Association – 2010 to Present; A director of San Antonio Bible Based Science Association – 2015 to Present; Co-host of Believing the Bible – 2016 to Present; Author of the book - Why Should I Believe? Why Should You Believe? - A Wake-Up Call to the Church!; Married to the former Elizabeth Cecilia – 1992 to Present;
Father of Joshua Read

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