Is the Bible “factual” – or is it “true”?

  • Many thanks to a friend who reposted this earlier today. Originally written in 2013, these words could not be more timely today. This blog only had around 500 followers back then, so I’d like to encourage a re-read for some, and a first time read for the thousands who have signed up over the past couple of years. This is as “Faith & Thinkology” as it gets!

“The Bible is 100% True” (and still is):

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

This morning the North Carolina air was cool enough that I had to grab a pair of jeans and put on a light jacket for my walk with Scoutie. Nice. Really nice. Then it was “hands in pockets,” and that’s when I found a piece of paper with the following few words scribbled in pencil.

“The sum of a life is not found in facts, but in the stories. Stories told at a funeral/memorial service are not always 100% factual; but they can (at the same time) be 100% true.”

I remember writing them down. It was during a memorial service at our old church (fpcBrandon). Funerals may be sad, but I’m always glad I’m there because – at least when Rebekah does them – they’re such rich celebrations of life, faith, family, and meaning.

Facts and stories:

At this particular occasion, I remember listening to two friends and three family members offer words of tribute. One of the friends limited himself to statements like the following:

  • “Fred” was born in 1948;
  • He attended such and such college from 1966-1970;
  • He worked 26 years with the School Board;
  • He earned a masters degree when he was 35;
  • He and “Flo” were married almost 40 years;
  • He has three children and five grandchildren;
  • He was president of the Rotary club;
  • He loved to play golf and at one point got his handicap down to eleven….

The man spoke for seven minutes and offered a boatload of incontrovertible facts and statistics.

Then came the stories! Listening to the family members it was obvious the stories about Fred were full with countless examples of:

  • Contradictions,
  • Inconsistencies,
  • Dates and places that simply couldn’t match up,
  • Embellishments,
  • Love,
  • Parts left out,
  • Hearsay,
  • Smoothing things over,
  • Bits and pieces borrowed from other people’s experiences,
  • Hybrid accounts that put events from different times and places into one narrative,
  • Estimation, rounding, averaging,
  • And more….

But here’s what’s interesting. Family members might argue and say, “Well, I don’t remember it that way,” offering a different slant on the same story. But the net result, the complete package of testimony, completely nailed the story of my friend’s life.

“That’s right,” I thought to myself, “every one of those stories was 100% true! They couldn’t have painted a more accurate portrait of my friend ‘Fred.’”


There is a difference, it turns out, between the ideas of “factual” and “true.”

I’ve heard facts presented in such a way that they missed the truth by a mile.

It’s not that truth is “more” than facts, or that truth is something that needs the support of fact as one of its building blocks; truth is substantially different. And by substantial I mean the composite substance, or the stuff that truth is made of.

So there I was, sitting in my pew, scribbling down some thoughts and trying to provoke my brain to respond creatively, and this thought lodged itself in my consciousness:  “Is the Bible 100% factual…? or is the Bible true?”

You see, I believe with all my heart that – as our children’s ministry director said on Sunday – “God’s Word is True.” But I also believe it’s a waste of time being drawn into debates about mere facts.

“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to,” I read on the Internet the other day. But it does remain critically important that we tell the truth about the Gospel of Love via everything that we are, in everything that we say, and through all that we do.

Peace – DEREK

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