For the purposes of this article, let us first assume for argument's sake that Christianity is the true path to our eternal salvation. Let us discuss atheism at another time.
Christianity is largely based on what we read in the Bible, and most major denominations of "mainstream Christianity" claim to take their beliefs directly from the Bible. Moreover, these denominations tend to either take the whole Bible as the literal truth, or pick and choose which events recorded in the Bible are literal, or are metaphorical — and I believe it is safe to say that no two denominations, perhaps even no two people, interpret the Bible in the same way. To make matters worse, there is no translation of the Bible extant that is free from translational errors from the Greek, which itself was translated from the Hebrew and the Aramaic.
For example, the earliest major translation to Latin was the Latin Vulgate, by the Catholic Saint Jerome. Before this translation, there was no Biblical difference between "angels" and "messengers" in the Hebrew, the Aramaic, or the Greek. I can't remember the Aramaic, but in Hebrew, they were both "mal'ak", and in Greek they were both "aggelos." The spies of Rahab were referred to as angels in both the Old and the New Testaments. In other words, in Biblical times "angel" meant "messenger" or "someone sent to do something" and not much more. The Catholic Saint Jerome decided to differentiate between those sent by God and those who were not sent by God, by referring to the former as "angels" and the latter as "messengers" … but in Latin, of course.
Then there are the stories of Genesis, which most who claim Christianity will say means that God created everything about 6,000 years ago; of Noah's flood, which anyone with a passing knowledge of geology knows to be a sheer impossibility; and of the 42 children who were killed by a she-bear for mocking a prophet. There are many other stories in the Bible that also make no sense to the cynical mind.
So are we to simply throw our hands up into the air and say that the Bible is just a collection of legends and fairy tales? Or are we to claim that scientists must have it all wrong, that the Bible must be literally true?
The answer to both questions is a resounding "No!"
Before I go further, I should mention that I've been Episcopalian, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, almost Presbyterian, and almost Catholic. After these, I became agnostic and almost atheist — I even read some of the works of Carlos Castaneda and Alastair Crowley in my search for the truth that seemed ever more out of reach. I felt then as now that I cannot be a member of any religion whose beliefs I can easily disprove; after all, is the discussion of the salvation of our eternal souls not the most serious of all possible subjects?
Then I was invited to a Church — the Iglesia ni Cristo (Tagalog for "Church of Christ") — where I was taught that much of the Bible is metaphor, but much is also factual; and most importantly, from my cynical standpoint, contains at least one prophecy that is measurably verifiable to anyone with access to an encyclopedia. Now I won't go into our beliefs here. If anyone's curious, I'll be happy to answer as best I can, but the Bible plainly states that only ministers, only those who are sent by God, may preach the word of God — and the words preached by these ministers cannot conflict with one another.
But let's go back to the subject at hand, the Bible. To those who are troubled by those parts of the Bible that are obviously impossible (like Noah's flood, for example), I submit to you that there are three possibilities: one, that they are metaphor for humanity's edification; two, that they are legends wrongly inserted at one point or another by scribes (see Jeremiah 8:8); or three, that they are simply misunderstood by those who read them.
Personally, I am certain that Noah's flood is a metaphor, for it would be flatly impossible for humanity to spread, multiply, and diversify to its present state from eight human beings 5,000 years ago. As a metaphor, we can understand that there was, in a manner of speaking, a "flood of unbelief," a time when only eight people out of all the world truly worshiped the God of Abraham.
I am certain that the story of Genesis is misunderstood, for how did the sons of Adam procreate? They left Adam and Eve and found wives in the land of Ur… which begs the question: where did those women come from? They certainly didn't come from Adam and Eve! Furthermore, how did the land of Ur get its name? To me, that implies that Ur was civilized enough at the time to have been given the name "Ur." Instead, I believe that Adam and Eve were not the first human beings, but the first people of God.
Then there's the 42 children slaughtered by a she-bear for mocking a prophet. Personally, I believe that this was merely a legend wrongly inserted in the Bible and Jeremiah verified (in the verse referenced above) that such did happen.
For those who truly wish to find salvation, they must first understand that they must hear the word of God preached by a minister who is sent to preach, as Romans 10:14-15 makes clear:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
Those two verses make it obvious that one can't just read the Bible and believe — one must receive the preaching of the word (unless they have no opportunity to do so, and for such, Romans 2 would apply). Other verses in the Bible (it's in Timothy, I believe) make it clear that the preachers are to preach the same thing, saying, "Let there be no division among you." In other words, there's only one right set of beliefs and any church whose preachers tell us that those of other denominations will also be saved (several major Protestant denominations, for example) therefore cannot be the true Church.
I take the salvation of my soul quite seriously. I cannot abide by a set of beliefs that I can easily disprove. In all that I have seen and read and studied, I can disprove every religion I've ever heard of, be it any of the Protestant denominations, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, what have you — save one. I cannot disprove the Iglesia ni Cristo, nor can I deny the proofs she carries, some of which I've found by my own research. I will not go further into those proofs, for I am not a preacher; I am not sent to preach the word of God. I would, however, help to point anyone curious about our teachings to the nearest locale and they are found in nearly 100 countries around the world.
Back to the Bible. I hope this article has helped. The simple fact that there is not a single translation of the Bible extant that does not contain translational errors (some translations more than others) demands that if the Bible is true, then one must have a guide to understand what the Bible really says … and this is precisely what the Bible says! In Acts 8:30-31:
And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And [the Ethiopian] said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.