6 Presuppositions: facts and opinions

DiscWatch the dialogue on DVD first

You should allow 12 minutes for viewing.

This is a scripted dialogue presented as a panel discussion entitled The Bible: Whose book is it anyway?

There are four characters involved in the presentation:

  • The Chairman is Steven Whitehead, who plays himself.
  • The three ‘experts’ who are reading their parts. You must not assume that any of the readers agree
 with the words they have been given. They are:
    • Charles Cooling
    • Frances Feldman
    • Lewis Logan

Facts and opinions

Although our three debaters are fictitious characters – caricatures, even – they do represent those who hold similar positions. The first point to take on board is that these characters genuinely believe that what they are saying and teaching is true and it would be wrong of us to doubt their sincerity or indeed their academic integrity. They are clever people with letters after their names but they can still be wrong. Indeed, the second point to recognise is just that: the three of them cannot all be right all of the time. A phrase that is often repeated today is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But is this necessarily true in all cases? Say we are in London and you have asked me in which direction you need to travel to reach Corby. If I tell you to head south I am wrong and if you follow my advice you will get lost. The opinion that Corby is south of London is a false opinion. If you had asked me if Corby is a better place to live than London then you have asked for my opinion. I can think of many advantages that London has over Corby (museums, shops, theatres, etc.) and I can also think of ways in which Corby is better than London (cheaper housing, close to countryside and the presence of the British Bible School). The two questions (“Where is Corby in relation to London?” and “Which place would you prefer to live?”) are different kinds of question. The first is asking for factual information that can be checked on a map and the answer shown to be right or wrong. The second is a subjective question and different people will give different answers depending on their personal circumstances. Someone who says that they would rather live in London because the cost of housing is cheaper there than in Corby can be shown to be wrong but if someone says that they prefer the parks in London to the countryside around Corby then that is their opinion and we cannot say that they are wrong, even if in our opinion we would prefer the real countryside to a park.

In the dialogue you may have seen opinion being passed off as fact. This can and should be challenged. You may find that the opinion does indeed have a factual basis but this does need to be drawn out. The statement “People do not walk on water” is not quite the same as “I have never seen someone walking on water” and sometimes we express ourselves in the first way when we really mean the second so in a debate it is right to ask for clarification.

Make a noteThe questions

Answer the following questions in a separate document and submit this by e-mail as either a Plain Text document or as a PDF.

Try to be fair to the positions held by the three characters and do not make them say things they did not actually say. You may refer to them as ‘C’, ‘F’, and ‘L’ if you wish to save a little time. Please do not be afraid to give your own opinion too but make sure you back it up with good reasons.

  1. Do you think that non-Christians assume there is only one way of reading and interpreting the 
 Bible? Would the kind of dialogue you have just seen put them off or encourage them to find
 out for themselves?
  2. Is it helpful if all members of a Bible Study group share the same set of presuppositions and read the Bible in the same way?
  3. “If one part of the Bible can be shown to be false we cannot believe any of it.” How would you respond to this challenge?

Aim to write three or four paragraphs for each question; more if you have more to say but not too much more at this stage.


The dialogue and follow-up questions were adapted from chapter 40, “Are different interpretations possible?” in The Bible: The Story of The Book by Terence Copley (Swindon: Bible Society, 1990).

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