Is the Bible true?
How do I know I can believe the Bible?
How much stock should I put in what the Bible says?
These are all extremely important questions that we will and must ask as we consider where to put our faith and hope. Our culture values critical thinking, scientific testing, and educated decisions, and much of our educational system is built around teaching people to doubt and question everything. While we have consequentially seen a decline in Church attendance and overall spirituality in our culture, this trend is actually a benefit to the health of the Church. Why? Because we are loosing those who would claim Christianity simply out of tradition. People are more willing to find their own route instead of continuing in the habits of their parents, which forces people to truly examine the faith for themselves. In short, cultural Christianity is dying. Yes, there are still many – particularly in the deep south, the “Bible belt”, who go to Church on Sunday morning because “that’s just what you do”. There are many who would still claim to be a Christian if asked, yet have never darkened the doorway of a Church or attend for Christmas and Easter. But these people are fewer as farther between as it becomes more acceptable to define one’s identity apart from his family of origin.
We, as Christians, should be excited about this trend in culture. Yes, our attendance might be less, but we can have great confidence that the people who are coming through our doors and engage us in every day conversation are interested to hear the logic and proof that we have for our faith. We have been trained to be skeptical and analytical.
Christianity is built upon the Bible. It is our holy Scripture and it is our authority. Various denominations attribute different levels of authority to the Bible, and we will get to that later – but it is, in general, a unifying fact that Christians believe the Bible. But how can we be sure that the Bible is true? How do we know that we can place our trust in it.
Some would argue that to believe the Bible is intellectual suicide. I would argue the exact opposite, however. When scholars, researchers and archaeologists study antiquity, there are a few factors they consider. Firstly, the study the dating of the records and books that have been preserved. How close to the events documented did the writings actually occur? For years many sought to discredit the Scriptures by saying that the earliest writings of the New Testament came in the second century – too long after Christ lived to be accurate. This argument was made popular by the German critic Ferdinand Christian Bauer. Two New Testament manuscripts were found in the 20th century, however, that bridged that gap: the John Rylands manuscript, dated AD 130 and the Chester Beatty Papyri dated AD 155. By comparing the ancient language used and the number of copies present, William F. Albright – considered the world’s foremost Biblical archaeologist wrote:
“We can already say emphatically that there is no longer and solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after about AD 80, two full generations before the date between 130 and 150 given by the more radical New Testament critics of today.”
In terms of scholarly study, the historical evidence is there to prove that the books were written by those who claim to have written them, the very eyewitnesses of Jesus.
The second level of observation is the number of copies. Many would doubt the reliability of the Bible because it “has been changed” over the years. We know, however, that it was pupil’s strategy when sitting under a Rabbi to memorize, word for word, the teaching of the Rabbi. The writing of the New Testament occurred by those first pupils, so we can attribute accuracy to the first writings as much as we attribute accuracy to any historical document found. As for the preservation of this accuracy, we must consider its transmission throughout the years.
The history of Thucydides (460-400 BC) is preserved in only eight manuscripts – the earliest of which dates roughly AD 900. This is nearly thirteen hundred years after he wrote. The history of Herodotus are similarly late and scarce. No scholar of antiquity, however, doubt their authenticity and reliability. Aristotle lived and wrote around 343 BC – but the earliest copy of his writing is dated at AD 1100, and only forty nine copies exist of his writings. This gap is roughly fourteen hundred years! Yet we all studied Aristotle and no one doubts the authenticity of his writings. The examples are endless of historical documents on which we base our entire understanding of history.
Bruce Metzger, who is a scholar and prolific writer on the manuscript authority of the New Testament, makes this statement:
“The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with other works of antiquity”.
To date, there are more than twenty thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament from antiquity available. The second most copied and available work from antiquity is the Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem written by Homer. There are only 643 manuscript copies available of this work. In short, if you would trust any writing and history derived from antiquity, you must trust the reliability of Scripture in terms of dating and accuracy.
Internal variations within the original manuscripts are another issue some will raise. Seventy five percent of the variations within the manuscripts, however, are spelling differences. For example, the name John – in Greek – may be spelled with one or two n’s. The second largest number of variations are the interchanging of synonyms. One might replace a proper name with “he” for example. There are roughly 1% of variations that could be questioned, none of which – however – would change the meaning of the text.
Once you reach the conclusion that the work of the New Testament is historically and academically preserved better than any other work from antiquity, you must test what it says internally. Do I believe what it actually claims? The New Testament writers often claim the fact that they were eyewitnesses of the events unfolding:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
– 2 Peter 1.16
“And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
– John 19.35
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
– Luke 1.1-4
Eye witness account is what we demand in a court of Law, and the New Testament claims to be just that. There are no other writings from antiquity that discredit any claims of the New Testament, rather there are many that prove it’s validity! To read more on this, I highly recommend an easy read by Josh McDowell, “More Than a Carpenter”.
So, we have realized that the New Testament is the most highly trustworthy document from antiquity, in terms of the basic tests we would ask any ancient text. Then we must look inside. What does the Bible actually say, in terms of its own authority? Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, makes a profound claim:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
– 2 Tim 3.16-17
Paul, obviously, is writing specifically about the Old Testament. He was a Pharisee before he came to saving faith in Jesus and he knew the Old Testament well. His claim is simply that every work in the Old Testament was literally “breathed by God”.
Peter declares that the Scriptures, the Old Testament, and every prophecy and writing contained therein, does not come from man, but directly from God:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.“
– 2 Peter 1.16-18
What then about the New Testament? Are these writings also Scripture, and therefore God-breathed?
Paul, again in his letter to Timothy, quoted Scripture, and named his quotation as Scripture. Here, however, he quoted both the Old Testament and the New Testament and defined them both as Scripture:
For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
– 1 Tim 5.18
Here he defines Deuteronomy and the writings of Luke – quoting Jesus – as Scripture. Paul wrote more than half of the New Testament, and Peter defines Paul’s writings as Scripture:
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
– 2 Peter 3.14-16
Thus we have affirmation that the New Testament and included in the Scriptures, those words that are breathed out by God through His messengers. All Scripture is the Word of God. Some of it are direct quotes from when God exhorted His people, while other parts are history, poetry, and prophetic work. But it is all the Word of God, it is all profitable for teaching and training, and it is without error.
It is not intellectual suicide to believe the Bible. In fact, it is intellectual suicide to write it off. All scholars who study antiquity and ancient writings agree that in terms of historical accuracy and reliability it is the greatest work in existence. And if you trust it at face value in terms of events and documentation, then it would be wise to trust its claims to truth. Skeptics have attempted to disprove it and discredit it since its writing, and none have been able to do so.
And if we choose to believe part of Scripture, then we must believe all of it. To pick and choose the parts we like makes the reader the ultimate authority and not the God who breathed the Scriptures. And the moment we discredit any part of Scripture in its truth claim, we are left to doubt every other part – because we are standing on our own logic and not God’s.
Can I intellectually believe the Bible? Yes. In fact you should. If you choose not to follow Jesus, at least do so knowing that the historical evidence, external and internal proof of the Bible is more weighty than any other document in existence. If you choose not to make the Bible the authority over your life, at least do so recognizing the fact that it has stood for centuries in the face of doubters, skeptics and those who would seek to discredit and disprove it to no avail. But when you finally recognize the reliability of Scripture, understand that you must submit to all of it. You cannot pick and choose the parts you like. God gave us a book full of truth and hope, intending for us to know it, believe it and obey it all.