One of the first Bible studies I attended as a new Christian challenged me to imagine a book...
What kind of book would we have?
I thought, “a mound of inconsistency so confusing so as to produce an all-time worst-seller.” But add one element—GOD overseeing all these authors—and what do we get? The Bible, the best-selling book of all time.
The Bible claims to be actual communication from God to humanity. Notice these biblical passages:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21
The Bible claims to be the very Word of God (verbum Dei), indeed, the very words of God (verba Dei). But this claim often raises a number of objections.
This is a real concern people have. The question of whether or not the Bible was God’s Word 2,000 years ago is irrelevant if the Bible we read today is substantially different from what was originally written. Until the invention of the printing press around 1450, all literature was hand-copied and scribes could make mistakes in copying. It’s hard to know if errors are present with many ancient works simply because few early hand-written copies exist. But this is not a major concern with the biblical documents:
1. There are over 24,000 surviving partial or complete manuscripts of New Testament books today. By comparison, the next largest number is for Homer’s Iliad, with only 643 surviving manuscripts. We have only 7 copies of Pliny’s History and only 10 of Caesar’s Gallic Wars―but we don’t hesitate to trust them.
2. Furthermore, the New Testament has unusually early manuscripts compared with other ancient literature. Our earliest copy of Pliny’s History dates to 750 years after Pliny’s death. A lot can happen in 750 years. And the earliest copy of Gallic Wars was copied 1,000 years after Caesar’s death. By contrast, some early New Testament fragments date to within 30 years of their first writing, as with the John Rylands papyrus found in Egypt. There simply wasn’t enough time between the original writing and our earliest manuscripts to allow for much corruption.
3. There are over 84,000 quotations from the New Testament (mainly from sermons) dating to the early centuries of the Church. In fact, even if we didn’t have a single manuscript of the Bible today, we could reconstruct all but 11 verses of the entire New Testament from material within 150 to 200 years from the time of Christ.
4. Similarly, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, we now have copies of the entire Old Testament from before the time of Christ―complete copies of every book except Esther.
Modern translations of the Bible (New International Version, New American Standard Bible, etc.) are translated directly from these earliest biblical manuscripts.
While there are letters and songs and laws and doctrinal teachings in the Bible, the most common genre within the Scripture is history. Observers point out that the Bible is an historical document in that it consistently gives accurate information on the geography, chronology, people, places, customs, nations and events recorded within it.
The Bible is therefore unusual compared to other human religious literature. The Book of Mormon, even though relatively recent, nevertheless reads like a cheap nineteenth century American gothic novel. It describes an entire pre-Columbian civilization which shows no signs of ever having existed. There simply never was a highly advanced Jewish civilization in ancient New York. There is today, but not before Columbus. Or compare the Bible with the Hindu Vedas, which explain that the moon is 150,000 miles higher than the sun and shines with its own light (like a big GE light bulb), adding that the earth is triangular and flat (like a giant Dorito), earthquakes also caused giant elephants that tromp about underneath the giant Dorito.
When viewed against other ancient religious literature, no one can accuse the Bible of being a book of fairy tales. Where corroboration is possible, archaeological evidence has placed the Bible’s historicity in a very favorable light. Here are a few examples:
1. For centuries, the Bible’s critics taught that the early biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were mythological―until the discovery in 1974 of tablets dating to 2400 B.C. in ancient Ebla, tablets which appear to describe transactions with these supposedly mythic cities.
2. For centuries, critical scholars mocked the Old Testament for describing a great “Hittite” empire, considered mythological, an empire of which nothing else was known until the turn of the twentieth century, when the Bible was once again vindicated by archaeology.
3. Even biblical Jericho, once thought to be legendary, has been unearthed. And its walls did collapse―outward, not inward as would normally take place in battle―but exactly as recorded in the biblical history.
4. Nelson Glueck, a renowned Jewish archaeologist, said this, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”
5. And extra-biblical sources also confirm key elements of the biblical narrative. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about John the Baptist and mentioned Jesus by referring to “James, the half-brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.” And the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote of “Christus” who “was put to death by Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.” Even the Jewish Talmud, a collection of writings from the Jewish authorities who lobbied Rome for Jesus’ execution, describes Jesus as a “sorcerer,” one who performed miracles (albeit in their view through the power of Satan).
Sure, maybe Jericho's walls did fall outward, that doesn't mean that God is a Trinity! Again, a reasonable point. The Bible could be generally accurate history, reliably transmitted, and still be wrong in its theological perspective. At this point the Bible gives us a test for assessing the validity of those who claim to speak for God. Reliable prediction, a part of the prophet’s role in speaking forth God’s Word to the people, was to serve as a litmus test for whether or not a prophet was true or false. In Deuteronomy 18:21-22, the question is raised:
‘How can we know a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
Predictive prophecy is unique to the Bible. In the writings of Buddha, Confucius, and Lao-tse, we don’t find a single example of predictive prophecy. And in the Koran, Mohammed makes only one prophecy―a self-fulfilling prophecy that he would return one day to Mecca. Wow. Yet the Bible has many specific prophecies, some short range but many long-range. Witness the following:
1. Genesis 12:3, which promises that every nation on earth would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. This was written down when the Jews were just one small tribe in a cultural backwater. Today, Christian, Jews and Moslems all trace their spiritual ancestry back to Abraham.
2. Isaiah 53, which describes how the messianic servant of God would have to suffer and die for the sins of other people.
3. Micah 5:2, which predicts that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which in Jesus’ day was small but which in Micah’s day was tiny. Jesus could not have force-fulfilled this prediction.
Ultimately, I believe the Bible is God's inerrant Word—completely trustworthy and without error—because Jesus teaches me to believe this. I accept that the Bible is perfect because Jesus says it's perfect. It's undisputed that Jesus taught that the Bible was from God and that it was without error. “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Jesus taught that even the accents on the letters of the words were there at God’s direction. This is often called verbal inspiration—the verba or words themselves are from the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus speaks to the issue, the real question is not, “Is the Bible reliable?” The real question is, "Is Jesus reliable?” R.C. Sproul maps it out this way:
Premise A—The Bible is basically reliable as an historical record.
Premise B—On the basis of this history we have enough evidence to conclude that Jesus is the Son of God.
Premise C—Since Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is totally trustworthy.
Premise D—Jesus teaches that the Bible is more than basically good history. It is the very Word of God.
Premise E—That Word, since it is God's Word, is completely trustworthy because God is completely trustworthy.
Conclusion—On the basis of the authority of Jesus Christ, the Christian Church believes the Bible to be completely trustworthy, that is inerrant and infallible.
The real question, then, is not what we make of the Bible, but what we make of Jesus Christ. Was the Jewish rabbi from Nazareth a liar? Or was he a lunatic? Or is he the Lord?
Think about these discussion questions over the next week. You may want to jot down your thoughts.
1. Why do you think people tend to act on very little evidence in most areas, but demand so proof in religious matters? Is proof enough to convert someone? What examples can you find in the ministry of Jesus that would help you answer that question?
2. How do the different arguments in Lesson Three speak to the head? How do they speak to the heart? Which do you find the most convincing? Some of the arguments work best in a classroom setting. How might you use each of these if you were having a cup opf coffee with a friend who is considering the case for Christ?
3. You quote a passage from the Bible to a family member, who responds, “That Bible is nothing like the Bible that was originally written. In two thousand years, the message has been corrupted. A priest once told me that the apostles originally believed in reincarnation, but that the Church removed that from the Bible around 400 AD, replacing it with the concept of resurrection.” Where do you begin? What do you know that could help this person see more clearly?
4. A man is only as good as his word. What does God’s fulfillment of his promises tell you about the character of our God? How might you develop this argument so that it spoke both to the heart and to the head?
5. A man in you church says he doesn’t see how any thinking Christian could consider the Bible to be inerrant. How might you respond?