4.1 How do we know the Bible is God’s Word?
• No work of literature written over thousands of years by over thirty writers from various walks of life can deliver a coherent and consistent message. The Bible does. No storybook has the authority to make claims about heaven and hell or to make promises concerning life after death. The Bible does. No ordinary book could have accurately made so many prophecies about events in human history and about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has.
• The Bible deals with the basic problems of human life and points to a single solution: salvation through Jesus Christ. Who else but God has the perspective and authority to inspire such a book? The Bible was penned by humans; God revealed its contents.
• The writers of the Bible claimed to be inspired by God and that their writings are the very words of God. To see whether these claims are trustworthy, we need to examine the evidence and test whether the Bible as a whole is reliable and carries divine authority:
The Bible was written over a span of 1,500 years by about 40 authors from various walks of life. Despite its great diversity, the Bible delivers a coherent and consistent message. From Genesis to Revelation, we see the gradual unfolding of God’s salvation plan. Although the Bible contains teachings on hundreds of controversial subjects, there are no contradictions among the various authors. Together, the Bible offers us definite answers to our most basic questions: Where are we from? Where do we go after death? How can we know and be reconciled with our Creator? The amazing unity of the Bible tells us that it was God who inspired and oversaw the writing of the books in the Bible.
Its historical and geographical accuracy:
Modern archeological findings have confirmed the accuracy of the people, places, and historical events recorded in the Bible. Time and again, archeological evidence has disproved the claims of critics who believed many of the Biblical accounts to be errors or myths. Until today, new discoveries continue to affirm rather than discredit the Bible.1 Consequently, the Bible’s reliability reveals to us that its claim to divine origin is trustworthy.
Its prophetic accuracy:
“The Bible itself offers the standards by which to test those who claim to speak authoritatively about the future. It says in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 that the test of a prophet’s authority is the accuracy of his predictions. The Bible contains hundreds of prophecies, so we can measure it by its own test…. Whenever the Bible speaks prophetically, therefore, it is accurate. Hundreds of prophecies have been literally fulfilled. On this basis, we can also believe what the Bible has to say about things to come. It has already proven itself!”2
Its scientific accuracy:
Although the Bible is not a book about science, its scientific accuracy confirms that the author of the Bible is also the creator and ruler of this universe. Many of the statements in the Bible were confirmed by scientific discoveries hundreds or thousands of years after the time of their writing. (E.g. a spherical earth (Isa 40:22); earth suspended in space (Job 26:7); the stars uncountable (Jer 33:22)).
Its fulfillment of promises
Through the Bible, God has offered many promises to those who believe and obey him. Today, we can experience these blessings when we put the words of the Bible into practice. For examples, believers today still receive the Holy Spirit just as the apostles did thousands of years ago. Through prayers in faith, demons are cast out, the sick are healed, and even the dead are raised. In our daily lives, we experience the Lord’s guidance and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In difficult times, we receive comfort, strength, peace, and joy. All of these are the fulfillment of the Bible’s promises to believers.
4.2 The Bible is full of inaccuracies.
• No scientific or archaeological discovery has ever disproved any of the Bible’s accounts. In fact, certain biblical passages that were thought to be mistakes have later been confirmed to be true. Error lies not in the Bible, but in our misinterpretation resulting from our limited knowledge. As we continue to learn about the world around us, we gain a better understanding of biblical claims and God’s greatness.
• Besides, to read the Bible solely as a scientific manual or a historical account would be missing its point. We ought to read the Bible to learn about God and his salvation.
4.3 The Bible is outdated.
• People of different generations, cultures, and upbringings have all proclaimed the power of the Bible in their lives. Why would the Bible strike a chord in so many hearts?
• For one thing, the basic problems of human life remain the same: how to deal with evil and suffering, how to find something lasting in a life so finite and frail, and, ultimately, how to receive eternal life. The Bible gives us the answer to our problems, a solution that’s good for all ages: Jesus Christ. To see for yourself what the Bible is good for, you can’t just skim through or read it like any other book; you have to put its teachings into practice in your life.
4.4 The Bible is full of contradictions.
• Many assume that the Bible is full of contradictions but never examine whether this charge is true. When we examine these so called “contradictions” or “errors,” we realize that they are only apparent. For example, while two Bible passages may record the same event with varying details or from different perspectives, the accounts do not contradict each other.
• “Not every biblical discrepancy has been resolved. But the direction of the evidence is very encouraging. As biblical scholarship increases and our knowledge of language, text, and context increases, the problem of discrepancy becomes smaller and smaller. There is less reason today to believe that the Bible is full of contradictions than at any time in the history of the church. Prejudice and critical philosophical theories, however, die a very slow and hard death”3
See Reason to Believe4 for the story of a student who charged the Bible with contradictions but was later convinced that what he thought to be contradictions were only apparent.
4.5 The Bible has been copied and translated over and over again for hundreds of years. How do we know that it has not been altered over time?
• To test the reliability of historical documents, historians examine the textual transmissions by which the documents reach us. By looking at the number of manuscripts (copies), the consistency among manuscripts, and the time interval between the composition of the original work and the date of the earliest extant manuscripts, we can determine the accuracy of the transmission.
• A vast number of biblical manuscripts have been discovered over time. To be skeptical of the biblical text’s accuracy is to discredit all classical works of antiquity, because no other text has been as well-preserved. For example, there are 37 times more copies of the New Testament manuscripts than copies of Homer’s Iliad. Besides the great number of manuscripts, the fact that these biblical manuscripts agree with each other assures us that the Bible has not been altered over time.
• It is important to keep in mind that the ancient Hebrews regarded the Scripture as sacred text. Copyists, therefore, took extreme care in copying and storing the manuscripts. Among these copyists were the Talmudists and Massoretes, who followed very strict rules in treating scriptural text. As a result, the manuscripts we have today are not casual copies but the faithful transmissions of the divine word.
• For a more thorough treatment on the reliability of the Scriptures as historical texts, see Evidence that Demands A Verdict, vol. 1.5
4.6 What does the term “canon” refer to?
• The word canon comes from the root word “reed” (English word “cane”; Hebrew form ganeh and Greek Kanon). The “reed” was used as a measuring rod and eventually meant “standard.”6
• The word “canon” applied to Scripture means “an officially accepted list of books.”7
4.7 Who decided which books to include in the Bible? On what basis was this decision made?
• One thing to keep in mind is that the church did not create the canon or books included in what we call Scripture. Instead, the church recognized the books that were inspired from their inception. They were inspired by God when written.
• We don’t know exactly what criteria the early church used to choose the canonical books. There were possibly five guiding principles used to determine whether or not a New Testament book is canonical or Scripture. Geisler and Nix record these five principles:8
- Is it authoritative—did it come from the hand of God? (Does this book come with a divine “thus saith the Lord”? )
- Is it prophetic—was it written by a man of God?
- Is it authentic? [The fathers had the policy of “if in doubt, throw it out.” This enhanced the “validity of their discernment of canonical books.”]
- Is it dynamic—did it come with the life-transforming power of God?
- Was it received, collected, read and used—was it accepted by the people of God?
Peter acknowledged Paul’s work as Scripture parallel to Old Testament Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).
4.8 How can we trust the canon, which was determined by man? Couldn’t the canon have left out some of God’s words or added books that were not God’s words?
• If we believe that the Bible is indeed God’s word, as it claims to be, then we ought to also believe these words: “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mt 5:18). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Mt 24:35).
• The canon was not the result of a Rabbinical discussion or church council, as some think it was. It was a gradual process through which God’s people uphold certain books as inspired and exclude others as the works of men. We must trust that God oversaw not just the writing but also the making of the Bible.
• In addition, we have the endorsement of Christ himself and the New Testament writers on the validity of the Old Testament canon. The early church also readily accepted the New Testament as the inspired word of God because of its apostolic authority. Therefore, based on our belief that the Bible is reliable and that the words of Jesus Christ, who is God himself, are trustworthy, we can be confident that the Bibles we have in our hands are the same words that God has intended when he moved the Biblical writers to set his words down on paper. Nothing has been added or taken away.
4.9 What is the Apocryhpha?
• According to Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, “Today the word apocryhpha is synonymous with the fourteen or fifteen books of doubtful authenticity and authority. These writings are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament, but they are contained in some manuscripts of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, which was completed around 250 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt.
“Most of these books were declared to be Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), though the Protestant Church rejects any divine authority attached to them.”9
4.10 Why do you not consider the Apocryhpha as scripture?
• According to H.L. Willmington, there are many sound scriptural reasons for rejecting the Apocryhpha:10
- The Apocryhpha was never included in the Old Testament canon by such recognized authorities as the Pharisees, Ezra the prophet, etc.
- It was never quoted by the Jews, by Jesus, or by any other New Testament writers.
- The great Jewish historian Josephus excluded it.
- The well-known Jewish philosopher Philo did not recognize it.
- The early church fathers excluded it.
- The Bible translator Jerome did not accept the books as inspired, although he was forced by the Pope to include them in the Latin Vulgate Bible.
- None of the fourteen books claim divine inspiration; in fact, some actually disclaim it.
- Some books contain historical and geographical errors.
- Some books teach false doctrine, such as praying for the dead.
10. No Apocryphal book can be found in any catalogue list of canonical books composed during the first four centuries A.D. In fact, it was not until 1596 at the Council of Trent that the Roman Catholic Church officially recognized these books, basically in an attempt to strengthen their position, which had been grievously weakened by the great reformer Martin Luther.
4.11 The Bible doesn’t make sense.
• Just because we can’t appreciate an abstract painting doesn’t make it any less meaningful. Just because a foreign language seems like gibberish doesn’t mean that it is.
• The same goes with the Bible. Using limited human vocabulary to describe profound spiritual truth, the Bible may at first appear to be incomprehensible. However, because God inspired it, he will help us understand it if we read it prayerfully and reverently. Reading the Bible is different from reading any other book because it is the word of God set before us concretely. Through the Bible, God shows us who he is and how he saves us. God’s own words give us life, and that’s how the Bible can change us profoundly.
- For a basic list of findings that confirmed Biblical recordings, see Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands A Verdict, vol. 1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979) 68-73
- Can I Really Trust the Bible? (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 1987) 22.
- R.C. Sproul, Reasons to Believe (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982) 26.
- Ibid., 25-26.
- Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands A Verdict, vol. 1 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979) 39-65.
- Ibid., 29.
- Ralph Earle, How We Got Our Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971) 31.
- Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968) 141
- Josh McDowell, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask about the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1980) 46.
- H.L. Willmington, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1984) 805.