Many times people will raise an objection to a Christian’s belief in the Bible as being the infallible word of God. They claim that using the Bible to support the Bible is “circular reasoning” (testing the validity of an idea by its own pronouncements). This is not so.
We must first remember in discussing the claims of the Bible with anyone, that the Bible is not a single, autonomous work. Rather, it is a collection of 66 different books written over a vast time span in three languages on three continents with authors from every station in life. These ancient works cover every major topic dealing with the human condition including: love, hate, death, sin, marriage, civil laws, and relationships with each other as well as with God. Although these works were written independently, they show an amazing congruency and they never contradict each other!
When Paul writes “All scriptures is inspired by God (II Tim 3:16)”, his primary reference is the Old Testament, which was completed 400 years previously. This is not to say that the verse doesn’t apply to the New Testament as well, but Paul’s subject matter was the Scriptures Timothy was taught as a child. Paul believes the Scriptures are “God-breathed”; that is they hold the same authority as if God were to come down and speak to you directly. Every word recorded in the original documents is considered to be chosen by God.
So, our first point is that the testimony of Paul establishes a point of view that holds the Scriptures very highly. We know that the early church believed the Scriptures were inspired, we must now find out how to demonstrate that fact. Before going too far, I would ask your friend what type of evidence is he willing to accept to demonstrate the Bible as the Word of God? We obviously cannot go into a laboratory and test for “God residue” on the text, so to ask for scientific proof is impossible. (Likewise, asking for scientific proof that one loves his spouse is absurd. True science is limited to making claims on that which it can disprove through experimentation. Since science does not have any objective standards for measuring “God-ness”, it cannot be asked to make a determination on His existence.) This doesn’t mean we cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion based on the evidence before us, though.
What we are really interested in, then, is to determine if the Bible is a book that is the true words of God given to men, or is it merely the words of men written about God? If it is the latter, then it should display characteristics like those of other books written by men about God. It really shouldn’t be all that different from many other works we possess. However, if it did come from God… well it should be astoundingly different. It should be a very one of a kind collection. It should be unique.
Let’s examine what we do know about the Bible and see if it aligns with what we’d expect from a message whose source is God. We’ll accept the premises that God exists and He created humanity with a desire to know Him. Anyone questioning these ideas is arguing another point; one which must be addressed separately. In his landmark Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Josh Mc Dowell notes that if God created man with a desire to know Him, we would expect His message to have some unique properties:(1)
- It would be widely distributed so man could attain it easily
- It would be preserved through time without corruption
- It would be completely accurate historically.
- It would not be prone to scientific error or false beliefs held by the people of that time.
- It would present true, unified answers to the difficult questions of life.
The Bible stands alone as the only religious text that can claim it meets all the above criteria. I think it would be helpful if we compare the Bible with some of the other ancient texts and see just how unique the Bible is.
External evidence for the validity of the documents
The first qualification listed above is any message from the Creator would have to distribute His message to a wide audience. The Bible is next to none in this test.(2) It is the most published book in history, with the widest distribution of any published work. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. It is the most sold book in history. It was the first book published with moveable type. It is still the #1 best seller of any book. Now, none of these feats prove that the Bible was inspired. They are, however, consistent with what we would expect of God’s message if He were trying to let us know about Himself and His plan for us. In other words, one cannot disqualify the Bible on this point. Many other ancient writings fall short, but it behaves as we would expect.
We also agreed that the message would be able to last through time. If God’s message to you got lost, then of what use is it to you? If the message is corrupted in some way, how do you know which parts are from God and which are not? This is a tricky point to understand. This does not mean that no one will ever be able to mis-translate the Bible or add things to it, for I can write down a verse in this letter and copy it incorrectly. It does mean that we should be able to somehow discern where the errors in the copies are and also know the original intent of the message.
Because ancient writing surfaces were natural in their origin, they could decay easily. Papyrus, clay, and animal skins of the Old World did not have an incredibly long “shelf life”. Therefore, we do not have any of the original documents (called autographs) that the Biblical authors wrote. However, we do have copies of the originals (called manuscripts) and can compare them to discern what were in the originals, and what wasn’t. The more copies you have from different places, and the closer they are in age to the original, makes the process more assured. It’s like the old game “telephone”; those who are closer to the originator of the message got more of it right than those at the end of the line. Also, by giving the same message to five or six telephone lines, with some effort you could probably reconstruct the original message by what the participants recall.
Now, this entire exercise is nothing restricted to the Bible alone. Every ancient document is tested as to its reliability in this same way. Historians look for copies of the text, from where they originated, their age and proximity to the autographs, and if the documents were quoted in other works to help them in determining the closest rendering of the text to its original form.
The Bible has an incredible amount of manuscript evidence to authenticate its message as it was originally written. Of every ancient literary or historical work, none can come remotely close to the huge amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament.(3) There are over 5,300 manuscripts or parts of manuscripts we can examine today. If you count all the early copies of translations of the New Testament, the number skyrockets to over 24,000. This is such an astounding amount, it’s about 43 times as much as the second most prevalent writing, The Iliad, with only 643. Both The Iliad and the Bible were works venerated as sacred writings, and viewed as having the answers to questions of the supernatural and the afterlife. Both fought attempts at additions, textual changes and corruption. The Iliad has over 400 lines in doubt out of 15,600. The New Testament with 20,000 lines has 40 lines in doubt, none of which substantially change its message.
Further, if we look at the time gap between the originals and the earliest copies of these cherished texts, we again see that the New Testament is far more reliable. The Iliad has a gap of about 500 years before the first manuscripts appear, where the Bible’s books have pieces ranging from as close as 35 years after the original composition.
The Old Testament, unfortunately, does not share the wealth of manuscript evidence that the New Testament possesses. However, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other discoveries, along with ancient Hebrew sources that quote from the Old Testament, we are assured that it is in the same form as it was in Jesus’ day. The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves included almost the entire Old Testament canon and they date from 250B.C. to 100A.D. Also, the copies of the Septuagint, which was a Greek version of the Old Testament written about 250B.C., show the text we have today has been nearly perfectly preserved.
Next, we must look at the facts of history and see whether the Bible reports these accurately. If this truly is a book written by God, then the facts must be presented unerringly. We have many written sources outside the Bible that corroborate its documentation. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived in the first century. He not only preserves many traditions about events that are mentioned in the Old Testament, but also corroborates the existence of John the Baptist (Ant. XVIII.5.2), where it also mentions that Herod had him imprisoned and put to death. He also mentions James as the brother of Jesus along with his death by the high priest Annas (Ant. XX 9:1). Lastly, he mentions Jesus himself, who he characterizes as “a wise man”. He further reports that people viewed Him as the Christ and that Jesus appeared to His disciples three days after Pilate put Him to death (Ant. XVIII.33). Remember, Josephus is a Jew, and would be adverse to Christianity and its message.
Other early documents authenticate the Bible accounts. The Jewish Talmud mentions Jesus and records His death on the eve of Passover. The early church quotes from the New Testament and authenticates it. Thallus, a Samaritan historian who wrote in 52 A.D. mentions the crucifixion, as did Phlegon, the Roman historian.
There’s also a letter sent by a Syrian man sent to his son. It was written sometime near the end of the first century, or possibly the beginning of the second. The man’s name was Mara Bar-Serapion and he was serving a prison sentence. He wrote to encourage his son and charge him to seek wisdom. In the letter it says,
“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgement for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men.”
Note the reference to Jesus being put to death is in a historical context. The letter also shows that Jesus claimed to be the King of the Jews and that He taught wisely.
Archaeology has also borne out the reliability of the Bible. Everywhere the archaeologist searches, he uncovers discoveries that bolster, not refute support of the Bible as being a true account of history. Archaeological digs have uncovered a stele dedicated to Pontius Pilate and even found the remains of a crucified man, with the nail still in the bones of the hand. The Hittites were a group considered in the last century to be a mythical people only mentioned in the Bible. It wasn’t until A.J. Sayce brought forth evidence of their existence in 1876 that the Hittites were generally accepted as historically true. In fact, the archaeological evidence for the validity of the Bible is so overwhelming that Donald J. Wiseman stated over 25,000 sites mentioned in the Bible have been found. Millar Burrows writes, “The more we find that items in the picture of the past presented by the Bible, even though not directly attested, are compatible with what we know from archaeology, the stronger is our impression of general authenticity. Mere legend or fiction would inevitably betray itself by anachronisms and incongruities.”
Further, there is no valid reason to believe that the men who wrote the Bible were lying or trying to deceive. The New Testament particularly shows that the character of the writers was beyond reproach. Each of them suffered and were executed because they would not recant their position that the teachings of the Bible are true and accurate. If their testimony was made up for gain or folly, surely someone would have renounced his stand to save his life, but it did not happen. All the apostles and the writers believed unwaveringly that the Bible was absolute fact.
A set of documents having their origin in the All-knowing God of the universe would not be prone to scientific inaccuracies. If we are to believe that the Bible came from the same source that created the world, then is logical to assume it would not mis-represent the mechanics of the world. Only the Bible contains none of the scientific absurdities that are found in all other ancient religious writings.
In the Hindu Scriptures it is taught that the earth is set atop the backs of four elephants, who in turn stood on a giant sea-turtle that was swimming through a milky sea. However, Job states, “He stretches out the North over empty space, and hangs the earth on nothing.(26:7)” Also, Isaiah mentions that God sits “above the circle of the earth.(40:22)” The New Testament also records a snatching away of believers. In Luke 17 Jesus talks of a singular event stating that “two men in one bed; and one will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding in the same place; one will be taken, and the other will be left.” These are events that happen at different times of the day, yet Jesus speaks of them as a single instance. Only someone who understands the revolution of a round earth could understand how day and night are relative and one act may affect people in both time frames.
When Genesis was written, The Greeks were beginning to tell of Apollos’ flight across the sky in a flaming chariot. The Egyptians were worshipping the sun as Ra, deifying it. The Mesopotamians referred to the sun as “Shamosh” and called it the god of justice. Genesis, however, calls the sun “a light in the expanse of the heavens” and views it as a thing, one created by God. That the Bible does not follow the naiveté of those ancient religions is often overlooked, since modern man is much more knowledgeable in the mechanics of nature. We take for granted that someone touching an infectious person or a corpse should practice good hygiene and wash thoroughly in running water before proceeding to anything else, but this “discovery” has only been a medical reality for 150 years. The book of Leviticus, though, requires this same procedure. One cannot find ideas as arcane as blood-letting or consuming ram’s horn for fertility, or all the other mythical cures for ills that were thought to be science in those days. The Bible is not a science book. It does not focus on scientific facts about the creation, but where it mentions those things, it is accurate in its representation. This is exactly what we’d expect if the Bible had its origin in the One who created the universe and its scientific laws.
Internal Evidence for Reliability of the Bible
Thus far we have examined several evidences of the accuracy and the reliability of the Bible by comparing it to outside sources and what we know is true. Now, I’d like to turn our attention to the text of the Bible itself to show how it validates itself as the word of God. Again, I remind you that we have a collection of different documents that were written over one and a half millennium, that are devoted to discussing the most controversial and emotionally charged topics man has known. The incredible thing is that they all agree. Taken together, the Bible presents a single, unified message of actions and attitudes by which man can live. This is an unprecedented feat.
To have sixty six books written by about forty authors, from kings and nobles to fishermen and soldiers, in three languages and on three continents, be of the same mind is just not humanly possible. Why, the editorial writers in our newspapers can’t even agree when they come from the same culture and similar educational backgrounds.
To demonstrate the remarkability of this accomplishment, we can propose an experiment. Imagine a classroom of thirty students at the high-school level. The teacher has decided on the class writing a novel for a class project. Each student will be assigned one chapter and they will then gather the papers together to assemble the finished work. The topic chosen is “Why God is important in man’s life,” but there is no outline and there are no rules as to what that statement means. Because the students are all the same age and live in the same area at the same point in time, they have a tremendous advantage over the Biblical writers, but to expect a congruent work is ridiculous. The fact that the Bible is a unified message shows that its origin comes from beyond man.
Because the Bible claims it is the word of God, it requires of itself a stricter assessment. The Old Testament is filled with the authoritative phrase “Thus sayeth the LORD” . The fact that men recognized it from the time it was first penned as authoritative gives it a measure of strength. The laws that were required of the Jews were very arduous. Because they chose to accept them as commandments from God before any significant length of time had elapsed to mythicalize them shows that the people believed with their lives that these documents were from God. Jesus Himself validates the Old Testament by regarding it as the word of God and authoritative in all things.
The Biblical Test for Inspiration
The last point in demonstrating the inspiration of the Bible is one we have not yet mentioned. The Bible itself gives a test to all messages claiming to be from God, and you are to judge the merits of the message by that test. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 states:
“But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
This passage shows the yardstick by which all revelation is measured: prophecy. The Bible stands alone as a book stuffed with prophecy. It is the very heart of Scripture. With prophecy, God gives the faithful hope by promising better things in the future. Likewise, the wicked are warned of impending judgement if they don’t change their ways. The Bible is unique from all other religious texts because it gives specific, detailed prophecies that were fulfilled just as written. Let’s look at a few prophecies to demonstrate their precision.
The coming of the Jewish Messiah is the focus of the Old Testament. There are over 300 separate prophecies about the “Holy One of Israel” found there. They are so specific as to predict the city of Jesus’ birth (Micah 5:2), His nature (Isaiah 7:14), His works of healing and miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6), His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13), His suffering (Isaiah 53), His style of execution (Psalm 22) and His resurrection (Psalm 16:10, Acts 13:35) amongst other things. These prophecies were written anywhere from 400 to 1000 years before Jesus’ birth, yet they describe His life with the accuracy of an eyewitness. The odds against a living person meeting even a few of these predictions is so astronomical it is considered an impossibility.
Another prophecy given in the book of Isaiah was to the man who would conquer the city of Babylon. In Isaiah 44:27 and following the Lord says,
“It is I who says to the depths of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ and I who will make your rivers dry. It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!’ and he will perform all My desire. Thus says the LORD to Cyrus, His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him so that the gates will not be shut. I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honour though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God”
This prophecy was written around 690 BC. History tells us that in 538 BC a Persian general named Cyrus had devised a plan to overtake the impregnable city of Babylon. He dammed up the river running through the city and sent soldiers under the gates. When he got to the front gates, however, he found them unlocked and took the entire city without a problem. In one night the most secure empire in the world of that time was overthrown. It was described by God to Cyrus, and addressed to him by name, 150 years before he had even been born!
One other prophecy we can examine is one that has been fulfilled in modern times. Israel is an amazement sociologically. Never in the history of mankind has a nation been overthrown and obliterated for 1900 years and then come back into existence. Yet, this is exactly what has happened to the nation of Israel, and they reside in the same geographic area as they previously possessed. We turn again to Isaiah, chapter 11 which states,
“In that day the Lord will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (vss.11-12)
Notice, that the passage in Isaiah was written before the Babylonian captivity, so it refers to a second regathering. That implies that there would be two dispersals. Yet, after the second exile, it also promises that the nation of Israel would be put back together from “the four corners of the earth”, which is an unequalled feat. Just think of how many Hittites or Philistines we find today. People who are exiled for an extended period of time generally assimilate into the culture in which they’re placed. In no other instance has this ever happened.
In Jeremiah 16:15, God promises that the Israelites will dwell “in the land I gave their forefathers”, and Ezekiel chapter 36 describes the incredible transformation of the land itself into a major agricultural center. We still have documentary footage of how the land of Palestine was transformed from a mosquito-infested swampland to the breadbasket of Europe. It is now the sixth largest producer of fruits in the world!
When all the evidence is studied, it leads to an inescapable conclusion: the Bible must come from a source other than that of natural man. It is a reliable document that faithfully records history and in that record it documents God intervening in the lives of men. The New Testament verifies that the Old Testament is the word of God, and Peter verifies that the writings of Paul are Scriptural; that is from God(2 Peter 3:16). Peter also states, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.(2 Peter 1:21)” This is a consistent message throughout the Bible.
In any field of study, when people examine the objects of their study, they classify them by their attributes. A bird fits the definition of an animal with feathers that lays eggs. Every animal that has those attributes is considered a bird. A mammal must be warm-blooded, have hair, and suckle its young. In examining all the religious texts of the world, only the Bible exhibits all the attributes of a God-inspired message. I hope you will appreciate the Bible more from our discussion, and let me know if I’ve assumed something that doesn’t make sense to you. May you be greatly blessed in your pursuit of Him.
1 – McDowell, Josh Evidence That Demands A Verdict Volume 1 (c) 1979 Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino, Ca p.15ff
2 – Ibid. p.18
3 – Ibid. pp.39-40