I think it’s important to be able to defend the reliability of the Bible, if you find it to be reliable that is. To be able to answer questions such as:
- How can you trust a book written so long ago, in a language and culture so far away from your own?
- How can you know that the book in your hand is essentially what was originally recorded?
- What makes this book any different from other holy books?
- Has not the church controlled which books are included or excluded? Is it essentially a con-job?
It is reasonable to think that the Bible is trustworthy, but I do think it really comes down to your decision to follow Jesus or not.
What exactly is the Bible?
A book that is the most read and in the most languages than any other book. Essentially a collection of 66 books. Divided into 2 sections – OT and NT. Let me give you a crash course on content…OT – 39 books – creation, the fall, redemption – promises and Abraham – climax of prophecies of Jesus – full of people, places and patterns that all point to Jesus. NT – Jesus life, death, teachings, resurrection…the story of his people as they wait for him, the beginnings of the church. God instructed that his word be written down to be taught and passed on so that those that did not live in that time can still know, trust and praise God.
“Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
The Bible claims to be God-breathed and fully inspired and without error. But is there a way of demonstrating in any way that the Bible is a reliable document? For a worldview to be valid I think it’s important to be able to explain the world as it is, be livable and have some aspect of verification, not just a subjective gut feeling.
- The Bible is not the private experience of one man in one time.
This makes it different from other holy books such as the Koran, the private revelations of Mohamed. You can’t verify or cross-check single private experiences.
- The timeline of the Bible is too broad to allow for collusion.
Written over 1500 years, 40 generations and 40 different authors (men and women). This is important because you can’t have one writer colluding with another, it’s impossible. It’s not like 40 men went into a room one day and dreamed it all up to fool the world. Scattered through the whole 1500 years are up to 300 prophecies concerning Jesus and that are fulfilled in him. Psalm 22 is uncanny in how it captures Good Friday, not just in quotations but also in the anticipation of the details. It predicts crucifixion 400 years before it was even invented. I recommend you check that out.
- It’s not the product of one type of person or demographic.
The Bible is written by vast arrays of people in different walks of life: kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, priests, scholars, tax collectors…Not the result of one class of person. It’s not an insiders job.
- Not the result of one type of experience.
It was written in different places: Moses – wilderness, Paul – Prison, Solomon – Palace. During peace and war. In different moods – joy and victory and depths of sorrow (Lamentations). It’s not the result of one set of psychological pressures or hopes.
- Not trapped in one culture, language or style.
Written on 3 different continents – Europe, Asia and Africa and in 3 languages – Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. And in different styles – laws, history, poetry, letters, parables, biography, narrative, Prophecy, proverbs, visions…Many other holy books are the same genre right through. The integrity of the Bible is seen in that it was written over such a large span of time, in different continents and places, by different people, in different styles and in different contexts but essentially telling the same story.
It’s not just a collection of wise teachings spread over a period of time, it’s not a greatest hits CD. It’s tied up with the history of God’s people, in real places, in real times.
- It intersects with other cultures, places. You can then look for external evidence to verify aspects of the Bible.
People and places of the Bible are real and in our world, which we can visit. At certain points you can verify details dropped in the Bible. Such as those that were in power and the things that happened under them: Pilot and Herod.
Tasitus, a roman consul and historian in 97AD wrote the annuls of imperial Rome writes about how Emperor Nero was being blamed for the burning of Rome and so he needed a scapegoat and decided to blame the Christians:
” Nero substituted as culprits and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men who the crowd styled Christians. Christ the founder of the name had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, the emperor, by sentence of the procurator Pontius pilot, a pernicious superstition was checked for the moment only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capitol itself.”
It’s pretty clear that Tasitus is not a Christian, calling the faith a “disease”. It shows no doubt in the following of Christ and his execution and while Christianity looked like it was killed off it took off again. Real places, time and people. And yet you still hear people declaring doubt in the existence of Jesus. The Biblical story is not lost behind history, it’s not lost in myths and legends, it’s not like the stories of the Roman and Greek gods but this is able to be cross checked at a historical level.
Particularly since the Israelites had dealings with many other nations. Biblical stories are demonstrated in other cultures artefacts such as Assyrian art. This allows for multiple perspectives on the same event, at times. It ensures that the events took place.
People tend to think that if it’s in the Bible it’s not true until proven otherwise, there’s this implicit bias against the credibility of scripture
- Internal Evidence
There is an inner coherence, a ring of truth within scripture. The Bible writers have within their ability to distinguish fact from fiction. They’re not dumb, unable to tell the miracles from the coincidence.
“We’re often guilty of chronological snobbiness” – C.S. Lewis. For some reason, because we come later in history, we look back on other era’s as dumb peasants that believe in fictional stories.
“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
2 Peter 1:16
They are claiming the truth. Eye Witness testimony, which is important when dealing with unique events. Whether dealing with the resurrection or the Holocaust. There’s a parallel between them, except there’s more time between now and the Holocaust than there was between the events in the Bible and when they were recorded.
Eli Visel – “Flames were leaping up from a ditch, gigantic flames, they were burning something, a lorrie drew up to deliver something, babies, I saw it, I cannot forget these things, babies in the flames, how could it be possible for them to burn children and for the world to keep silent. I could not believe my eyes, was this real?” writes a Holocaust witness in his first book.
The eye witness testimony which makes up the gospels comes from people’s deep memory, eye witnesses were present at the events seeing what was taking place, just like the Holocaust survivor has written above. That’s why we take the apostolic view of Jesus and reject that of Mohammad (who is not an eye witness of Jesus and claims him to not be the Son of God).
These are good historians writing the gospel. We don’t rely simply on one eyewitness but instead many. The eye witness testimony is recorded in the memory of those that are still alive, the testimonies can be confirmed or disqualified by those who are still alive. That’s why names are dropped so arbitrarily in the gospels, so that those who read the gospel could go and confirm with those people. Just like those who experienced the holocaust are able to validate people’s testimonies and experiences.
The only difference really is that those that testified Jesus resurrection were killed and those that testify for the Holocaust (after the war of course) are free to. But no-one consciously dies for a lie if they know it was a lie. The Bible account doesn’t hand it to the ego of the author’s, everyone except Jesus look bad. Even the authors present themselves as ignorant, thick and selfish, just look at Peter denying Christ right after he said he wouldn’t or the number of times throughout all the gospels that Jesus spells out his goal and they still don’t get it! Jesus likened one to Satan at one point. It’s all in there. Even Jesus’ own vulnerability is depicted at the cross. All the figures in the Bible, apart from Jesus, are full of flaws.
In the end there is a commitment to the truth, warts and all. A lot of other sacred books hold up a set of characters or historical figures and make them look good, but the Bible is the opposite, no-one looks good, but Jesus.
How do I know that what I’m reading is what they wrote?
That’s Islams claim against Christianity and the Jews, the Jews corrupted the OT, the Christians the NT and somehow God got it right the third time round with the Koran. But the Bible is based on a wide range of quality manuscripts. Early manuscripts are pretty close to the original.
||Earliest Copies of writings
||How many copies?
|Plato (428 BC)
||1200 years later
||1300 years later
|New Testament (1st century)
||100 years later
You just have to look at that and realise we are dealing with a ancient historical document and the manuscript reserve is just mind blowing. However, having a lot of manuscripts would not be impressive if they didn’t match up, but about .05% of the copies do not match up perfectly. You’d almost worry if they were so exact that there was a suggestion of culling, but majority of the differences usually have to do with spelling or copying errors, no one doctrine hinges on some ambiguity of the text. In most Bibles they include these other alternative in the footnotes.
Once you believe that the Bible is the word of God and that changing it would mean serious damage, it’s easy to understand why the scribes went to such an effort ensuring that what was copied was copied correctly. They had a system of rules: After a page was copied they had to count the number of letters and compare it to the original, once a page was copied someone would check what the middle letter was on the copy and the original, after that a third person would check what the middle word was on the page, then when the whole book was finished another would count and check the phrases. They knew this was the word of God and they wanted to ensure that it was passed on correctly.
When the dead sea scrolls were discovered, they found amongst other things, the full scroll of the prophet Isaiah, that copy was 2000 years old and you compare it with the prophet Isaiah you have in your Bible and they line up perfectly, confirming that the copying and transmission were done with careful, thoughtful people that handled copying with seriousness.
Hasn’t the church handled the Bible themselves, choosing what goes in and what comes out? Does that not make it a con-job?
Catholics and Protestants do have different books in their Bible. The same NT but Catholics have 14 extra books in the OT, the apocrypha. Why didn’t the Protestants keep those books?
If its in a Jewish Bible then it needs to be in our OT and if not then don’t include it. It’s not that they don’t fit in or correlate with the NT, it’s just that none of them are quoted as the word of God in the NT as many of the Jewish OT books are. They also have some things in there that violate other parts of scripture. There’s also a bunch of other ‘gospels’ (The gospel of Judah or the gospel of Thomas), why aren’t they in there? Is Dan Brown right? Is there a conspiracy?
Basically, Jesus is our King, he selected a group of eye witnesses to be the foundation of the church. The rest are authorized by the apostles. The rule is, if the apostles didn’t write it, or if they weren’t written in the lifetime of the apostles to authorize it, then we don’t accept it. Many of these gospels were written in the 2nd or 3rd century after the apostles passed away.
We’re a post-modern people, and well, can you really ever know what the intended meaning of the text is? Mark Twain – “Most people are bothered by those passages of scripture which they can’t really understand, but those which trouble me the most are those which I do understand.”
If there is a God who has bothered to speak, and have his words written and providentially made sure that those words were preserved and kept essentially intact for the following generations so that they could praise him, do you not think that he would make sure that those who genuinely seek him would find him? He is not hiding from us. “Seek and you will find.” (Matthew 7:7)
The problem with people’s attitude to the Bible is not their ability to comprehend it, but the fact that there are personal issues and the cost of commitment that lie in the way, that if this is right and Jesus is Lord then I’m going to have to change my life. It all really comes down to the cost of commitment.
C.S. Lewis: “Defend Christianity? I would rather defend a lie, God’ll take care of himself.” It’s important to judge Christianity by the Bible, not Christians. You don’t have to believe the Bible to read it. You read it to find out whether you want to believe it.