With so much in doubt these days of what is true and who we can trust, it is of great significance to know if there actually is an objective standard of truth by which we can make sense of the world.
It is claimed that the bible is such a document to guide us, even making the outrageous assertion that it is inspired by God himself “and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness.”
Now, I am not ignorant to the fact that the bible has been used to justify all kinds of madness but I believe that is the fault of people that selectively handle the bible, not the bible itself. In fact, research indicates that, even when adjusting for education, the more someone ACTUALLY reads the bible the more they will have socially just views (even correlated with leaning “politically liberal”…*gasp!). And if you think science and religion are incompatible that is NOT what frequent bible readers believe. Keeping this in mind, how then do we know if the bible is true (as in a reliable historical document as well as something worthy to help guide our lives)?
THE SHORTER ANSWER
I know that the bible is true because it is like a LAMP* that guides me in the dark.
LIFE = the bible is true to life, transcending differences.
ARCHAEOLOGY = archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative
MANUSCRIPTS = manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible
PROPHECY – no book comes close in fulfillment of predictive prophecy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration
THE LONGER ANSWER
Here is an expansion of each of the four points above.
1. LIFE – the bible is true to life, transcending differences.
The bible still speaks to us today even though its contents were written thousands of years ago. times and cultures may have changed but what it says about the human condition has not changed. God has been inspiring people through the words of the bible, resulting in transformed lives throughout history even to this very day.
There is a remarkable unity of ideas in the bible even though written by/in
- different authors (kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, shepherds),
- different places (wilderness <Moses>, dungeon <Jeremiah>, palace <Daniel>, prison <Paul>, while traveling <Luke>, in exile <john>)
- different times (war, peace)
- different moods (joy, sorrow, despair, confusion, doubt)
- different continents (Asia, Europe, Africa)
- different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek)
2. ARCHAEOLOGY – archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference…the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact” – Nelson Glueck (renowned Jewish Archaeologist)
Old Testament (OT) – some examples of biblical places and events confirmed by archaeological finds
- City of Sodom and Gomorrah (bituminous pitch – brimstone plentiful at site)
- City of Jericho (walls that usually fall inward here fell outward)
- King David (wall past the pool of Siloam)
- King Solomon (pomegranate temple ornament w/ inscription of God’s name)
New Testament (NT) – archaeological finds confirming the book of Luke for example
- The Pavement (where Jesus was tried),
- The Pool of Bethesda,
- the Nazareth Decree (Imperial Decree not to disturb graves),
- The Pilate Inscription (Pilate’s name and title),
- Erastus inscription (Erastus that Paul mentions),
- New Testament coins (mentioned in gospels indicating values)
3. MANUSCRIPTS – Manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible
“to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” – John Warwick Montgomery from History of Christianity
How can we trust that the bible that we have now is what was originally written?
The bible passes the test of the “3 Principles of Historiography”:
1) Bibliographical test (reliability of ancient texts are tested through: # of copies, time between copy to original, and variety of documents <languages, material on which it was written>)
2) Internal Test – no major contradictions in text
3) External Test – other historical materials confirming testimony of the documents (other sources outside of bible that attest to Christian movement writings): from non-Christians
- Tacitus (Roman Historian of 1st century)
- Suetonius (chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian who reigned AD 117-138)
- Josephus (Jewish Historian AD 37-100)
- Pliny the Younger (Roman author and administrator wrote in AD 112)
- Lucian of Samosata (Greek writer of the 2nd century)
- Mara Bar-Serapion (Syrian writer between late 1st and early 3rd century)
The Old Testament is reliable too.
- Accuracy of coping texts in the Jewish culture was part of their religion
- The OT was translated into Greek before the birth of Christ (the Septuagint) so even more comparisons can be made for inconsistencies
- Biblical texts, called the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, dated about 150 BC to 70 AD and representing most of the OT, were found in the 20th century that match much of what we currently have.
Well, how was the bible put together and who decided what books to include?
There are 5 Principles to Recognize / Test What to Include in Canon (the standard)
“The church did not determine but rather discovered (recognizing divine authority) the cannon”
- Was the book written by a prophet of God? (In NT Jesus or Apostolic authorship/apostolic approval <John 16:13 Spirit’s promise, 2 Pet 3:16 Peter acknowledges Paul>)
- Was the writer confirmed by acts of God (Moses, Jesus, the prophets, apostles)?
- Did the message tell the truth about God? (rule of non contradiction)
- Does it come with the power of God? (transforming power)
- Was it accepted by the people of God? (people who knew the prophet or writer)
NT books as we have them today:
Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) gave us the earliest list of books that is exactly like our present New Testament. However it is important to know these books were already recognized, established, and quoted from by various early church leaders (ex. Polycarp AD 115, Justin Martyr AD 100) The councils merely put it into writing.
OT books as we have them today:
The Jewish community had acknowledged it and we know of the discipline of the Jewish scribes through their Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint (250-100 BC)
4. PROPHECY – no book comes close in predicitive prophesy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration
“Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the Hindu Veda. But none of those books contain predictive prophecy.” – Norman Geisler and William Nix
Notable Examples of Predictive Prophecy:
Destiny of OT Cities “Every major city and virtually every nation within a thousand miles of Israel had its entire future prophesied by the Bible”
- Destructions of Tyre (Ezekiel 26 fulfilled in specific invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and later fulfillment by Alexander)
- Destruction of Edom
- Curse on Babylon
- Destruction of Nineveh
- the time, city, and nature of Christ’s birth as well as life, death, and resurrection, many beyond a person’s control were written centuries before he was even born (about 300 prophesies of the messiah) and fulfilled!
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER STUDY
The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
Truths that Transform by D. James Kennedy
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
*LAMP acronym courtesy of Rijin Lee
If the bible is true, let us actually READ it and let it guide our lives.