The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. Every year it sells more than 100 million copies. It has been translated into more than 700 languages. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that the Bible has sold over five billion total copies. Many have tried to discredit it. All have failed.
Followers of Christ believe the Bible is God’s written Word—a source of life. It is the final authority in all things pertaining to Christian faith and practice. We believe “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Today, culture is influencing the church more than the church is influencing culture. We live in a post-Christian society. The church does not have favor with the powers that be. As a result, the authority of scripture is being undermined like never before.
Christianity suggests the biblical writings are much more than human opinion. If you have ever studied scripture, you know the Bible itself claims to be a source of truth. At the core of what it means to be a Christian is to be devoted to scripture. Thus, the one who discredits the Bible discredits Christianity.
Walk into any bookstore and pick up a copy of any book, and you’ll discover that it is endorsed by a well-known person or expert in a particular field. This person’s credibility is used to establish the book’s credibility. For many people—not just Christians—there is no more credible figure in the history of the world than Jesus Christ. If he based his ministry on scripture, then so should we.
Scripture is considered dependable because Jesus validated it. He endorsed what we now call the Old Testament as authoritative. Jesus accepted the OT as being uniquely inspired by God when he said, “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 [of Moses] until everything is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Clearly, to Jesus, the OT was no ordinary collection of writings.
Jesus also sanctioned the collection of writings that we call the New Testament. He did so by personally authorizing the writers. Jesus designated a select group of people to continue preaching the Kingdom and carrying his Word to the world. They were chosen, commissioned, and authorized by Jesus for a ministry of teaching everything that he had personally taught them.
Not only were they commissioned to teach and write, but Jesus also promised that when they did, the Holy Spirit would be with them, guiding their thoughts and actions. Every book of the NT was either written by an Apostle or based on what the Apostles taught others. Thus, both the teachings of Jesus and his closest followers were added alongside the OT and considered the inspired Word of God.
An example of this is when the Apostle Paul communicated to the church at Thessalonica: “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God” (I Thess. 2:13). This is also why NT descriptions of the early church note that: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (Acts 2:42).
Integrity of the Manuscripts
The number of documented manuscripts available for examination determines the reliability of any ancient writing. Like Plato, Homer, and Aristotle, most ancient manuscripts survive in the form of twenty copies or less. There are seven remaining manuscripts of Plato’s Tetralogies available for study. The oldest of these dates back 1,400 years after the original. There are ten or so copies of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the oldest copy dating about 900 years after Caesar’s time. The most credible ancient manuscript is Homer’s Illiad, with 643 surviving copies.
I am not aware of any historians casting doubt on the integrity of works of Plato or Caesar. We do not find scholars discounting the historicity of these ancient writings or expressing concern that what we have is less than faithful to the original thought of the authors.
When it comes to the Bible, one might be suspicious if there were not at least eight or ten documented manuscripts within 1,000 years of the original writings by which to compare. So, how does the Bible hold up under scrutiny? Not too bad, considering there are nearly 6,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament available, with another 10,000 in Latin. In addition, when we count manuscripts in Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, and other languages, the number approaches 25,000.
The earliest copies of the Greek manuscripts are separated from the originals, not by 900 years like Caesar or 1,400 years like Plato, but by twenty-five to fifty years. Likewise, the OT is supported by such findings as the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947, which provided manuscripts 1,000 years older than any previously known. Thus, scholars agree that the Bible is one of the most dependable ancient documents in all of history in terms of textual credibility.
How can we know for sure that the Bible is historically accurate? Just because a text may be linguistically sound does not mean that it’s historically correct. Did the events of scripture happen the way the Bible teaches they happened? Maybe the text was preserved with integrity, but that does not mean that what it says is true. Of course, the original writers could have made up their own version of events.
Remarkably, the reason most of the biblical writers wrote was to address the concern of historical accuracy. They wanted to make sure there was a truthful record. For example, Luke writes the following at the start of his account: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses… Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
New Testament writers go out of their way to invite accountability by making it known that they were writing as eyewitnesses. For example, the Apostle John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim” (1 John 1:1).
Nonetheless, merely claiming to convey historical truth as an eyewitness has little to say about whether the actual writings are authentic. So, how has the Bible stood under outside examination? Dr. William F. Albright, late professor emeritus of John Hopkins University, declared that there could be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the historicity of the Bible. Likewise, Joseph P. Free, historian and archaeologist, notes that archaeological findings continue to produce material that confirms the Bible at every point.
Sir William Ramsay of Oxford University is considered one of the most distinguished archaeologists ever to have lived. After years of research, he concluded that the writers of the Bible were historians of the first rank that should be placed alongside the very greatest. What he found in the archaeological evidence alone was so convicting that Ramsay himself became a Christian.
Inspiration of Scripture
Many are okay with the Bible being endorsed by Jesus, and they accept that it is historically accurate. However, they wonder if there is any way to know if scripture is really from God. Yes, it’s called prophecy.
Consider, if the authors of the Bible foretold events with accuracy and were never wrong, it would be convincing evidence of the Bible’s authoritative credibility. Conversely, if such prophecies did not come true, or were at best, average in their success rate, the Bible’s position would be dramatically weakened.
So, let us consider the evidence. Almost 800 years before Jesus, there were prophecies about the Messiah. Anyone who knows anything about the life of Jesus knows that he fulfilled every one of those prophecies. So, what would the chances be of all those prophecies, each one fulfilled in detail, coming true in the life of Christ?
Dr. Peter Stoner, former chair of the department of mathematics and astronomy at Pasadena City College and Westmont College, worked on a project with several hundred students. The goal was to calculate the odds for the detailed accuracy of just one biblical prophecy about the coming Messiah to have come true in the life of Jesus. They determined that the odds of such an event were 1 in 400 million.
Stoner and his students then calculated the odds of having eight prophecies about the Messiah be precisely fulfilled in the life of Jesus. The odds came out to be 1 in 10 to the 17th power—a figure with seventeen zeros behind it! Next, Stoner examined the odds of forty-eight prophecies about the Messiah being fulfilled by chance through Jesus. He concluded the odds would be 1 in 10 to the 157th power for all of them to have been fulfilled in the life of one historical figure. Nonetheless, over 330 OT prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
Scripture and Science
One of the great myths in Christiandom is the idea that scripture and science conflict with one another. If one is being fair to both science and scripture, it is simply not true. To be fair to science, one must accept it for what it is. By definition, science is an attempt to discover knowledge through empirical verification. What science can know is available through the five senses: sight, taste, sound, smell, and touch. That means, if something cannot be experimentally examined in a lab, then it cannot be thoroughly studied scientifically.
One can imagine how this limits science regarding questions about the meaning of life or the nature of truth, particularly God’s existence. Science will never be able to prove, or for that matter disprove, many of life’s realities. It cannot answer all of life’s questions. If a subject goes beyond the five senses, then science is limited. However, that is okay. That is simply the nature of science.
It is the same when it comes to the Bible. We must take it on its own terms, just like we do science. The Bible does not pretend to position itself as a textbook on science. It does not even try to answer most of the questions science asks. With that said, the Bible claims that what it does have to say is true.
Here is where we must be careful because we often set the Bible up for conflict with science when it is not even speaking to science. For example, when it comes to creation, the Bible says, “God did it and it was good.” That’s it! The difference is that one reveals what God did, and the other wants to know how God did it.
Then there are miracles. The Bible is full of supernatural events—from parting the sea to raising the dead. Someone might say, “No one can disrupt the physical laws of the universe… Miracles are impossible!” Moreover, they are exactly right, that is if there is no God.
People who have problems with miracles are typically those who do not believe in the possibility of the existence of God. However, if one admits to the possibility of God, then miracles are not a problem. Because a miracle, by definition, is the suspension of physical laws. Miracles are supernatural interventions by God that circumvent human understanding. That’s what makes them miracles!
Everyone has a worldview or a way in which they understand and interpret life. A worldview is a set of beliefs about the fundamental aspects of human existence. One’s worldview informs their thoughts and behavior and guides one’s ethics and morals. As a Christian, I adhere to a biblical worldview. That means that I view the world through the lens of scripture.
Note that while it requires faith to believe God reveals himself through scripture, it is not a blind irresponsible leap of faith. It is a faith that is informed by a God who has revealed himself. Bear in mind, following Jesus requires faith, but it does not mean you have to check your brains at the door.
Sources: James Emery White, A Search for the Spiritual: Exploring Real Christianity; F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?; Jospeh P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History; John R.W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible.