The Presbytery of New Jersey
Burlington County Presbyterian Ministry
The Bible: Truth or Fiction?
Rev. Samuel H. Bacon
The belief that the Bible is the Word of God is essential to the Christian faith. The central figure of Christianity is Jesus Christ and it is from the Bible that we learn who he is and what he has done. The Old Testament looks forward to the coming of Christ and the New Testament records his coming, his life, his death and his resurrection and defines the meaning and purpose of his life. The Old Testament's anticipation of his coming and the New Testaments interpretation of his coming are what make the fact of his coming a significant event for the whole world. Although other secular historians mention Jesus they do not go into the detail that the Bible gives and they do not explain his significance. Without the Bible there is no Savior to believe in, there is no hope of forgiveness or eternal life. Therefore, whether or not a person believes the Bible to be the Word of God is of the greatest importance.
What is it that sets the Bible apart from all other books?
There are some spectacular stories in the Bible, things that are hard to believe actually happened. Things like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, or of the three men cast into a fiery furnace and were not burned, or a man in the belly of a large fish for three days and nights, or the resurrection of Christ. How can we be sure that it is all true? How can we know that it is actually the Word of God and not just words of men with great imaginations?
The first important thing to point out is that the Bible claims to be the Word of God.
Often, particularly in the Old Testament, it is made clear that God, not man, is speaking with phrases such as, "Thus says the Lord" or something similar. In addition, it claims to be inspired by God, that is, written by men under the influence of the Spirit of God so that what they wrote was from him. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed." First, notice that the use of the word "Scripture" already assumes that the writer is referring to special writings of divine origin. Notice also that it refers to "all Scripture." Not just certain selections here and there, but all of it. Finally, notice that it says the Scripture is "god-breathed." That is a literal rendering of the Greek word that makes very clear that the source of the Scripture is God himself. Peter also says this in 2 Peter 1:21, "For prophecy never had it origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Another part of the testimony of Scripture to itself is how Jesus regarded the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 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 until everything is accomplished." With these words Jesus is testifying of the truth and certainty of the words of Scripture down to the smallest letter and stroke of the pen. Jesus also answered the temptations of Satan with the Scripture introducing each quotation with the phrase, "It is written." This shows that Jesus attributed authority, power and truth to the Scriptures.
But it might be objected that the Bible's own claim to be the Word of God does not make it so. Anyone could write a book claiming to be the Word of God, and some have. The claim itself does not mean anything and could be seen as self-serving.
There are writings that make the same claim that have been rejected by Christians. So it is not only the fact of the claim that is important. But it is an important fact to note that it claims to be the Word of God. This claim shows that the Bible is self-conscious about its divine origin. It should be expected that a writing from God would clearly make the claim to be the Word of God, otherwise we may not recognize it and miss the importance of it. If there were no claim in the Bible that it is God's Word, the question of its divine origin would not even be asked. Consider this, if the claim is true there is no better evidence of its truth than its own testimony. This is why Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God appeal first to the testimony of Scripture to itself. It is not circular reasoning or begging the question; it is asserting the strongest testimony to its truth. But that is not all there is to say on the issue. There are many other evidences supporting the Scripture's claims to be the Word of God.
What should we do when a book claims to be the Word of God?
Should we not carefully examine the claim to see if it is true? Some would quickly disregard the claim without examination because they do not believe in God. If there is no God there can be no "Word of God." Their minds are closed to the possibility of the existence of a "Word of God" because they have already discounted the existence of its claimed author. They also immediately dismiss whatever evidence may be presented in support of the claim because a non-existent god cannot speak or inspire men to write his word. While non-believers charge the Christians of begging the question by appealing to the Bible's own claim to be the Word of God, they are the ones guilty of begging the question. Their assumption rests on no higher authority than their own minds, and they are unwilling to consider even the possibility of other evidence for the claim.
Presenting the arguments for the existence of God is beyond the scope of this essay. However, there is other evidence supporting the Bible's claim to be the Word of God. When taken together the evidence presents a strong case not only for the Bible being his Word, but also for the very existence of God himself!
We invite you to consider the following evidence with an open mind.
The Bible includes 66 different books that were written by about 40 different authors over 1,500 - 1,600 years, in three different languages, in different cultures and even three different continents. Yet there is a pervasive unity throughout the Bible.
These books trace the history of God's dealings with man and the history of redemption throughout the ages. Each book picks up where the previous books left off and takes the history of redemption a little farther until it is completed in the Book of Revelation. While each book has its own unique purpose, each relates to the other books in an organic way. Each book speaks of the same God, his qualities and attributes, and his relation to mankind with remarkable consistency. The unifying theme of the salvation God promised to sinful man and bringing it to fulfillment in Jesus Christ is traced through all 66 books. Each book speaks to the unifying theme from a different historical perspective in the history of redemption and with its own specific purpose.
The content of the books include a multitude of different subjects, many which have been controversial in the history of man, such as creation, the way of salvation, the nature of God and man (to name just a few) in a way that is always consistent. To have such a unified content and message from so many different authors writing in different periods of history in different languages, cultures and geographical locations is nothing short of miraculous! Only God could bring unity from such diversity. Just think of how difficult it is to have such unity among 10 people today on such controversial subjects (even 10 Christians!). The unity found in the Bible is truly miraculous.
There are the critics of the Bible who claim it is full of inconsistencies and contradictions. These alleged contradictions are mostly passages taken out of context. The frivolity of the alleged contradictions becomes immediately apparent to anyone with a little familiarity with the Bible and a discerning mind. There are good explanations for the alleged inconsistencies and contradictions. For the few passages that are difficult to harmonize there are reasonable explanations even though we may not be 100% sure which explanation is correct. There may be other explanations that have not yet been discovered. But these few minor instances are not of such significance to shake our confidence in the Word of God. We must acknowledge that God is greater and wiser than we are, and although we do not have all the answers, God does. Many passages that caused difficulties in the past have been resolved through discoveries bearing out the truth of Scripture. The overwhelming evidence of the truth of God's Word far outweighs any minor difficulties for which there are still unanswered questions.
Another strong evidence that the Bible is the Word of God is the fulfillment of prophecy.
The Bible itself gives this principle as evidence of a prophet who is speaking the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 18:22 it says, "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." There are many prophecies concerning the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ written hundreds of years before his coming. According to Josh McDowell in his book "Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume I" there are more than three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ (pages 145-175).
Besides the many prophecies concerning Christ, there are other prophecies concerning other rulers like Cyrus, King of Persia prophesied to be the one to allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem (Isaiah 44). There were prophecies concerning the rise and fall of earthly kingdoms such as Tyre (Ezekiel 26), Medo-Persia, Greek and Roman Empires (Daniel 2, & 11). The accuracy and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies can only be explained by the fact that the prophets were writing under the inspiration of the Spirit.
The fulfillment of biblical prophecy is different than that of psychics and fortunetellers and so-called prophets like Nostradamus. Biblical prophecies are very specific and are very clearly fulfilled. Many of the New Testament fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies are pointed out as the fulfillment of a specific prophecy. They are not general statements that could claim fulfillment by any number of different people in different circumstances, nor are they obscure and questionable as the so-called prophecies of Nostradamus.
There are those who try to dismiss these prophecies by saying that the predictions were actually written after the fact of the fulfillment. However, this will not work for all of them, and the evidence for earlier dates is strong. Those who argue for the later dates for certain Old Testament writings are those who do not believe in a God who could reveal to men what will happen many years later. Again we see that their assumption that God does not exist does not allow them to accept the possibility of predictive prophecy and requires them to find some way to explain it away.
Another area of evidence for the Bible as God's Word is archeological discoveries that correlate with the Bible.
There were many archeological discoveries in the 20th century that verify the reliability of the Biblical record. Nelson Gleuck, a renowned Jewish archeologist, said, "It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference" (Josh McDowell, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume I, page 65).
At one time scholars thought that the Hittite tribe did not really exist because there was no independent evidence of them. However, Professor Winckler discovered about ten thousand clay tablets in 1911-12 that conclusively documents their existence (Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible, Erwin W. Lutzer, page 73). Many other archeological discoveries have demonstrated the accuracy of the geographical and historical record of the Bible.
Despite the demonstrated accuracy of the Bible through archeology, there is still a strong prejudice against it. Most ancient manuscripts are accepted at face value and scholars seldom seek independent confirmation. However, most scholars will not accept the Bible's testimony without independent confirmation of the geographical and historical facts (Lutzer, page 62-63). This higher standard that the Scriptures are held to is, no doubt, because of its claim to be the Word of God and man's search for reasons not to believe it. But again and again the Scripture has shown that it can stand up against this higher standard.
Another evidence that the Bible is God's Word is God's providential preservation of it.
This first of all includes the formation of the canon of Scripture, or to put in on other words, how this specific collection of writings were associated, collected and considered "the Word of God." This was of course, started by the Hebrew people. In Exodus 24:4 it says, "Moses wrote down everything the Lord had said." We read similar things in several places throughout the writings of Moses where the Lord told him to write things down. Therefore the writings of Moses were kept by the Israelites and recognized by them as the Word of God to them. After Moses Joshua took over the leadership of God's people and also made a written record that was added to Moses' record (Joshua 24:26). Throughout the history of Israel more and more books were written at the command of God recording the words of God and the history of his people. These writings were collected and recognized by God's people as his Word and were thus acknowledged to be true and to have special authority above all other writings. As these collected writings grew they came to be known as "Moses (or the Law) and the Prophets" or as "the Law, Prophets and Writings." Jesus himself acknowledged these writings as the authoritative Word of God (Matthew 5:27, Luke 24:27). The Old Testament books were recognized and preserved by God's people throughout the ages. In 95 AD in a council of Jewish leaders held in Jamnia the list of Old Testament writings was ratified. However, this council did not bestow on these writings any new authority that had not been already recognized by God's people for five centuries.
In a similar way the New Testament books became recognized. Jesus had promised his Spirit to the apostles who would bring to their remembrance all he had taught them (John 14:25-26). The apostles who were eyewitnesses of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ were sent out by him to spread his gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). Therefore, the early church recognized the writings by the apostles and by others under their direct oversight as having the authority of Christ himself (1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Timothy 5:18, a quote from Luke 10:7, 2 Peter 3:15-16, Jude 17-18). By the end of the first century all 27 books of the New Testament were written and received by the church, though they had not all been circulated throughout the whole church (Lutzer, page 175). It took almost another three centuries until all the New Testament books were accepted and acknowledge by the whole church. At the Council of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397 the 27 books of the New Testament were ratified. As with the Old Testament, these church councils did not bestow any new authority on these writings, but simply acknowledged what the church had already accepted.
The church readily accepted most of the New Testament writings, but there were some over which there was disagreement and controversy. In the end we see that the church came to a general consensus which has stood for 1600 years. The church's acceptance of the 66 writings that make up the Bible is truly amazing and can only be explained by God's providence and care in giving his Word to his church. Beyond the formulation of the canon of Scripture is God's preservation of his Word throughout the centuries. The original writings are too ancient to be still in existence today, but we have an abundance of manuscripts by which we can be very confident that what we have today accurately represents the original documents. The careful copying of the Masoretes helped to preserve the integrity of the Old Testament text. The Masoretes were a group of Jewish scholars who were known for their meticulous care in copying the Old Testament manuscripts. They existed between 500 - 1000 AD and copied a text that dated back to 100 AD. The accuracy of the Masoretic Text has been demonstrated by recent discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch and early manuscripts of a Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. These discoveries take the manuscript evidence back to the second and third centuries BC.
The evidence for the New Testament text is even more amazing. To put this into perspective, there are 650 manuscripts of Homer's "Iliad" in existence today and 330 manuscripts of Euripides tragedies. As far as ancient texts go these are considered well attested. However there are 6000 texts or portions of text of the New Testament in existence today. This far exceeds any other ancient writings and gives great certainty of the accuracy of the New Testament text. Surely God in his providence has seen fit to make exceedingly sure to leave no doubt concerning the accuracy of the New Testament. How can the abundance of New Testament manuscripts be explained? Even if it is said the New Testament writings were more popular than literature like the writings of Homer and Euripides, the question remains, why? It is because the New Testament writings were recognized as the Word of God and therefore were copied more and carefully preserved. This is all part of God's special care in preserving his Word.
In addition, there have been attempts throughout history by the enemies of Christianity to destroy the Word of God. In the days of the early church the Roman government sought to stamp out Christianity and in so doing burned the sacred texts. All such attempts have been unsuccessful in destroying Christianity and the Word of God. Through the ages God has preserved his Word and his people.
It may be argued that other religions and their sacred scriptures have been preserved as well. It is agreed that this point standing alone does not prove conclusively that the Bible is the Word of God. But taken along with all the other evidences it adds to the strength of the argument. How could we believe in a God of truth who is all-powerful and sovereign if he would allow his Word to be unrecognizable or destroyed? God has presented his Word in a way that it is clearly recognized and set apart from all other writings, carefully preserved and indestructible.
The basic message of the Bible also provides evidence that it is the Word of God.
The message of Christianity is unique of all the religions of the world. The religions of the world that have been constructed by man seek to tell men how to achieve a better life by following its principles. Christianity on the other hand tells man clearly there is nothing he can do to improve himself or earn salvation. Man is sinful and corrupt and unable in his own strength to escape his condition and the judgment he will receive. But the glorious Christian gospel is that what man cannot do, God has done for him. God has come in human flesh to bear the judgment for man, and thus provide forgiveness for all that trust in him. In Christianity salvation is a gift of God, totally undeserved (by grace), not earned, but received by faith alone. Man in his pride would never construct such a religion on his own, as is evidenced by all the other religions of man. This gospel is clearly from God and not from the mind of man.
Another reason to believe the Bible is the Word of God is the effect it has on the lives of those who believe it.
Lutzer gives this example in his book:
"Suppose you are stranded on a dimly lit street in the riot area of Los Angeles. You accidentally drive over a sharp metal object and two of your tires go flat. As you contemplate your next move, a dozen young men spill out of a nearby building and strut toward you. You can see yourself being dragged from the car robbed and beaten. Or worse. What difference would it make if you discovered these men were on their way home from a Bible study?" (page 193)
An avowed atheist was happy to discover that her new neighbors were Christians, because she knew they would be good neighbors, people she could trust. These two examples testify of the power of God's Word in the lives of people, and a power that is recognized by others, even those who may not want to admit it.
The gospel has changed the hearts of criminals making them loving, helpful, law-abiding people. One of the most well known Christian hymns was written by an ungodly slave trader who was converted. After leading a life of horrible sin, John Newton was changed by the grace of God, became a minister and wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace." Stories like this can be multiplied by the thousands whose lives have been touched and changed by the power of the Word of God.
The Spirit of God bears testimony to our hearts that the Bible is God's Word.
Along with all the external evidence to support the Bible's claim to be the Word of God, those who have come to believe it have in addition the internal testimony of the Spirit to confirm their faith. 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 says, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." Ultimately, this is what makes the difference between those who accept the Bible as the Word of God and those who do not. All of the evidence and rational arguments will not convince a person to accept the Bible as the Word of God apart from the work of the Spirit of God. The unbelieving heart will disregard or rationalize the evidence because they do not want to believe it. But the Spirit of God can remove the barriers of man's heart and help him to accept and believe all the evidence and the testimony of the Word itself.
One of the main obstacles that keeps many people from accepting the Bible as the Word of God is the knowledge that if they believe it they will have to change the way they live. They know their lifestyle is contrary to God's law. They do not want to change their lifestyles, and do not want to believe they will be condemned. But denying the truth will not make it false. It is like the ostrich putting its head in the sand.
What should I do if I am not sure what I believe about the Bible?
Most people who do not believe the Bible have not spent much time reading and studying it. The first thing to do is become acquainted with it. Spend some time reading and studying it. Attend a Bible study to have someone teach you and explain it to you. Attend worship services of a Bible believing church and listen to good biblical sermons. Ask God to show you the truth of his Word.
One thing is for sure; you will never really know what to believe about the Bible if you are not exposed to it yourself. You can take what others have said about it, but are you willing to let the eternal destiny of your soul depend on what someone else has told you? Isn't that something worth checking into yourself? Are you willing to risk eternity in hell on the basis of uninformed assumptions and what others may tell you? Check it out for yourself, learn about it and make your own decision. Find out firsthand why so many believe and discover the life-changing power of the Word of God!
The Burlington County Presbyterian Ministry invites you to take advantage of the Bible studies offered. You may have a Bible study in your own home or you could attend one being held at someone else's home. Check out what is offered on the Ministries page.
(All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.)
Calvin Knox Cummings, Confessing Christ, Great Commission Publications, Norcross, GA, 1992.
Erwin W. Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago, 1998.
Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volume I, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1979.
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