OK, so here it is. Throughout this little series on apologetics (the ability to explain your faith, and also hopefully to make it more clear to those who are skeptical of Christianity), I have been referring to the Bible as my main proof text. And now it’s time to turn the magnifying glass toward this book that is foundational to our faith.
It’s a fair question, after all: How can we trust the veracity of a book written by 40 different authors over the course of 1600 years? A book seemingly overflowing with myths and impossible events. I mean, yeah, maybe it’s useful as a historical reference or slightly interesting in the way other mythologies get your attention.
The world is too smart, too scientific for this now, aren’t we?
Well, not so fast. In this post, I’m going to cover four key characteristics of the Bible that help explain why we can trust that the Bible is true and not a bunch of made-up nonsense.
Characteristic #1: The Bible’s Reliability
How Do We Know the Old Testament is Real?
The biggest jackpot discovery regarding ancient manuscripts of the Bible came in 1947 when a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammad (Ahmed el-Dhib) stumbled across a small opening of a cave while looking for his lost goat. In the cave, he discovered what has come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are a few facts about the Scrolls relative to the Bible, thanks to Bible.org:
- 11 caves were discovered, containing 1100 ancient documents, including many scrolls and more than 100,000 fragments
- Fragments from every Old Testament book except the book of Esther were discovered
- Using 3 different methods for determining the dates of the manuscripts, scholars determined that the scrolls dated from as early as the third century BC to the first century AD
- Prior to this discovery, the oldest known version of the Old Testament was known as the Masoretic Text, which is where the Old Testament we use today was translated from. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars between AD 500 and 950. Scholars compared the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had been created 1000 years earlier, to that of the Masoretic Text. They found no substantial difference.
OK, maybe that’s interesting, you may say, but who cares? What does that prove?
Well, one of the strongest arguments for the case of Christianity and the deity of Jesus is based on Old Testament prophecy, which only he can fulfill. I will talk more about the divinity of Christ in an upcoming post, but for this discussion, I’ll point out that there are over 100 prophecies regarding Christ in the Old Testament. These prophecies were made and written down centuries before Jesus was born. They are very specific in their details. Skeptics question the date of the prophecies, sometimes even claiming that they were written during or after Jesus’ earthly life. Among other proofs, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which includes all the Old Testament books that prophesy Christ’s arrival, life, and death, prove that these manuscripts were written centuries before Jesus’ birth.
But what about the New Testament?
There are several tests scholars use to determine the validity of ancient documents. One is known as the bibliographic test. This looks at a combination of the number of manuscripts that exist (higher is better) as well as the gap of time between when the document was written and the date of the earliest manuscript still in existence (lower is better). Thanks to the Evidence Unseen website, I have this chart, which compares several famous ancient documents to the New Testament:
To help interpret the “so what?” for this, here’s a quote that summarizes this well from the website of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College:
Noted British manuscript scholar Sir Frederick Kenyon wrote, “The interval then – between the dates or original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.” Thus both “the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the [NT] <New Testament> may be regarded as firmly established.” No other ancient book has as small a time gap between composition and earliest manuscript copies as the NT.From the Article “Has the Bible Been Accurately Copied Down Through the Centuries?” by Dr. Norman Geisler (clarification of acronym added)
Are There Other Tests for the Validity of Ancient Documents?
Yes, there are at least two others. One is called the internal test, and the other is known as the external test.
For the internal test, you study the text searching for clues to determine whether the author is attempting to be fraudulent–to make up myths–or if she/he is attempting to provide a factual account of the events they are recording.
A great example of this is with Luke, who wrote (of course) the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles (a.k.a. the book of Acts), and Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939), a Scottish archeologist. Skeptical of the Bible, Ramsay set out to disprove it by attacking Luke’s ability as a historian, claiming he had made a lot of mistakes in his references to place names and historical figures throughout his gospel and the book of Acts. Ramsay went to Asia minor to do archeological research to prove his point. However, what he found was that in dig after dig, all the evidence he found supported Luke’s references.
The website Evidences of the Bible put it this way:
Governors mentioned by Luke that many historians never believe existed were confirmed by the evidence excavated by Ramsay’s archaeological team. Without a single error, Luke was accurate in naming 32 countries, 54 cities, and 9 islands. Ramsay became so overwhelmed with the evidence he eventually converted to Christianity.Borrowed from Evidences of the Bible: https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence/
It goes on to add:
Ramsay finally had this to say:
I began with a mind unfavorable to it…but more recently I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth3.
Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historiansBorrowed from Evidences of the Bible: https://bibleevidences.com/archaeological-evidence/, referring to William M. Ramsay’s book, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1892, pg 8
There are several other aspects of internal tests for the validity of ancient documents (enough to make another whole post), but in the interest of time/space, let’s move on to external tests. An external test, of course, uses sources outside the document to confirm its validity. When it comes to the Bible, one great source of validation is archeology (as noted with the story about William Ramsay above). There is also this quote from Dr. Nelson Glueck, one of the most outstanding Jewish archeologists of the 20th century:
“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”Dr. Nelson Glueck
In spite of being Jewish, it’s interesting that he doesn’t limit his observation to the Old Testament, but concedes this truth about the entire Bible. As an example of this, here’s a passage from the website of Dr. Brad Alles, Assistant Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin:
Another familiar event is Joshua and the battle of Jericho. The destruction of the city and its walls is listed in Joshua 6:20. “When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.” As archaeologist John Garstang dug at Jericho during excavations between 1930-1936, he found to his amazement that the walls had fallen outward so attackers could climb over them and enter the city. Normally, attackers batter walls inward after laying siege to a city.Dr. Brad Alles, from a post on his website entitled “Does archaeology confirm the Bible?“
Similar to the internal test, I could spend an entire post covering different external tests that substantiate claims in the Bible, but again in the interest of time, let’s move on. I promise the other characteristics are shorter!
Characteristic #2: The Bible’s Authority
I know this is somewhat of a circular reference, but here is how the Apostle Paul summarized the authority of Scriptures to Timothy, his son in the faith:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God, may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV)
Here are some points that substantiate the claim that the Bible was written under God’s authority:
- As I alluded to earlier, the Bible was written by 40 authors from different regions and countries speaking different languages over the course of 1600 years, yet there is a unity to it. Imagine 66 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle all fitting together perfectly even though the 40 people creating the pieces lived across 16 centuries and most of whom never spoke with one another. The only way this could happen is if God inspired each of the authors to write their stories.
- There are many very specific prophecies in the Bible quite a few of which have already been fulfilled. Only God is able to know the future. Here are some statistics regarding the number of prophesies:
- Various books cite different figures, depending upon the manner in which one counts the prophecies. For example, one writer may count a single verse as a prophecy, while another may see three or four prophetic elements within the same passage.
- J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament, for a total of 1,817. These encompass 8,352 verses.
- The above information is from the Christian Courier website, in a post by Wayne Jackson entitled “How Many Prophecies Are in the Bible?”
- Jesus’ own endorsement of the Holy Scriptures–he quoted the Old Testament 78 times. He treated the Old Testament as inspired and authoritative. I guess we need to listen to him, since he said he was going to rise from the dead and then he did it. More on this in an upcoming post.
Characteristic #3: The Bible’s Popularity
The Bible is by far the most widely published book in the history of the world–more than 6 billion copies have been printed, according to Informory.com. The Bible is the most widely quoted, the most widely discussed, the most widely debated, and the most widely attacked book in all of human history.
Not that this makes the Bible true or trustworthy, but on the other hand, there must be something important and essentially different about it for it to have attracted this much attention throughout history.
Characteristic #4: The Bible’s Unique Applicability
This one is most striking to me. This book speaks into my heart, into my journey. It provides comfort when comfort is needed, strength when that’s what I require. How can this book be so alive when it was written thousands of years ago? Because God breathed his life into it, so his life could pass to us through these words.
I like to play games with words, and this one is striking to me: when you combine the words “God’s Word” together and break them apart again, you can get “God Sword.” Maybe I’m just stranger than I thought, but I’ve always seen power in this.
This is not a rule book, a book of historical facts, or even a religious handbook. This is a love letter from the One Who Made Us to us, his beloved. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so it’s no wonder it speaks to our hearts so effectively.
Is there any other book that can speak to so many different people in ways that are unique and meaningful to them?