More than two billion people on planet earth call themselves Christians in some form or another. Evangelicals specifically claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and rest their faith in Him; they believe that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as a substitute for sinners on a Roman cross outside the city of Jerusalem, was buried, and was raised to life the third day. These truths—and faith in them—bring salvation to all who trust in Jesus as their Substitute. He is the Innocent slain on behalf of the guilty; He is the ultimate Sacrifice for sin through Whom believers can go experience forgiveness from sin and live free from guilt. They believe these truths because they are taught by the Scriptures, the writings of the Old and New Testament. The 39 books of the English version of the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14) and the 27 books of the New Testament (Jer. 31:31) comprise the book called the Bible. Chronological Bible Teaching is founded on the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word; it informs our worldview, instructs us about God and ourselves, and guides us to know God and to walk with Him.
Many today argue, however, that the Bible is not trustworthy. They argue that it is inaccurate, that it has been copied so often that it is error-filled, that it is merely the writings of men, that other books are just as valid, that books have been omitted that should be in the Bible, that it is unscientific, and that it is not applicable for today. These charges are brought so regularly and freely that one may wonder if the Bible is truly a trustworthy book. This booklet seeks to give answers to those who hold to the trustworthiness of the Scriptures so that they may have confidence in their Bible and know how to answer others.
The Bible itself offers several lines of evidence for its trustworthiness. First, the Bible identifies itself as the Word of God on a regular basis. Paul Little noted, “[The Bible] employs the phrase ‘the Word of God’ 394 times in the Old Testament to refer to itself . . . The New Testament regularly quotes from the Old Testament as the ‘Word of God’.” The New Testament identifies itself as the Word of God, claiming to be inspired by God in a way all other books are not (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Second, the Old Testament offered fulfilled prophecies as evidence of its trustworthiness and differentiated between false prophets and true prophets as to whether or not their words came to pass (Deut. 18:20-22). Robert Saucy wrote, “Nowhere is the uniqueness of the Bible more evident than in the supernatural nature of its prophecies. . . . By this standard the Bible stands alone. . . . Interestingly, the sacred books of other religions contain very little prophecy in relation to the Bible.” Saucy also referenced “Oxford University scholar H. P. Liddon” who “identified 332 distinct prophecies that were literally fulfilled in Christ. The probability of that number of predictions concerning one single individual coming true has been calculated as 1 out of 83 billion. With such odds, clearly these prophecies are not the product of human authority alone.”
Third, Jesus Himself believed in the authority of Scripture and spoke of it often. His most instructive phrase, almost a parenthetic comment in John 10:35, “and the Scripture cannot be broken,” reveals His absolute confidence in the Old Testament. Jesus states, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall by no means pass away” (Mt. 24:35). Jesus says, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). His life and ministry are recorded by the four evangelists; their accounts testify of His matchless life, His death and resurrection, and His teaching. These four corresponding records of His life reflect eyewitness testimony written down shortly after His death and resurrection. Their complementary nature affirms the general oral testimony that they support (Luke 1:1-4) and reveals that Jesus is greater than any one biographer could capture.
Jesus further affirms every major doctrine of the Old Testament: He affirms special creation (Mark 13:19), Adam and Eve as real people (Mt. 19:4), the death of Abel (Matt. 23:35), the flood of Noah (Matt. 24:38), the destruction of Sodom and the turning of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt (Luke 10:12; 17:32), the story of Jonah (Mt. 12:40), the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (John 5:46), and many more. John Wenham noted well, “[Jesus] consistently treats the historical narratives as straightforward records of fact.”
Jesus claims that His words have life (John 6:63), and even claims that His words are the criteria by which all people shall be judged on the last day (John 12:48). He further promises that His disciples will pass on His teaching to future generations (John 17:20). Ultimately, all of the Bible’s claims rest on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. If He did not rise from the dead as He said He would, then the Christian faith is not genuine; if He did, His resurrection validates all of His words.
Postmodern critics reject reliance upon internal evidence, but their rejection usually illustrates a radical skepticism toward the past that is untenable. Josh McDowell shows that this rejection is invalid. He quotes the idea of the “benefit of the doubt”: “On this test John Warwick Montgomery writes that literary critics still follow Aristotle’s dictum that ‘the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself’ (Montgomery, EA, 29). Therefore, ‘one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies’ (Montgomery, EA, 29).” Critics who argue against the Bible’s authority reject a standard approach to literary criticism; such radical skepticism forces them to admit that no historical document has any validity, an absurdity in itself.
The Bible’s claims about itself are powerful, but people reject those claims by arguing that using the Bible to speak for itself is merely circular reasoning. (Incidentally, this view is self-defeating, for all people have some ultimate authority to which they finally appeal; thus, all belief systems are open to the charge of circularity.) Further, the Bible’s veracity rests not on internal evidence alone, but on the witness of history. The historical evidence for a trustworthy Bible includes the testimony of archaeology, the manuscript evidence for the Bible itself, and especially the evidence for the resurrection.
Josh McDowell penned, “Christianity appeals to history. It appeals to facts of history that are clearly recognizable and accessible by everyone.” Commenting on the archaeological evidences found in the British Museum of Natural History, Peter Masters wrote, “In today’s atheistic climate most people have no idea how much powerful evidence exists for the literal accuracy of the biblical record.” While other religious works are self-referencing (based only on statements of the document itself), the Bible makes thousands of historical claims which can be confirmed by independent research (or could be refuted, if they were not true). These external points of verification provide an objective witness to the veracity of Scripture.
The historicity of the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries of the past few centuries. Archaeology is the science of studying the first things or of studying the past. Archaeology studies artifacts (buildings, implements, cities) and documents (whether papyri, stone tablets, clay tablets, or any other form of written documentation). McDowell quoted “Reformed Jewish scholar Nelson Glueck,” an archaeologist who was expert in the field (and not a believer in Christ), “‘It is worth emphasizing that in all this work no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single, properly understood biblical statement’ (Glueck, as cited in Montgomery, CFTM, 6).” While archaeology cannot “prove” the Bible, it certainly can be cited to confirm the historical character of the events and places the Bible records.
Believers can be confident that the Bible in their hands has been investigated archaeologically as has no other book; on the other hand, its critics have to fight against the weight of archaeology. The evidence of history is on the side of the person who believes the Bible.
Some unbelieving scholars today wish to deny that the Bible as it exists today is the Word of God because the original texts are not available. It is true that no autographs (original manuscripts) of the Scriptures either from the Old or New Testament have surfaced. Enough copies exist, however, of the texts both of the Old and the New Testaments, in various forms and translations, that the text of the Bible today should not be under dispute; but it is. Writers such as New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman argue that the Bible manuscripts are not to be trusted because of miscopying and errors. Ehrman has emerged as a likeable face in the discussion for those who do not agree with the Bible; he teaches New Testament at a secular university and often appears as a spokesman for the rejection of Scripture. His field is textual criticism, the study of the manuscripts, but his presuppositions lead him to reject the evidence that most scholars embrace. Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw answer Ehrman in their accessible book Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World. They demonstrate the errors in Ehrman’s argument about the text when they say, “With all these manuscripts to work from, what we have is not a loss of the original but just a thin, added layer of inconsistencies—differences in wording or spelling or sentence structure—what scholars refer to as variants. In other words, we have too much of the text, not too little, to sift out the authentic from the unauthentic.” The following chart demonstrates the manuscript evidence of the New Testament as compared to several other respected ancient documents:
Another area of Scripture that has come under fire recently is the canon. The canon (from the Greek word κανων) originally meant “a straight rod” and came to mean “rule” or “standard” (Gal. 6:16; 2 Cor. 10:13). It came to mean a list. What it means in biblical studies is a list of authoritative books. The list is not authoritative, the books are. Canonical books were recognized as authoritative by three criteria: the internal witness of apostolic authorship (or someone close to an apostle such as John Mark); the witness of the Spirit in internal and external consistency; and, the external evidence of universal acceptance by the churches. Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw, all New Testament scholars, note, “The core canon of the New Testament appears to have been consistently sanctioned churchwide by at least the middle of the second century—long before any councils had obtained the political wherewithal to force heretical books out.” They also observed that the Gospel of Thomas, a late second-century work some equate with the other gospels, was rejected by the church fathers Cyril of Jerusalem and Origen. Thus the church councils merely affirmed what the churches had already accepted; no church council “made” a canon; they simply acknowledged the authoritative books the churches had already received.
All people long for some authentic message on which to build their lives; all worldviews rest on some ultimate authority. Saucy noted, “Human beings are religious creatures. Consciously or unconsciously we live by beliefs that we cannot ultimately prove through empirical research or divine reason.” Evolutionists believe in evolution, postmoderns trust in the words of Rorty and Foucault, Hindus accept the Vedas, and Muslims trust in the Qur’an. The only revelation in all of history to be supported by the pillars of internal evidence, predictive prophecy, the spade of the archaeologist, and the testimony of history is the Bible. It is God’s trustworthy book.
SOURCES CITED AND RECOMMENDED READING
*Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. San Francisco: Harper, 2005.
Kostenberger, Andreas, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw. Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World. Nashville: B & H Books, 2014.
Little, Paul E. Know Why You Believe. Revised ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008.
McDowell, Josh. Evidences for Christianity. Nashville: Nelson Reference and Electronic, 2006.
Saucy, Robert. Scripture: Its Power, Authority, and Relevance. Swindoll Leadership Library. Nashville: Word, 2001.
Slick, Matt. “Manuscript Evidence for Superior New Testament Reliability.”
Wenham, John. Christ and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.
*Ehrman’s book is not recommended, but it was cited.