By Johnny Pressley
Yes, that’s the book for me
I stand alone on the Word of God
The apostle Paul encouraged his associate Timothy with a reminder of the strong faith passed on to him by his grandmother Lois and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15). Many of us surely appreciate the godly men and women who nurtured us in the faith. They not only taught us Scripture, they inspired us with respect and trust for the Bible as the Word of God, even in the choruses they taught us to sing.
As adults, we may sometimes wonder if our confidence in the Bible is as well-founded as we imagined. After all, many voices today contend the Bible is much like the sacred writings of other religions, the ideas and aspirations of religious men and women from times past. They say, as with all human productions, the words of Scripture are fallible and have fallen behind our modern perceptions of truth and morality. For many today, revelation occurs when a word is spoken that we acknowledge as truth for us.
This thinking is a departure from our historic view of Scripture as divine revelation, infallible and true in all it says, speaking to us with the authority of God. And despite intellectual arguments to the contrary, we have good reasons to continue regarding the Bible as the inspired and trustworthy Word of God.
Attested by Ancient Manuscripts
A practical issue in assessing any piece of ancient literature is knowing whether the words we read are true to the original. Rarely do we possess the autograph (original document) of any ancient writing, including the books of the Bible. We are dependent upon people using the science of textual criticism, investing untold hours comparing old manuscript copies of a writing to reconstruct the original wording as closely as possible. For most ancient writings, experts usually have fewer than 100 manuscript copies with which to work, and oftentimes the earliest manuscript copies were written several centuries after the original composition. And yet, despite these limitations, modern versions considered reasonably faithful to the original are published.
By comparison, those who labor at reconstructing the original text of Bible books must imagine they have struck gold, given the wealth of materials at their disposal. More than 24,000 ancient copies of portions of the Bible are said to exist. This exceptionally large number of preserved manuscripts reflects the high regard Jews and Christians felt for their holy Scripture. In an age when copying large documents by hand was laborious and expensive, the Bible was considered worthy of the effort.
The New Testament resources are exceptional; there is nothing comparable in ancient literature. About 5,000 Greek manuscripts exist with all or part of the New Testament, plus many more in various translations. Some New Testament manuscripts are dated within 200 to 400 years of composition, much earlier than is typical for ancient literature. Quotations within the sermons and epistles of leaders from the first few centuries of the church also help determine and attest to the original wording of the New Testament text. Like modern-day preachers and teachers, they backed up their teaching with frequent quotations from the Bible.
We have good reasons to believe the original texts of the Bible have been preserved throughout the centuries for us today. Our English translations will vary in how they express the Hebrew and Greek wording, but they generally convey the same ideas. The key is to use and compare several good translations recommended by knowledgeable people we trust.
Confirmed by Historical Research
Religious writings generally speak of things that cannot be objectively confirmed now, but must be taken on faith. These include such things as a spirit realm, life after death, and prophecies of the future. However, certain things can be verified, such as statements that deal with history, geography, science, and mathematics. Any revelation claim that has verifiable inaccuracies should be rejected.
In this regard, our Bible has stood the test time and time again. As historians reconstruct ancient history piece by piece with the data available to them, the stories in the Bible are consistent and credible. In the exciting field of Bible archeology, every new discovery supports the biblical text. Critics have sometimes challenged the veracity of our Scripture because it mentions things historical research has not yet confirmed. That is no cause for alarm, but a reminder to be patient while research continues. Critics formerly declared the Genesis account of Abraham encountering the Hittites as fiction, but then archeologists uncovered remains from the Hittite nation. Historical research has been our friend, not an adversary.
Supported by Fulfilled Prophecy
Moses gave several tests for determining whether or not a revelation claim is genuine. His prophecy test instructed us to disregard any messenger whose attempt to prophesy a future event fails in any way (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22). Fulfillment of prophecy in the Bible instills us with a greater certainty (2 Peter 1:19).
The Old Testament contains hundreds of prophecies validated by known history. For example, the fall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26) was predicted 200 years before it happened. Cyrus was foretold by name (Isaiah 45) 200 years before he rose to power in Persia. Daniel identified four successive empires, several by name, that would rise and fall: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2:39, 40; 7:5-7; 8:20-25). He also described well in advance key individuals like Alexander the Great (Daniel 8:21, 22) and Antiochus Epiphanes (Daniel 8:9-14, 23-25).
Messianic prophecies were very popular in the writings of the early church fathers because they confirmed the claims of Jesus and demonstrated the amazing power of God’s Word. The detail and accuracy of these are amazing, including parents from the north country giving birth in the southern town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the description of his crucifixion (Psalm 22) with the crowd mocking him (vv. 6-8), the soldiers piercing his hands and feet and casting lots for his clothing (vv. 16-18), and the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 1). Each fulfilled prophecy further confirms our confidence in Scripture.
Affirmed by Apostolic Witness
Peter explained that he and the other apostles did not pass along tales they had heard, but rather, actual events in the life of Jesus they had witnessed (2 Peter 1:16-18). The testimony of firsthand eyewitnesses with access to the intimate activities and teachings of Jesus give their writings greater credibility. Many people wrote about Jesus in the first century (Luke 1:1, 2), but only 27 writings have been universally accepted as sacred and trustworthy because they bear the marks of being apostolic, that is, written by Jesus’ apostles (Matthew, John, Paul, Peter) or their close associates (Mark, Luke, James, Jude). Further enhancing their credulity is the fact that all these people were willing to die for their testimony, refusing to save their own lives by recanting.
Supported by Internal Unity
This truth is also worth repeating: The Bible was written by 40 authors over a 1,500-year period in 3 different languages. And yet, with all of these differences, the Bible’s doctrinal and moral teaching is uniform and consistent. A variety of styles and themes are found in the various books of the Bible, but there is unity of theological thought that implies the work of a master supervisor, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Affirmed by the Testimony of Jesus
Jesus spoke of Scripture as God’s truth (John 17:17), a truth that would not fail (John 10:35). In his preaching and teaching, Jesus referred to the incredible stories of the Old Testament as true events. He spoke of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4, 5), Noah and the flood (Luke 17:26, 27), the destruction of Sodom by fire from the sky (Luke 17:28-32), and Jonah in the belly of a great fish (Matthew 12:39, 40). Some modern critics, who consider supernatural stories like these to be religious myths, propose that Jesus was likely unaware of what really happened in his past. They contend Jesus simply repeated the well-known stories of the Bible because he was a product of his times. But if Jesus could be mistaken in matters of historical facts, should we not be concerned about his statements of spiritual truths? If you trust Jesus in all things, then you should also trust his high view of Scripture.
Affirmed by the Bible
In recounting reasons to trust the Bible, it is fitting to examine the testimony of Scripture about itself. The Bible claims to present God’s truth (John 17:17), words that will stand when tested (Proverbs 30:5, 6). Each book of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16) and written under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21). This allowed a variety of writing styles and emphases for the individual authors, while ensuring all of Scripture truthfully and accurately conveyed the message of God.
The Holy Spirit’s involvement in the production of the Bible leads us to expect an accurate presentation of God’s Word. Jesus dubbed him “the Spirit of truth,” who would guide the apostles in conveying God’s truth to us (John 14:26; 15:26, 27; 16:13). The apostolic affirmation that all Scripture is inspired encompassed not only the long-established Old Testament canon but also the New Testament writings as they appeared. As Paul quoted “Scripture” (1 Timothy 5:18), he referred to Moses (Deuteronomy 25:4) as well as Luke (Luke 10:7). When Peter spoke of those who distort “Scripture,” he mentioned specifically, and favorably, the Epistles of Paul (2 Peter 3:15, 16).
The psalmist proclaims: “All your commands are true. Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever” (Psalm 119:151, 152). We too have been taught to cherish and respect the Bible as the Word of God, and we have good reasons to maintain that trust.
CORRECTION: The original article said that “about 5,000 manuscript copies of the full New Testament exist in the original Greek language” and “most New Testament manuscripts are dated within 200 to 400 years of the original composition.” They should have stated that “about 5,000 Greek manuscripts exist with all or part of the New Testament” and “some New Testament manuscripts are dated within 200 to 400 years of composition.” We have updated this version of the article and apologize for the error.
Johnny Pressley serves as senior minister at First Church of Christ in Washington, North Carolina. He previously served as professor of theology, theology department chair, and seminary dean at Cincinnati Christian University and as professor of theology & New Testament at Mid-Atlantic Christian University.