Published Jun 22, 2019

Is the Bible really reliable?

Article by Casey McFall

Note: This article is the second of a series of apologetics-related articles that are a condensed version of an apologetics class that I taught. You can read the first one here.

 

            Whenever engaging in apologetics related discussions, atheists, evolutionists, and even “Christians” often want to remove the Bible from the conversation as a reasonable source of evidence. They want “real proof” or something “reliable”. Do not do this. The Bible is both the source of truth and the absolute authority on all things spiritual. Primary sources are always more valuable than secondary sources; so why would you throw away a more secure proof for one that is more likely to be erroneous?

            Naturally, if someone were to make these claims to someone who does not believe them, certain challenging questions would arise. The first would likely challenge the divine inspiration of the Word of God. After all, it is based on this premise that we may safely declare the Bible to be the authority on spiritual things. So how can we prove that the Bible is divinely inspired?

 

Is the Bible divinely inspired?

            When it comes to answering the question of divine inspiration, there are four types of arguments that are typically used by apologists. These are fideism, evidentialism, classical, and presuppositionalism. For the sake of time and headache, I will give just a very short explanation for each of these. Fideism teaches that the divine inspiration of the Bible cannot be proven but must simply be believed through blind faith. If you read my first lesson in apologetics (you can find that here), you know that the Bible does not teach us to have blind faith. Nor is an argument based on no evidence really any kind of argument at all. Thus, I would not recommend subscribing to this particular method of proving the Bible.

            The last three methods rely more on logic and proofs, and each is valid on their own. In order to craft the full case (as one should in apologetics) for the Bible however, all three of these methods will be used in this article. Evidentialism uses inductive reasoning to illustrate that the Bible must be divinely inspired because the statistical likeliness of it being so is simply too high to be wrong. The classical method uses deductive reasoning and starts by proving the existence of God then builds on that to eventually prove the inspiration of the Bible. The final method, presuppositionalism teaches that the Bible is provable, but only by itself.

            At face value, presuppositionalism seems like circular reasoning (a logical fallacy); but becomes more understandable when you take a deeper look at it. I will start with this statement: The Bible is not a book whose authority as the Word of God is proven through evidence external to the Scripture. This sentence is the result of an argument that uses deductive reasoning to build on the axiom: “Something that is of highest authority cannot be proven as such by another authority”. This is an axiom because it is self-evident and doesn’t need to be proven. If I were the absolute authority on all things football (which I’m not) then there wouldn’t be anyone out there who could validate or prove my authority because they would at that point become a higher authority than me. It’s the exact same thing with the Bible! If the Bible were inspired by God (which it is), then it would become the ultimate authority on any topic that is described within it. And as I demonstrated earlier, that authority cannot be proven by anything else without that other “proof” then becoming a superior authority. Thus, we come full circle back to the original statement: The Bible is not a book whose authority as the Word of God is proven through evidence external to the Scripture.

            At this point, the critic will raise another challenge. Namely, how do we know for sure that the Bible we have is the same one that God gave us? The argument (not truth) would go like this: “Even if the Bible were divinely inspired, how do we know that the words that we have today are the same words that were inspired so long ago? The Bible was written thousands of years ago by dozens of men who lived hundreds or even thousands of years apart and has been copied over and over and over again. It’s like the silly telephone game (where you whisper a sentence in one person’s ear and it keeps getting whispered all the way around the room) on steroids! How could anyone actually, truly and honestly believe that the Bible we have today is really the same one that was originally penned?”

 

Is the Bible now the same one that God gave us?

            The first and most reliable proof that the Bible now is the same that was originally penned is found in Psalm 12:7. It says: “Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” God promises to preserve His Word forever! We know that we can trust God and that He always abides by His promises, so we can have the assurance that the Word of God is reliable and is the same one that He inspired the men of God to pen so long ago. Unfortunately, this won’t be very persuasive to others, who might suggest that even this verse wasn’t inspired but was added somewhere along the way. Fortunately, we have an answer that must satisfy even the most hard-core critic.

            In order to verify the reliability of any historical manuscript, historians and universities have developed a set of tests. These are the bibliographical test, the test of internal evidence, and the test of external evidence. There can be no more persuasive argument for a secularist than to submit the Bible, the Holy Word of God, to these three tests. So that’s what we’ll do.

 

Bibliographical test

            The bibliographical test relies primarily on two factors: the number of manuscripts (MSS) that we have, and the time difference between the oldest manuscript and the original writing. For example, one book with 50 manuscripts with a time gap of 100 years would be considered more reliable than a different book with only 10 manuscripts and a time gap of 600 years. Using this test, the Bible is more reliable than any 10 classical works combined! Homer’s Iliad would be the second most reliable classical work with more than 1,800 manuscripts and a time gap of 400 years. This can be compared to the New Testament, which has nearly 6,000 manuscripts in the original Greek and a time gap of only 50 years (or less)! That’s a difference of 4,000 manuscripts! And that’s not even counting the ancient translations into Latin, Armenian, and other languages. The number of early translations alone number more than 18,000 manuscripts!

 

 Manuscript text

* All these numbers may be different now as manuscripts are constantly being found. Any differences are likely to be very small however

            What about the Old Testament? Although it was written even before Jesus was born and has been actively targeted by multiple kings and emperors to be destroyed; the Old Testament can also stand up to the bibliographical test. Although it is not easy to determine the exact number of extant scrolls, best estimates put the number of Old Testament scrolls and codices at a whopping 42,000!

            What all of this means, is that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing towards the reliability of the scriptures. In fact, the Bible is more reliable even than the works of Shakespeare! Although Shakespeare lived in the 17th century (after the invention of the printing press), every single one of his works has gaps in it where we have no idea what he said. We’ve had to guess about what may have been written there and attempt to piece together passages. Nor are these minor gaps, but there may be as many as a hundred readings which are still in dispute (John Lea “The greatest book”). This can be compared to the New Testament (the one with fewer manuscripts) where nearly every verse can be confirmed multiple times. (There are maybe 20 verses that aren’t found in every manuscript due to damage, bad copies, etc. But the number of good copies completely overwhelms this number and gives us confidence).

            A big reason for this overwhelming reliability of the scriptures can be attributed to the exact care with which the Word of God was copied. I don’t want this article to go too long, so I won’t go into the details of it, but I highly encourage everyone to google the Talmudists and the Massoretes. These two groups took what would be considered extreme measures, if it were any book other than the Bible, to ensure that the Holy Scriptures were not just copied accurately, but also copied in such a way that would minimize any potential copy errors by future copyists (ensuring spacing, counting consonants, etc).

 

The test of internal evidence

            The test of internal evidence is essentially asking how well a manuscript agrees with itself. If I said that I am a Christian in chapter one, and said that I am an atheist in chapter two, with no record of a transition between these two statements; then it is possible that there was some kind of mistake in copying. If there are several such errors, the likelihood of that being the case increases. This will naturally drive down the reliability of the manuscript. To apply this test to the Scriptures, we would ask some of the following questions: “Were the authors qualified to write what they were talking about?”, “Is there a chance that they were lying?”, and “Does the Bible agree with itself?”

            The answer to the first two questions can be easily answered by the Bible itself. First of all, we know that the men who penned the Bible were inspired by God to write the words that they wrote. On top of that, it was also written based on eye-witness testimony. II Peter 1:16 says, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” I John 1:3a also declares: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you”. Nor could these men have been lying about these eye-witness reports, because the people that they were talking to were also familiar with the events that they were talking about. Acts 2:22 and Acts 26:24-28 clearly declare that both the common people and even the king were aware of these things and merely needed to hear the full details of the matter. This is important to note because it is easy for someone to claim that he/she is a spokesperson for God when talking about things that are to come or things that have happened so far in the past that they cannot be easily proven false. It becomes much harder to make these claims however if you are talking about events that happened not that long ago, and everyone is familiar with them.

            As to the final question of, “Does the Bible agree with itself”; there are many facets to this. The first would be to determine if there are any mistakes or contradictions in the Bible. Multiple pages, articles, and books could be and have been written about this particular facet. I will say that I personally have looked for any mistakes or contradictions and have challenged doubters of the scriptures to present me with any, and the Bible has always proven itself. Another perspective to this question, however, would simply be to look at the coherency of the Bible. Remember that the Bible is actually made up of 66 books and was written by approximately 40 different people over the span of almost 2,000 years! The chances that each of these books would completely agree with each other is astronomically low. In spite of these odds, the Bible maintains one coherent thought and message all the way from Genesis through Revelation. We find the Old Testament prophesying events in the New Testament; the New Testament quoting the Old Testament, and a single thread of man’s fall and eventual redemption tying it all together.

 

The test of external evidence

            This final test for the reliability of the scriptures is exactly what it sounds like: evidences and proofs external to the scripture that serve to either support or contradict what the Scriptures say. Note that this is not using these external proofs to validate the divine inspiration of the Word of God! Rather, this is to look at whether or not external evidences support what the Bible claims happened.

            The amount of evidence for the scriptures from this particular test is absolutely overwhelming! Perhaps the most famous example would, of course, be the Hittite empire. The Bible talks a lot about the Hittites, and scholars scoffed at these Biblical claims for many years. They declared that the Bible talking about Hittites was definitive proof of an error in the Bible because it would not be possible for such an empire to have existed and to have no historical mention of it or archeological proof for it. They laughed; until of course, they actually found a Hittite city. The existence of the Hittites is something that is no longer of any question, but the Bible talked about them long before the external evidence caught up. And this example of the Hittites is also just one of the more well-known instances. Historian and archeologist Nelson Glueck once made the statement: “It may be stated categorically that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a single biblical reference. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible.” In other words, there is a lot of external evidence of the Bible!

            Nor is the Bible only accurate in its histories. Cyrus was prophesied to rebuild the temple 160 years before it happened. Isaiah mentions Cyrus, by name, in Isaiah 44:28 and 54:1. And history confirms the fulfillment of that prophecy. Daniel prophesied 69 weeks from the declaration to restore and rebuild Jerusalem till the coming of the Messiah. These aren’t 69 actual weeks, but weeks of years. In other words, 69 times 7. Calculating the amount of time that passed from when Artaxerxes issued a decree to Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-8) up to when Jesus rode triumphantly into the city; we have exactly 69 weeks of years. *

*This uses the 360 day year that Daniel would have been familiar with and using rather than our modern 365 day year

 

Closing

            If you read the whole thing up to this point, thank you! I know that this is one of my longer articles, and I actually had to work hard to cut it down to this much. If you got nothing else from this article, I hope that you gained a renewed confidence in the Word of God. The Bible is quick and powerful, and it should be the basis for more than just apologetics; it should be the basis for our lives. Everything that we do, every decision that we make, should align with the Word of God.

 

Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

 

 

For those who want to learn more about apologetics and are looking for additional resources, I highly recommend Dave Hunt’s book “In defense of the faith”. Unfortunately, not all of the verses referenced in the book are from the KJV, but the majority of them are. Like all things written without the divine inspiration of God, I recommend testing everything said against the truth of the Bible! It is an excellent resource however and he answers many questions about the faith using apologetics. You can find it at Amazon here: In defense of the faith






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