Is the Bible Trustworthy?
- Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Do you accept the Bible as absolute truth? Do you know the peace and blessing that comes from living its supernatural, life-transforming message?
The year I left Princeton Theological Seminary to continue my studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, I had the opportunity to hear two very gifted young evangelists during our chapel program. Both believed and preached the Word of God without questioning it as God's inspired truth.
Later, however, both began to question whether or not the Bible was truly inspired in every way and in every word. One of these men rejected the integrity of God's Word. As a result, he had no moorings on which to base his life and ministry. He got a divorce, left the ministry, and eventually became an outspoken antagonist of the Christian faith. The other young man chose to believe that the Bible was truly the true Word of God. Even what he could not understand at first, he entrusted to God until he could understand it.
I won't mention the name of the first man, but the second man is my longtime friend Dr. Billy Graham, whom God has used to touch the lives of millions of people around the world. Certainly not every preacher can expect to have an impact on the world the way Billy Graham does, but embracing the Bible as perfect always goes hand in hand with dynamic and effective preaching!
Undoubtedly, the most important thing I learned throughout my long life, other than the blessing of knowing Christ personally, is that the Bible is truly God's Word. It can be trusted implicitly. In seminary I learned that I could have absolute, unshakable confidence in the authority of God's holy, inspired Word. It is the anchor of my soul. Through the years, I have observed that when people are faced with the great challenges of heartache, sorrow, testing, and trials, the only thing that provides real confidence and hope is the holy, inspired Word of God. There is no other anchor that compares to God's Word.
In this chapter and the next, we'll examine the supernatural nature of the Bible, how every word contained within its pages is Holy Spirit inspired, fully true, and worthy of your trust. God gives us many proofs that the Bible is reliable. Some come from the text of the Bible itself, others from church history, science, and archaeology.
True and Trustworthy
Inseparably linked to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture are two other biblical doctrines: biblical inerrancy and biblical infallibility. The first teaches that the Bible is absolutely true; the second flows from this premise and affirms the Bible to be absolutely trustworthy.
You will not find the word inerrancy in the Bible. But like the doctrine of the Trinity, it is a truth nevertheless taught in Scripture. The crucial doctrine of inerrancy teaches that the Bible is absolutely true, without error. The psalmist wrote: "All Your words are true; all Your just laws will stand forever" (Psalm 119:160). In the New Testament, John writes, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17, NIV).
Jesus declares the enduring truth of biblical law when he says, "Heaven and earth will disappear, but My words will remain forever" (Luke 21:33). The writer of Hebrews affirmed the reliability of the God who is always truthful. "God has given us both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to His promise with confidence" (Hebrews 6:18). We see from these select Scriptures that every single word of the Bible is completely accurate and trustworthy.
The Proof from Prophecy
The reliability of the Bible is seen in the amazing fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. It is one undeniable proof that the Bible can stand the test of time. It has been 100 percent accurate.
Modern clairvoyants Jeanne Dixon and Edgar Cayce have tantalized many Americans with the thought that their futures can be predicted with a large measure of accuracy. Today, psychics claiming to forecast your future and calm your fears about tomorrow are available over the phone for a mere $3.99 a minute. The problem, however, is that although psychics, mediums, and spiritists boast of remarkable predictions, they are often wrong. Jeanne Dixon predicted that Richard Nixon would win the 1960 presidential election, but John F. Kennedy did. And she also predicted that Russia would beat the United States to the moon.
According to the Old Testament, a prophet who speaks for God must be 100 percent accurate. The Bible records the acid test for a prophet: "You may wonder, 'How will we know whether the prophecy is from the Lord or not?' If the prophet predicts something in the Lord's name and it does not happen, the Lord did not give the message. That prophet has spoken on his own and need not be feared" (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). What becomes of prophets if they are ever wrong? They are to die (see Deuteronomy 18:20).
Scholars estimate we can find approximately twenty-five hundred prophecies in the Bible. Roughly two thousand of those have been fulfilled with remarkable precision. Because I believe we are living in the last days before Christ's second coming, I look forward to seeing the remaining 500 come to pass in the near future. But the odds that all two thousand prophecies could have been fulfilled by chance is less than one in 102000 (that is one with two thousand zeros after it)! Biblical scholar Dr. Charles C. Ryrie has pointed out that, by the law of chance, it would require two hundred billion earths, populated with four billion people each, to come up with one person who could achieve one hundred accurate prophecies without any errors in sequence. But the Bible records not one hundred but nearly twenty-five hundred prophecies!
Let's look at just some of the exciting Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Look up each Old Testament verse, and compare it to the New Testament fulfillment. Remember that the prophecies were written hundreds of years before their fulfillment.
|Prophecy about Jesus||OT Reference||NT Fulfillment|
|Born of a virgin||Isaiah 7:14||Luke 1:26-28|
|His ministry in Galilee||Isaiah 9:1||Matthew 4:12-15|
|Teacher of parables||Psalm 78:2||Matthew 13:34|
|Crucified with thieves||Isaiah 53:12||Matthew 27:38|
|His resurrection||Psalm 16:10||Acts 2:31|
|His ascension||Psalm 68:18||Acts 1:9|
Can you imagine how people would receive a contemporary book that had this kind of success in predicting events even just one year in the future? People would flock to buy it, and the author would have a cult following. The verses you looked up are just a sampling of all the prophecies that have been fulfilled since the Bible was written. The Bible passes the test of reliability without a doubt!
The Unity of the Bible
The Bible would be less than trustworthy if its message wasn't consistent. The miraculous fact about the Bible is that it has one theme from beginning to end - the glory of God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
When I think about the phenomenal unity of the Bible, as it demonstrates itself at every level of scrutiny, I enthusiastically agree with the following statement, which is said to have been found inside a Gideon's Bible:
This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler's map, the pilgrim's staff, the pilot's compass, the soldier's sword, and the Christian's character. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. Follow its precepts and it will lead you to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to a resurrected life in Christ; yes, to glory itself, for eternity.
The Bible presents a unified message, not a loose assortment of religious ideas. One amazing example of the Bible's unity is the comparison of the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each writer presents the life of Christ from a different angle:
Matthew - Jesus as the king
Mark - Jesus as a servant
Luke - Jesus as the perfect man
John - Jesus as the Son of God
These writers describe the same events in the life of Jesus, and even though they emphasize the events in different ways, their accounts all match up.
The rest of the Bible shows the same unity, despite the fact that it consists of sixty-six books written by some forty different authors over a period of fifteen hundred years. The unity of Scripture is one of the clearest indications of its supernatural origin. Only the sovereign God of the universe could have superintended the writing of Scripture so that every line remains in total agreement. The Bible is unquestionably the book that God wrote!
The Indestructibility of the Bible
If you scan the books on your bookshelf, how many of them were written more than twenty-five years ago? How many were written a century ago? How many were written a millennium ago? Truthfully, most books written today have a marketability of only a few short years.
The Bible has a different track record. Perhaps the earliest book in the Bible is Job. Although Bible historians cannot be sure of the date of the writing of the book, they believe Job lived around the time of Abraham. Job's lifespan probably occurred around four thousand years ago. The account may have been penned thirty-five thousand years ago. The Bible truly has lasted longer than any other book!
What's amazing about this record is that the Bible has survived in spite of tremendous persecution through the years. Arthur W. Pink, a Bible historian, writes:
When we bear in mind the fact that the Bible has been the special object of never ending persecution the wonder of the Bible's survival is changed into a miracle. . . . For two thousand years man's hatred of the Bible has been persistent, determined, relentless, and murderous. Every possible effort has been made to undermine faith in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and innumerable enterprises have been undertaken to consign it to oblivion. Imperial edicts have been issued to the effect that every known copy of the Bible should be destroyed, and when this measure failed to exterminate and annihilate God's Word, then commands were given that every person found with a copy of the Scriptures in his possession should be put to death. The very fact that the Bible has been so singled out for such relentless persecution causes us to wonder at such a unique phenomenon.
An interesting story about this persecution involves the Roman emperor Diocletian. In a royal edict proclaimed in A.D. 303, he demanded that every copy of the Bible be burned. Theologian Henry Thiessen describes the incredible results:
He had killed so many Christians and destroyed so many Bibles, that when the Christians remained silent for a season and kept in hiding, he thought that he had actually put an end to the Scriptures. He caused a medal to be struck with the inscription: "The Christian religion is destroyed and the worship of the [Roman] gods restored." But it was only a few years later that Constantine came to the throne and that he made Christianity the state religion. What would Diocletian say if he could return to earth and see how the Bible has gone on in its world mission?
The Bible Text
Another aspect of the Bible's indestructibility is the fact that the Bible we read today is a translation from texts that have not changed in thousands of years. Before the printing press was invented, the text of the Bible was copied by hand. The scribes who did the copying received special training. Some dedicated their entire lives to this task. They were so careful about what they did that after four thousand years scholars can find only a handful of letter discrepancies between the earliest Hebrew manuscripts and today's Bibles. Through these scribes and other events, God has preserved His Word through the centuries.
One of the most important factors supporting the accuracy of the Old Testament is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from 200 B.C. to A.D. 68. In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy was traveling the northwest rim of the Dead Sea when he discovered a jar in a cave containing scrolls that had been hidden for nearly two thousand years. The term Dead Sea Scrolls became the standard designation for the fragmentary manuscripts discovered in the limestone caves around the Dead Sea. To the astonishment of biblical archaeologists, all the books of the Bible except the book of Esther are represented in the collection. Comparison with Old Testament manuscripts of a thousand years later shows little or no variation between them.
Contained in the manuscripts was a copy of the oldest known Hebrew manuscript of the book of Isaiah. Strikingly, the document is extremely similar to the book of Isaiah found in today's Bibles.
Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word, "light," which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the LXX and IQ Is (one of the Isaiah scrolls found in the Dead Sea caves). Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission - and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.
Dr. Burrows concludes, "It is a matter of wonder that through something like a thousand years the text underwent so little alteration." The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls thoroughly discredits the charge that the original Old Testament has been lost because of numerous copies and translations. God certainly has protected His Word - for our benefit!
The Testimony from Church History
We can also go to sources outside the biblical text to prove its reliability. In addition to the Bible's own claims, the early church fathers also supported the inerrancy of Scripture. The early church fathers are significant because many people consider them to be the successors to the original apostles of Jesus.
Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-96), the third bishop of Rome and close associate of the apostle Paul (see Philippians 4:3), believed that the Scriptures were given through the Holy Spirit. Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430), considered to be one of the most outstanding theologians in all of church history, believed in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Saint Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604), known for his great influence on shaping the doctrine, organization, and rules of discipline of the early church wrote: "Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things. We loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the Book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution."
The testimony of Scripture and the testimony of biblical scholars throughout the centuries is clear: The Bible is indeed reliable. The Bible is true because God is truth and cannot lie (see John 7:28). As a result, His Word is truth (see John 17:17). Now let us see how science affirms the Bible's trustworthiness.
Proof from Science
Although the Bible is not a scientific manual, when it mentions scientific facts, it is accurate. Sometimes these facts have not been proven true until centuries after they were written.
In the "Science" section of its March 5, 1990, issue, Time magazine had an item, "Score One for the Bible," refuting the research of the late British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who claimed that Jericho was destroyed 150 years before the Bible records the Israelites' destruction of the city. Time also noted many facts consistent with the biblical story. While Bible believers certainly do not need scientific proof as a prop for their faith, it is always nice when science and periodicals like Time catch up with the Word of God. Here are a few of the scientific truths found in the Bible:
- Many centuries before Galileo (1564-1642) claimed that the earth was round, the Bible declared, "It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. The people below must seem to Him like grasshoppers" (Isaiah 40:22).
- Matthew Maury (1806-1873) is considered the father of oceanography. When he was bedridden during a serious illness, he asked his son to read to him from the Bible. While listening to Psalm 8:8 in the King James Version, Maury noticed the expression "paths of the seas." Upon his recovery, Maury went looking for these paths, and as a result, discovered the continental currents. Maury's book on oceanography is still considered a basic text on the subject and continues to be used in many universities.
- A Roman engineer named Marcus Vitruvius discovered the hydrologic water cycle in 30 B.C. Yet this truth was fully revealed to mankind in 1600 B.C. The Bible records, "The rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows again to the sea" (Ecclesiastes 1:7).
- The earth's gravitational field is mentioned in Scripture: "God stretches the northern sky over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing" (Job 26:7).
Because science supports the claims of the Bible, it is no wonder that many of the world's great scientists were Christians who looked to Scripture as the foundation for their knowledge of the universe. Examples include Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Robert Boyle, George Washington Carver, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, and the Wright brothers.
Proof from Archaeology
For centuries skeptics have claimed that the Bible is filled with historical errors. They have pointed to several biblical accounts, particularly in the Old Testament, where archaeology contradicted the Bible. So what has happened over the years? In many cases scientists have been proven to be inaccurate and the Bible has been shown to be trustworthy and reliable. Here are a few examples:
- Scientists stated that the Bible is historically inaccurate because they believed that King David was a fictional character. They said that the remains of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian cultures make no specific reference to him. But recently an Assyrian stone tablet dating from the ninth century B.C. has been found by a group of archaeologists in northern Israel. It shows an Aramaic inscription listing Assyria's enemies. Included in the list were the words "king of Israel" and "house of David."
- The most documented biblical event is the worldwide flood described in Genesis 6-9. Discoveries indicate that a number of Babylonian documents describe the same flood. "The Sumerian King List . . . , for example, lists kings who reigned for long periods of time. Then a great flood came. Following the flood, Sumerian kings ruled for much shorter periods of time. This is the same pattern found in the Bible. People had long life spans before the flood and shorter life spans after the flood. Also, the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic speaks of an ark, animals taken on the ark, birds sent out during the course of the flood, the ark landing on a mountain, and a sacrifice offered after the ark landed."
- "The discovery of the Ebla archive in northern Syria in the 1970s has shown the biblical writings about the Patriarchs to be viable. Documents written on clay tablets from around 2300 B.C. demonstrate that the personal names in the Patriarchal accounts are genuine."
- "The Hittites were once thought to be a biblical legend, until their capital and records were discovered at Bogazkoy, Turkey."
- "It was once claimed there was no Assyrian king named Sargon as recorded in Isaiah 20:1, because this name was not known in any other record. Then, Sargon's palace was discovered in Khorsabad, Iraq. The very event mentioned in Isaiah 20, his capture of Ashdod, was recorded on the palace walls. What is more, fragments of a stela memorializing the victory were found at Ashdod itself."
- "Another king who was in doubt was Belshazzar, king of Babylon, named in Daniel 5. The last king of Babylon was Nabonidus according to recorded history. Tablets were found showing that Belshazzar was Nabonidus' son who served as coregent in Babylon. Thus, Belshazzar could offer to make Daniel 'third highest ruler in the kingdom' (Dan. 5:16) for reading the handwriting on the wall, the highest available position."
The Bible Is Our Guide
These are just some of the amazing scientific and archeological facts contained in the Bible, facts now supported by prominent scientists. But why should anyone be surprised that the book that is truth would contain truth on these and many other subjects? The Bible has been proven to be reliable. No one has proven otherwise. If the Bible is reliable, then its words are true.
When we let God's Word be the standard for our lives, we won't be swayed by the world's reasoning or our own feelings. We can always search for the right way to think and act.
That's why it is so vital to understand the central message of the Bible. We can believe that the Bible is reliable, but until we know what it says, its trustworthiness will do us no good. If we do not allow the Bible to center our viewpoint, we will wander off course in our lives.
One way we can allow the Bible to guide our lives is to hide the Word in our hearts. Whenever we get into a situation in which we are tempted to do wrong or we don't know quite what God would want us to do, the Holy Spirit can bring an appropriate memorized passage to our mind. Then we can let God's Word guide us in that situation. Or if we are in a crisis and need encouragement, help with fear, or strength of purpose, those verses we have learned will aid us. In our Discover the Treasure section, I will show you how you can take just a few minutes of your day to memorize Scripture. I encourage you to begin a plan to hide God's Word in your heart and see what God will do to bless you through His Word.
Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. Excerpted from the book
Discover the Book God Wrote. Copyright 2004 by Bright Media Foundation. www.tyndale.com
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