WHY DO CHRISTIANS TAKE THE BIBLE SERIOUSLY?
Here are ten lines of evidence for the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. I write about these evidences in greater detail in my book, Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted.
1. FULFILLED PROPHECIES
Sports analysts, political pundits, and astrologers seem to enjoy making predictions about the future, but their failure rate quickly reveals how inept humans are at foretelling events even just a month in advance. This is one of the reasons the Bible’s fulfilled prophecies are so astounding!
Over and over, the authors of the Bible rightly foretold future events, often hundreds of years in advance. The Bible is filled with hundreds of specific, detailed prophecies about people, places, and events—many of which have already come to pass. Consider a few of the prophecies made regarding Jesus. Of course, long before Jesus was born, the Old Testament prophets told us that a Savior was coming who would make a way for people to be forgiven of their sins and reconciled to God. The Old Testament prophesied this Savior would:
• be born of the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18)
• be born into the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10)
• be born into the lineage of David (2 Samuel 7:12f)
• be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
• be born to a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
• come while the temple was still standing (Malachi 3:1)
• open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and cause the lame to walk (Isaiah 35:5-6)
• be rejected by His own people (Psalm 118:22; 1 Peter 2:7)
The Scriptures also foretold the precise time in history when He would die (Daniel 9:24-26), how He would die (Psalm 22:16-18; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 12:10), and that He would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10-12; Acts 2:27-32). These are just a few of the prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus’ life.
The Old Testament, completed 400 years before Jesus’ birth, contains more than 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus’ life. Calculations using the science of probability on just 8 of these prophecies have shown that the chance someone could have fulfilled them to be:
1 in 1017
Or put another way, that is…
1 in 100 Quadrillion!
[The mathematical calculations are laid out in Peter Stoner, Science Speaks (Moody Publishing, 1958), chapter 3]
And there are hundreds of other prophecies in the Bible that have been fulfilled concerning the rise and fall of nations and other matters. Well, the fulfillment of these prophecies is compelling evidence that these men spoke with the aid of the all-knowing, all-powerful God written about in the Bible—the God who declared:
“I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done.”
In other words, God says here, ‘There’s no one else who can accurately tell you what’s going to happen centuries in advance.’ And that is certainly the case. No other book in the world is able to substantiate its claims with this kind of supernatural ability to rightly foretell future events. There are no fulfilled prophecies in the Quran, the Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon, or any other sacred religious writings. Not one.
Fulfilled prophecy is something that sets the Bible apart from every other religious book.
SKEPTIC: “Hold on a second Charlie. Maybe the disciples just made up all of these things that Jesus supposedly did. Perhaps they read all of those prophecies in the Old Testament and decided to make up an elaborate story about Jesus fulfilling them!”
Ah, that is a legitimate concern (that the disciples were just lying, just fabricating the whole story about Jesus). Well, I’m going to address that concern and show you why I don’t think they were lying when we get to evidence number eight.
Many people who think the Bible is just a compilation of folklore and legends, overlook the fact that thousands of archaeological discoveries over the past century have verified the historical reliability of the Bible. Here are a few examples:
Up until 1993, many skeptics considered David to be a mythological invention. Why? There was not a shred of evidence outside of the Bible that he ever lived. So it had become fashionable in some academic circles to dismiss the David stories as mere invention. The critics’ verdict was that David was “nothing more than a figure of religious and political mythology.” [Jeffrey Sheler, Is the Bible True? (1999), 95–96]
Well, their skepticism regarding David collapsed overnight in 1993 when a nearly 3,000-year-old inscription was unearthed in Israel mentioning David the king of Israel. This was a tremendous discovery and helped to verify for the first time outside the Bible that David was an actual historical figure. In light of this discovery, Time magazine stated:
The skeptics’ claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend. [Michael D. Lemonick, “Are the Bible’s Stories True? Archaeology’s Evidence,” Time Magazine, December 18, 1995]
Indeed it is.
B. PONTIUS PILATE
The New Testament tells us that Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus who oversaw Jesus’ trial and then sentenced Him to death by crucifixion (Matthew 27:2; Luke 3:1). Was Pilate a legendary figure? No.
In 1961, a team of Italian archaeologists was digging in Caesarea, on the shore of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea in Israel. While clearing away the sand and overgrowth from the jumbled ruins of a Roman theater, these archaeologists made an astonishing find. They uncovered a limestone block that bore an inscription in Latin dating to the early part of the first century that mentioned “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” This inscription verifies that Pontius Pilate was an actual historical person, that he reigned in the very position ascribed to him by the Gospels, and as prefect he would have had the authority to condemn or pardon Jesus, just as the Gospel accounts report.
C. FIRST-CENTURY CRUCIFIXION
Another discovery helped to verify the reality of crucifixion in Israel in the first century. According to the Bible, Jesus’ hands or wrists were nailed to the cross (John 20:25). But at one time, critics said crucifixions with nails never took place in Israel in the first century. No evidence of any crucified victim had ever been uncovered in Israel—so skeptics and scholars dismissed the Gospels’ accounts as either imagined or inaccurate. Well, critics of the Bible were shown to be wrong again in 1968. It was then that a crew of builders from the Israel Ministry of Housing working in Jerusalem accidentally discovered an ancient Jewish cemetery that contained the remains of several men who were killed during the Jewish revolt against Rome in approximately AD 70. One of the bone ossuaries contained the skeleton of a young man and an inscription of the man’s name (Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol).
What stunned the archaeologists most though was how this man died. He was put to death by crucifixion with nails. How was that determined? He still had an iron spike driven through his heel bone. The Romans typically removed the nails from their victims—iron was expensive—but apparently this nail was too difficult to remove. The tip of the nail had been bent back toward the head, likely the result of hitting a knot in the wood. And so, the soldiers left it there. And now we have solid archaeological evidence that the Romans did crucify people in Israel, in the first century, with nails—just as the Bible said.
Some other discoveries include:
• The palace of Sennacherib the king of Assyria (2 Chronicles 32:1f) and a wall relief depicting the Assyrian siege on Lachish (2 Kings 18:13–17; Isaiah 36:1–2)
• The ruins of Jericho (Joshua 6) along with evidence the city wall “fell down flat” (6:20) at the very time the Old Testament dates the crossing of the Hebrew people into Canaan (c. 1400 BC)
• Hezekiah’s tunnel (2 Kings 20:20) built to secretly channel water into the city of Jerusalem c. 700 BC
• The ancient ruins of Babylon (Book of Daniel), including the ruins of king Nebuchadnezzar’s palaces, temples, city walls, houses, inscriptions mentioning “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon”
• The Babylonian Chronicle. These ancient historical records verify that the Babylonians invaded the land of Judah, besieged the city of Jerusalem, and took the Jews captive back to Babylon…just as the Bible said they did (2 Kings 24; Daniel 1).
• The “Pool of Siloam” (John 9:1–12) where Jesus sent the blind man with mud on his eyes to wash and receive healing
• The well called “Jacob’s Well” (John 4:6) where Jesus met the Samaritan woman
• The pool called “Bethesda” (John 5:2) where Jesus told the man who had been lame for 38 years to take up his bed and walk
• Herod’s palace (Mark 6:14–29) where John the Baptist was imprisoned and killed; the historian Josephus mentions this palace and John the Baptist’s imprisonment and murder there
• A bone ossuary mentioning Caiaphas the Jewish high priest (Matthew 26:3) who presided over Jesus’ late night trial (Matthew 26:57–68)
• The synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21) on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus often taught
• Mosaic tile floor of an early Christian church in Megiddo, Israel, that says the church was built in the memory of “the God Jesus Christ”—evidence the early Christians believed Jesus was God
If you’d like to learn more about these archaeological discoveries, I’ve written a book on the topic, Archaeological Evidence for the Bible, with more than a hundred color photographs in it. I also have a DVD wherein I discuss many of these finds.
What do I mean when I speak of the Bible’s internal consistency? I am talking about the Bible’s internal harmony. From the first book of the Bible, Genesis, to the last book, Revelation, the Biblical writers are absolutely consistent in what they teach. By that I mean that they don’t contradict one another.
SKEPTIC: “Ha! That’s ridiculous! They certainly do contradict one another.”
I understand that critics of Christianity think the Bible contains contradictions. They are quite mistaken about the matter. As we show elsewhere, it’s the critics who err, not the Biblical writers (See our “Bible Difficulties” section).
SKEPTIC: “Okay, but why would the internal harmony be evidence of the Bible’s trustworthiness? There are thousands of books that are internally consistent.”
There are. Back in the 1990s, I worked at a surfing magazine in Laguna Beach, California. And we put out an internally consistent magazine every month. Does that mean the authors of our different articles were writing down God-inspired Scripture? No. I can assure you of that!
SKEPTIC: “So what makes the Bible any different than some other book or magazine that is internally consistent?”
Well, let me share with you a few reasons I think the internal harmony of the Bible is amazing evidence of its divine origin.
A. The Bible addresses life’s most controversial questions.
At the surfing magazine, we wrote about who won the latest surfing contest, surf wax, sunscreen…pretty trivial matters. But these aren’t the type of matters the authors of the Bible wrote about. They weren’t writing about surf wax and sunscreen. No. From beginning to end they tackled the big questions of life. Questions like:
• How did the universe come into existence?
• Does God exist? And if so, what is He like?
• Why does man exist?
• What is our purpose for being here?
• Why is there evil and suffering in the world?
• What happens to us after we die?
These are the big controversial questions of life. These are the kinds of questions that people tend to disagree about (ask your neighbors!) and yet these are the very questions the authors of the Bible tackle head on, chapter after chapter, book after book, and they do so absolutely consistently.
B. The Bible is a collection of 66 different documents.
It might be easy to have internal harmony if the Bible was a single document, but it’s not. It’s a compilation of more than five dozen different books.
C. The Bible was written by approximately 40 different authors.
Contrast this with the Quran. I think it would be easy to have internal harmony in the Quran. It contains the teachings of just one man—Muhammad, born about 570 years after Jesus. The Bible is completely different than the Quran in this regard; it contains the teachings, the writings, of approximately 40 different people. Side note: The Quran is not internally harmonious (more on that here).
D. Many of the Bible’s authors came from different educational and cultural backgrounds.
Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a scholar. Daniel was a prime minister. Asaph was a musician. Matthew was a tax collector. David was a shepherd, then a king. Luke was a historian and medical doctor.
E. The Bible was written over a period of approximately 1500+ years (1446 BC – AD 95)
Many of the authors did not even know one another.
F. Many of the authors were separated by hundreds of miles geographically.
The Bible was written in a variety of places on three different continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. For example, Paul wrote four letters imprisoned in Rome. The apostle John, wrote while a prisoner banished to the Isle of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea. The prophet Ezekiel wrote his work while held captive in Babylon.
G. The Bible was written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of pulling together forty different people (spread out over fifteen centuries, on three different continents, who speak three different languages) and having them write sixty-six different documents regarding life’s most controversial questions—I’m thinking we are going to have some serious problems. That book is a going to be a confusing and difficult read!
Yet, in spite of all these factors, the Bible is a perfectly harmonious, consistent account of how God is seeking to reconcile sinners like you and me back into relationship with to Himself. This internal consistency is powerful evidence that the authors of the Bible were being guided by God when they wrote the different books of the Bible.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that there are dozens of writings that survive outside of the Bible (in the records of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans) that verify the historical accuracy of the Bible’s records of different people, places, and events.
As far as people are concerned, external sources verify that more than 80 people mentioned in the Bible were real historical figures (50+ people in the OT and 30+ people in the NT—see list of names and sources on p. 270 in I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek). Because of engravings and statues, we even know what 18 of them looked like (12 from the Old Testament and 6 from the New Testament)! You are not reading about mythological characters when you read the Bible. You’re reading about real people.
As for Biblical events that have extrabiblical corroboration, the examples are plentiful. Here are a couple examples.
We’re told in the Bible that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians came against the southern kingdom of Judah (597 BC), attacked the city of Jerusalem, and then took thousands of Jews captive back to the city of Babylon, hundreds of miles away, in modern-day Iraq (2 Kings 24). Well, this has been confirmed outside the Bible. Where so? In ancient Babylonian records.
Hundreds of ancient Babylonian clay tablets containing a treasure trove of information about Babylon’s history were unearthed in Babylon in the nineteenth century. They are known as the Babylonian Chronicle tablets. They tell us of the very siege against Jerusalem written about in 2 Kings 24 and Daniel 1 and the fact that the Babylonians took the Jews captive back to Babylon. Of course, this just goes to show that the authors of the Bible were telling us the truth about this matter.
The New Testament tells us that Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, cast John the Baptist into prison for condemning Antipas’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife (Matt. 14:1-5). Sometime later an executioner came and John was beheaded (Matt. 14:10). You’re familiar with that. Well, this too has been confirmed outside of the Bible. The first-century historian, Flavius Josephus, talks about:
• Herod Antipas
• Herod’s adulterous wife
• and the murder of John the Baptist in his Antiquities of the Jews.
Here is a short excerpt from Josephus:
John, that was called the Baptist…was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism…Herod, who feared the great influence John had over the people…sent [John] a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. (Antiquities, 18:116-119).
So, Josephus verifies for us that John the Baptist was an actual person and that he was put to death by Herod, just as the Bible says.
Josephus mentions more than a dozen individuals talked about in the Bible, including: Herod the Great, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, James “the brother of Jesus,” Felix, Festus, and even Jesus. Listen to one of Josephus’ statements about Jesus:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive… (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:63-64, from a surviving manuscript in Arabic)
These are not the words of the Bible or a Christian, but a historian writing outside of the pages of Scripture. He verifies for us that Jesus lived and was crucified under the reign of Pontius Pilate.
There are more than 30 sources outside of the Bible, written within 150 years of Jesus’ life that attest to more than 100 facts regarding Jesus’ life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. (See: The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary R. Habermas). Some of these other sources include:
A. Cornelius Tacitus (ca. A.D. 55 –120) a Roman Historian
B. Gaius Suetonius (the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117 –138)
C. The Jewish Talmud (Sanhedrin 43A)
Other historical sources outside of the Bible corroborate details surrounding:
• The Flood
• Long life spans prior to the Flood
• Details surrounding the Exodus
• The Assyrian invasion of Israel
• Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah
• Cyrus’s freeing of Jews from Babylon
• The prolonged darkness on the day Jesus died
• Herod Agrippa’s sudden death after being hailed as a god
• The expulsion of the Jews from Rome
Critics who say the Bible is just an ancient collection of legends only reveal that they haven’t done any serious research regarding these matters. If you’d like to read more about these matters (with full citations/footnotes), please see my books: Archaeological Evidence for the Bible and Scrolls and Stones.
Of course, many critics of the Bible would disagree that the Bible is scientifically accurate. They point to verses that say things like “the sun stood still” in Joshua 10:13 or John’s reference to “the four corners of the Earth” (Rev. 7:1). And they conclude that the Bible teaches that the Sun revolves around a flat, four-cornered Earth.
Well, they are overlooking the fact that the writers of the Bible were not writing a technical textbook on astronomy. They were describing things as they appeared to the eye (as was the case in Joshua 10) or employing normal figures of speech, as was the case with John’s reference to the “four corners of the Earth.”
And we, living in this scientifically advanced age, still do the same thing! We don’t wake up early in the morning, throw open the Eastern window and say, “What a beautiful Earth rotation!” No. We say, “What a beautiful sunrise!” Technically speaking, that is unscientific terminology. Meteorologists tell us on the nightly news what time the “sunset” will be. We don’t accuse them of being unscientific. They’re using simple, straightforward language to describe the way things appear.
When the apostle John referred to the “four corners of the Earth” in Revelation 7:1 he was using a figure of speech to describe the extremities of the land in the four cardinal directions: North, South, East and West. And we still use this figure of speech today. News agencies boast about how they have sent out their reporters to the four corners of the Earth to track down their stories.
So, keeping in mind that the writers of the Bible described things in simple terms as they appeared to the eye, and that they employed figures of speech (metaphors, personification and such) does away with many of the alleged scientific inaccuracies in the Bible.
Now, granted, Scripture is out-of-sync with some of the philosophies and theories some scientists hold to. The most obvious being atheistic naturalism and the theory of biological macro-evolution. If a scientist believes everything that exists came into being from nothing and by nothing and then evolved to its current state via a mindless series of unguided natural causes, then yes!—the Bible is out-of-sync with that. That goes without saying. But when it comes to known, testable, verifiable facts, the Bible has been found to be in perfect harmony with the way things really are, which is incredible when you think about it, because as you know the Bible was written two to four thousand years ago—long before the invention of microscopes, telescopes, satellites, and other technologies that have allowed us to investigate the Earth and universe.
The fact that the Bible was written so long ago, touches on a myriad of topics, and yet does not contain any scientific errors, might be considered evidence for divine inspiration all on its own. Why? Without exception, every ancient religious writing has certain unscientific views of astronomy, medicine, hygiene, and so on.
For example, the Hindu Vedas teach that the Earth is flat and triangular. They also teach that earthquakes are the result of elephants shaking their bodies underneath the ground.
The Quran 18:86 says that the Sun sets in a muddy spring. The Quran says, “when he reached the setting-place of the Sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring.” You could get away with an unscientific statement like that in certain parts of the world in the seventh century.
The Bible steers free of these kinds of errors. But not only that, it makes known amazing facts about our world and the universe thousands of years before scientists discovered that they were actually true. Allow me to share with you a few examples:
A. The Sun
In contrast to the Quran, the Bible teaches that the Sun is actually on a circuit through space. Writing about the Sun in Psalm 19:6, David said, “Its rising is from one end of heaven, and its circuit to the other end.” Well, for years, modern critics of the Bible laughed at this verse thinking David had made an error (that he had espoused a geocentric view of the universe). They thought David was saying the Sun revolves around the Earth. So, the critics said, “The sun doesn’t go anywhere. It’s stationary. It’s the Earth that moves around the Sun!” But with the advent of powerful telescopes, we’ve discovered that the Sun actually does move. It’s traveling about 515,000 miles per hour on a circuit through the heavens as it makes its way around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy (SOURCE: Space.com/19915-milky-way-galaxy.html ). So, David was right after all!
B. The Shape of the Earth
Long before the Greeks figured out that the world was round, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and Chinese believed the world was flat. Amazingly, the Bible went against the grain and gave indications that the Earth was a sphere. In a book thought to be written about 2,000 BC, Job 26:10 tells us that God “has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness.” That’s interesting. Stay with me on this. Job says God has drawn “a circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness.” This boundary between light and darkness is where evening and morning occur. Notice that the boundary is not a square or a triangle. It’s a circle. Why? Because the Earth is round. Another verse that speaks of the circular shape of the Earth is found in Isaiah 40:22, written about 700 BC: “It is He [God] who sits above the circle of the Earth.”
C. The Suspension of the Earth
Before Isaac Newton discovered gravity, Hindus believed the Earth rested on the backs of elephants who stood on the back of a turtle that was swimming in a great endless sea. That’s some turtle! There were all kinds of theories in the ancient world. People thought something has to support the Earth. What did the Bible say? In one of the oldest books in the Bible, Job said: “He [God] hangs the Earth on nothing” (Job 26:7). Nothing! In other words, the Earth hangs completely unattached in space. This is astounding. Scientists were still trying to figure this out thousands of years later.
D. The Stars
Before the invention of the telescope, people believed the stars could all be numbered. People were so confident of this, they drew up star charts, with all the stars named and numbered. The Greek astronomer and mathematician Hipparchus (190-120 BC) claimed there were 1,026 stars. The astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy (AD c. 85-165) said there were 1,056 stars. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) counted 1,006.
When Galileo (a devout Christian) pointed his telescope to the heavens in 1608, he discovered these previous counts were way off and that the Bible was actually right. What had the Bible said?
God said in…
“The host of heaven [a reference to the stars] cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured.”
God says the stars cannot be numbered. In fact, trying to do so would be about as futile as trying to count the grains of sand floating around in the sea, obviously an impossible task. Jeremiah wrote that more than 2,000 years before Galileo made his discovery.
Today, with the help of powerful telescopes, astronomers tell us that the universe contains somewhere between 100 billion and a trillion galaxies containing anywhere between 100 billion and 10 trillion stars each. [Source: AP/Washington Times]
This all adds up to a lot of stars! Astronomers have to keep revising their estimates of how many stars have been discovered. A new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion stars. That is a 3 followed by 23 zeros, or take 3 trillion and multiply it by 100 billion. [Source: AP/Washington Times]
Surely the host of heaven cannot be numbered! (Jeremiah 33:22).
Now all of these statements in the Bible about the stars, the universe, and the Earth raise a question: How did the authors of the Bible know these kinds of things? Were they taking wild guesses? No. Their perfect accuracy rules that out, especially when you consider the fact that there are dozens of statements in the Bible concerning these matters.
The Bible tells us how they knew these things in verses like 2 Peter 1:21. It says there that “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The God who knows all there is to know about the universe He created, superintended the writing of the Bible to make sure that what the authors penned accurately reflected the way things really are (2 Tim. 3:16).
Now, we’ve considered five different reasons you can trust the Bible. We will consider five more momentarily. But I’d like to pause here for a second and point out to you that I’ve purposely arranged these first five evidences in the order I have so that if you can remember the simple acronym F.A.C.E.S., you’ll have a bit of a memory aid to work from the next time you’re looking into the FACES of people who are questioning your confidence in the Bible.
F. Fulfilled Prophecy
A. Archaeological Evidence
C. Consistency (Internal Harmony)
E. Extrabiblical Writings
S. Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
Some critics say, “The Bible has been translated and copied so many times down through the centuries, we can’t trust what it says.” As popular as this assertion has become, it is a mistaken one, and the ancient manuscript copies of the Bible prove this to be the case.
In 1947, Muhammad adh-Dhib, a twelve-year-old Arab boy, made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. While looking for a lost goat in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, he threw a stone into a cave and heard the sound of shattering pottery. Curious about the noise, he entered the cave and found a collection of large clay jars containing carefully wrapped leather manuscripts. What this boy stumbled upon was an ancient collection of handwritten copies of the Old Testament that dated as far back as far as the third century BC. Scholars determined the age of the scrolls by carefully examining:
• the type of pottery the manuscripts were housed in
• the weave and pattern of the manuscript cloths
• the form of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek characters
• the spelling of the words
• several hundred coins found with the scrolls—they were minted between 135 BC and AD 68
Archaeologists spent years searching the surrounding caves. By the time they were done, some 220 copies of Old Testament books had been found. These included nineteen copies of the Book of Isaiah, twenty-five copies of Deuteronomy, and thirty copies of the Psalms. When the search ended, the only Old Testament book that wasn’t found was a copy of the Book of Esther. But it is mentioned in some of the other Dead Sea Scrolls, so we know the Jews at Qumran were familiar with it and probably had it. Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed today in climate-controlled vaults in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the museum and seeing some of the scrolls. They are fascinating.
Why do I bring up these ancient scrolls? Because the Dead Sea Scrolls, and thousands of other manuscripts dating back to the time of the early church, have allowed textual experts to recover the text of the Bible that Christians used 2,000 years ago. For critics to prove that the text of the Bible is no longer faithful to the original text, they would have to be able to point to ancient copies of the Bible and show us what they used to say, and then show that our modern Bibles say something different. Well, that’s the very thing critics can’t do. Because when you look at the ancient manuscript copies of the Bible, you find that our modern copies of the Bible say what the ancient manuscripts say. And for good reason!
Our modern Bibles are translated directly from ancient manuscript copies of the Bible. Are there some tiny spelling variations, slips of the pen, and grammatical mistakes in the ancient copies of the Bible? Yes. Are there accidental omissions and additions in some of them? Yes. Are there different arrangements of the words in some? Yes. Christians believe that it was only the original documents (known as autographs) that were inspired and without error (2 Timothy 3:16). Some of the copies have mistakes in them. But none of the errors or variants have kept scholars from being able to reconstruct what the original documents said. And in the few places where there are legitimate reasons to question the wording of our modern translations, the publishers point that out in the footnotes (e.g., Mark 16:9–20; John 7:53–8:11).
Now, even if we did not have any surviving manuscript copies of the Bible, there is another way of verifying that the text has come down to us accurately, and that is by examining the writings of the church fathers (the early leaders of the Christian church). Men like Ignatius, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Polycarp, and others preserved the Bible for us in their writings, commentaries, and sermons. How? By including numerous quotations of the Bible in what they wrote. And many of their writings survive to this day. If you’d like, you can read through an encyclopedic size set of their writings and see their numerous quotations of both the Old and New Testaments. Daniel Wallace, Executive Director of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, says, “To date, more than 1 million quotations of the New Testament by the Fathers have been recorded.” There are enough quotations from the church fathers that even Bart Ehrman acknowledges that “practically the entire New Testament” can be reconstructed from their quotations! [Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (2005), 126]
When you read the Bible today, you can be confident that the text has been accurately preserved.
Have you ever gone to a website, maybe for a company or charity, and clicked the “ABOUT US” button? There’s nearly always a carefully-crafted, glowing overview of what that company, political organization, or religious group is about. If they have an “Our History” button or “Our Founder” button, again you nearly always get a favorable overview of the founder. You never read that the founder is a murderer or an adulterer or has a criminal record! For obvious reasons, right?
Knowing human tendency to leave out those kinds of details, I find the Bible’s forthrightness to be remarkable. Over and over, the Biblical writers tell us about the failures, weaknesses, and sins of…
• the fathers of the faith (e.g., Abraham and Moses)
• their own people (the Israelites)
• and even themselves (the writers)
Does this forthrightness prove the Bible is divinely inspired? No. But I think this kind of transparency helps strengthen my case that the Bible appears to be an honest work. Allow me to remind you of some transparent details we read about in the Bible
• Noah’s drunkenness and inappropriate nakedness shortly after the Flood (Genesis 9:21–22)
• Abraham’s lying (on more than one occasion) about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 12:13, 20:2)
• Moses’s murder of a man in Egypt (Exodus 2:11–12), his outburst of anger in the wilderness, how he misrepresented God and as a result wasn’t allowed to enter into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:10-12). Who wrote the books of Exodus and Numbers where these failures are explained? Moses. He tells us about his failures and sins in his own writings. These sound like the words of someone who was committed to communicating the truth.
• The nation of Israel rejecting God on numerous occasions to worship other false gods (e.g., the Book of Judges). What nation did God use to write down the Scriptures? Israel (the Jews). Is this the kind of thing they would make up about themselves? How unfaithful they were to the very God who saved them from their slavery in Egypt? I don’t think so.
• David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). The coming Messiah was going to be a descendant of David. If you were inventing Judaism or Christianity, would you invent these kinds of things?
• Jesus called Peter “Satan” (Mark 8:33)
• Peter denying he knew Jesus, after promising he would never do such a thing (Matthew 26:33ff)
• The time Paul had to rebuke Peter for his fear of being seen eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-12)
• The disciples’ prideful argument over which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24)
• The disciples falling asleep when Jesus asked them to pray (Mark 14:32-41)
• The disciples running away to save their own necks when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:50)…not to mention Peter cutting off the ear of the priest’s servant a short time earlier, swiftly drawing a rebuke from Jesus (John 18:10)
• Paul’s confession that he was “a wretched man” (Romans 7:24) and the “chief” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)
• Paul and Barnabas’s argument over Mark being allowed to travel with them (Acts 15:37-39)
This is just a small sampling. Do these sound like the words of men who were lying? I have a hard time believing that. It seems to me that these men were more interested in telling the truth than making themselves look good.
Now earlier, the skeptic raised a legitimate concern when it came to the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. He said, “Maybe the disciples just made up all of these things that Jesus supposedly did. Perhaps they read all of those prophecies in the Old Testament and decided to make up an elaborate story about Jesus fulfilling them!”
Well, in addition to their forthrightness about their sins and failures, there’s another reason why I don’t think the disciples were lying. Flavius Josephus, Eusebius, Tertullian, and other independent extrabiblical sources* record for us that many of Jesus’ earliest followers, including the apostles, suffered intense persecution and even death for their on-going belief and preaching that Jesus was Lord and was risen from the dead.
[*Hegesippus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Cornelius Tacitus, Dionysius, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Origen. For a good overview of these sources and what they said regarding this matter, see Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 56–62.]
We are told in these extrabiblical sources that:
• Matthew was slain with an axe in a city of Ethiopia
• Mark died in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of that city.
• Luke was hung to death in Greece
• John was tortured and then banished to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9)
• James, the brother of John, was beheaded in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:2)
• James the Less (as he’s called in Mark 15:40) was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and then stoned
• Philip was hung up against a pillar in Heiropolis and then stoned
• Bartholomew was flayed alive
• Andrew was bound to a cross and left to die
• Jude was shot to death with arrows
• Matthias (the apostle chosen to replace Judas) was first stoned, and then beheaded
• Barnabas was stoned to death
• Paul, after a variety of tortures and imprisonments, was beheaded in Rome
• Thomas was run through the body with a spear in southeast India
• Peter was crucified upside down in Rome
Is it reasonable to think these men invented a story about Jesus?
I find that difficult to believe.
SKEPTIC: “Charlie, people invent stories about things that aren’t true all the time!”
Yes, they do, for some sort of financial gain or to get out trouble.
But what the early Christians said about Jesus, didn’t get them out of trouble or result in any kind of benefit. What these men said and wrote about Jesus got them in trouble. What they received was rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom—certainly not a list of benefits.
Biblical writers state that Scripture is able to powerfully transform lives for good (Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 19:7–10). And that has proven to be the case. –Something supernatural and beautiful seems to take place in the hearts and lives of people who prayerfully meditate on the Bible.
Wherever the Bible has gone and been received—from prisons to remote villages deep inside third world countries—it has transformed people’s lives for good.
Millions of people who would tell you that they were immoral, godless sinners have been transformed into men and women who reflect Jesus as they have prayerfully read the Bible. In addition to changing hearts, the Bible has inspired people to:
• build countless hospitals and orphanages
• start many of the world’s greatest universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, were started by Christians for Christian purposes)
• launch innumerable humanitarian efforts to the poor
• work for the equality of men and women and those of different skin colors
• investigate the world and universe scientifically
• further the development of great art and music
• abolish slavery (William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian and member of the British Parliament in the early 19th century, was the one largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade)
Now, obviously a lot more could be said about all this. If you’d like to read about how the Bible has changed the world for good, I highly recommend the book What if the Bible Had Never Been Written? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe.
Another reason that you can be sure that the Bible is trustworthy is because Jesus said it was! If there’s anyone we can trust regarding the Word of God, it’s the One who proved Himself to be the Son of God by fulfilling hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, living a sinless life, performing numerous miracles, and His resurrection from the dead. And Jesus assured us that the Jewish Scriptures could be trusted.
SKEPTIC: “You’re referring to the words of Jesus in the Bible to prove the Bible. That’s circular reasoning!”
It isn’t. As I pointed out earlier, the Bible is not a single book. It is a collection of 66 books written by numerous authors. So, to quote Jesus’ words recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to help shed light on the reliability of something Moses or another author wrote in a different book is not circular reasoning at all. I’m quoting independent sources. So the charge of circular reasoning doesn’t apply here.
Let’s briefly consider what Jesus had to say about Scripture (as it stood in His day). Jesus taught that the Scriptures were:
A. Without Error
In John 17:17, Jesus said in His prayer to His Father, “Thy word is [Full of contradictions? Errors? No.] truth.”
B. Historically Reliable
Jesus affirmed as historically true some of the most disputed passages of the Old Testament, including the story of Jonah in the great fish (Matt. 12:40), the destruction of the world by a flood in the days of Noah (Matt.24:37-39), and others (for more, see Dan Story, Defending Your Faith, p. 55-60 and Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 559).
C. Divinely Authoritative
When Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1–11), He resisted this ungodly foe by quoting Scripture. Over and over, Jesus responded to Satan and His other critics (the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes) by pointing to Scripture, saying: “It is written…it is written…it is written” (Matt. 4:4-10). He did the same with His disciples (Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:21; Luke 24:46). Why? Because He believed Scripture is authoritative on all matters related to faith and practice.
D. Accurate Regarding Human Origins
For example, when it comes to the whole debate today over evolution versus creation, Jesus affirmed that the early chapters of Genesis were accurate when He said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt. 19:4). Adam and Eve didn’t come on the scene after billions of years of mutations and evolution. No. God created them all the way back in the beginning—just like Moses reported in the Book of Genesis.
E. Infallible (Dependable, or Unbreakable)
In John 10:35 Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”
You can build your life on the Word of God. You can stand upon God’s promises. The Word of God is not going to collapse underneath you.
In Matthew 5:18 Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and Earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”
If Jesus was a prophet of God, as even the Quran teaches (Surah 4:171), or even if He was a good teacher (as so many are willing to believe today), it would be wise for us to take His Word on the matter: the Bible is a historically reliable, divinely authoritative, dependable, error free, indestructible book!
SKEPTIC: “Okay, but, Jesus was only talking about the Old Testament when He said those things. The New Testament had not been written.”
That’s right! Jesus did say those things about the Old Testament. But He also promised His disciples God’s aid (the Holy Spirit) to write the New Testament. On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus told them, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). A short time later that same evening, Jesus told His disciples in John 16:13, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
As these men went out into the world to tell people about Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20), whether by preaching and teaching, or penning the Gospels and epistles, they were going to have the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit to guide them. Jesus assured them of that.So, Jesus validated the trustworthiness of the Old Testament and He promised the trustworthiness of the New. Based on Jesus’ testimony, you can trust both.
Friend, you can trust the Bible! You can read it with confidence! You can stand upon its promises! You can draw comfort from its passages. You can gain wisdom from its pages and best of all, you can know your creator by reading it. What a joy it is to know God and to live for Him!
Do you know the God of the Bible? Do you know your creator? Are you experiencing the joy of walking with God? Are you experiencing the peace that comes with knowing your sins have been forgiven and that all is right between you and God? You can.
That is why Jesus, God in the flesh, suffered on that cruel wooden cross two thousand years ago. He was paying the penalty for your sins so that you could be forgiven, so that you could escape eternity in Hell and be brought back into a right relationship with your creator. He rose from the grave three days later, ascended into Heaven and today He is offering all of mankind—you!—the complete forgiveness of sins and everlasting life to all who will place their faith in Him. Have you done that? Is Jesus Christ your Lord?
The Bible says that one day you will stand before God to give an account for your life. If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible says that books will be opened that contain a thorough record of all the sinful things you have ever done, the lies you told, the things you stole, the immoral behavior, even those things you thought you got away with in secret, the things you thought no one else found out about (Matthew 12:36, Revelation 20:12).
Your guilty standing before God will result in your judgment, condemnation, and separation from God for all eternity (Romans 2:5; Revelation 20:11–15).
Is that what you want—an eternity of misery apart from God—the very source of love, hope, peace, joy and all that is good? If you are like most people I have met, the answer is No. You want to go to Heaven. And there is a good chance you think you are going to Heaven. Most people believe they are. They think they are going to Heaven because they are basically good people. Maybe you think that. And you may be a good person if you compare yourself to a murderer or the drug lord locked up in the state penitentiary. But how you measure up against other people does nothing to affect your standing before a holy, sinless, just God. How you compare to others does nothing to undo the thousands of sins you have committed over the course of your lifetime.
So, let’s make sure you are going to Heaven, not on your terms, but on God’s terms. Click here and I will share with you steps to peace with God.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
is an itinerant Christian apologist, the founder of ABR, and the author of several books and videos, some of which include:
• Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
• One Minute Answers to Skeptics
• Dakota Knox & the Archaeology Thief
• The Bible’s Scientific Accuracy and Foresight
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
• Evidence for God
• The Case for Christianity
• Answering Atheists
• The Case for the Resurrection
• If God is Loving, Why is there Evil and Suffering?
• Homosexuality and the Bible: Answering Objections to the Biblical View
• Teaching and Preaching God’s Word
• Apologetics Quotes
WOULD YOU LIKE CHARLIE CAMPBELL TO SPEAK AT YOUR CHURCH?
Charlie Campbell speaks at churches and conferences throughout the year. If you are a pastor and would like to have him speak at your church or event, please contact ABR here and let us know.