Why Trust the Bible?
A skeptic might point out that the proof regarding the authority of the Bible that we discussed in the previous post depends upon the Bible to prove its own inspiration. This might work for people who already believe the Bible is true, but what about people who don’t? Are there any arguments outside the Bible itself that shows that the Bible is divinely inspired?
Here’s a brief overview of the five most common arguments supporting biblical inspiration to help us wrestle with this question.
The Transforming Power of Scripture. Some support the inspiration of the Bible by pointing out that this book has transformed millions and brought about remarkable improvements in society throughout history. This argument works for people who have personally experienced transformation by reading or hearing the Bible, but it’s not often persuasive for those who have not. After all, millions claim to be transformed by the Koran or other holy books. And while the Bible has often helped improve societies, it can’t be denied that Christians have often used the Bible to oppress and even kill people.
The Unity of the Bible’s Message. Some support the inspiration of the Bible by emphasizing the unity of the message that runs throughout this collection of writings, despite the fact that the books of the Bible were written by different people at different times and in different cultural contexts. If a person takes the time to study it deeply, it’s hard to deny that an impressive unity of message runs from Genesis to Revelation. At the same time, skeptics can respond that the unity doesn’t prove the Bible’s inspiration since later authors knew about, and could thus build on, the message of earlier authors.
Archeological Confirmation of Scripture. Many support the inspiration of the Bible by pointing out that time and again archeology has ended up confirming aspects of the biblical record that were once disputed. For example, critics once rejected the Bible’s account of the Hittites, but archeological discoveries in the 20th century have proven the Bible correct. Hundreds of similar examples could be given. Even some of the staunchest critics of the Bible have acknowledged that the Bible has proven far more accurate than they had expected.
At the same time, archeology only demonstrates that aspects of the biblical narrative are accurate, not that they’re divinely inspired. And, in the interest of fairness, we must openly acknowledge that there remain aspects of the biblical record that seem to conflict with archeological evidence.
The Argument From Prophecy. One of the most frequent arguments throughout history used to support biblical inspiration centers on the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies we find in the Bible. The most impressive of these are the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, for example, it was prophesied that he would be born in Bethlehem, that he would suffer a shameful, agonizing death, and that he would be buried among the wealthy, despite having been executed as a criminal. It’s hard to explain these fulfilled prophecies without accepting divine inspiration.
On the other hand, we need to point out that this argument is sometimes overblown by over-enthusiastic Christians. Some have claimed that every prophecy in the Bible came to pass exactly as predicted, for example. The truth is that the Bible reports a number of prophecies that didn’t come to pass exactly as predicted. This shouldn’t disturb us since most prophecies in the Bible are given as warnings about what will come to pass if people don’t change. The Lord emphasizes that he’s always open to altering or canceling prophesied plans if people alter their sinful ways (e.g. Jere. 18:1-10).
Along similar lines, some over-enthusiastic Christians have claimed there are more than 300 specific Old Testament predictions that Christ fulfilled, including, for example, that he’d be given vinegar for wine and would be betrayed by a friend. It’s true that Gospel authors report that Jesus “fulfilled” Old Testament passages when these things and many other things happened to him, but if you check out the Old Testament verses in question you’ll find there’s nothing predictive about them. When Gospel authors say Jesus “fulfilled” a verse, they aren’t necessarily claiming these things had to happen to Jesus. They’re rather simply pointing out that Jesus’ life parallels and illustrates the point of the verse.
The argument from prophecy gives strong support for the inspiration of the Bible. But when Christians make claims that go beyond the evidence, they make it easy for skeptics to dismiss the argument altogether.
The Testimony of Jesus. In my estimation, the strongest argument supporting biblical inspiration is the testimony of Jesus. To state the argument briefly, I find there are a number of compelling historical reasons for accepting that Jesus is the Son of God. For example, if we subject the Gospels to the same sort of rigorous testing historians typically subject ancient documents to as a means of determining their historical veracity, they pass with flying colors. I thus feel compelled to accept the Gospels as trustworthy, historical records.
I also find it impossible to dismiss as historically unreliable the claims the earliest disciples make about Jesus. These first century Jews claim Jesus lived an extraordinary life, performed numerous supernatural feats, made astounding divine claims for himself, died on a cross and then rose from the dead. Not only this, but they were willing to lay down their lives on the basis of these claims. The only way these reports could be false is if the disciples were either intentionally lying or were deceived. Neither of these alternatives is remotely plausible, however, which means we should accept their testimony as true.
These same arguments support the inspiration of the Bible, for as we saw in the previous post, Jesus vouched for the inspiration of the Bible, and if Jesus was the Son of God, it is unlikely he was mistaken about this.
One might object that Jesus was referring only to the Old Testament. This is true, but there is evidence in the Gospels that Jesus anticipated, and pre-authenticated, the writing of the New Testament as well. For example, he claimed that the Holy Spirit would lead his disciples into all truth, and that the world would believe on him through their word (John 16:13).
Not only this, but God always preserved in writing the story of his involvement in the world for the purpose of preserving and shaping his community. How strange it would be if God were to abruptly discontinue this pattern just as he’s reaching the goal of his involvement in Christ. If his people needed such a written document under the old covenant, they most certainly would need one under the new.