Does anyone question The Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar? Livy’s History of Rome? Homer’s Illiad?
It is generally accepted that such works give us an accurate picture of history, and we rarely question their authorship. We trust that enough historians and archeologists have combed through enough piles of ancient texts and dug their way through enough dirt to have a complete picture of events that transpired thousands of years ago. Oddly enough, we are still making discoveries that often unravel pictures we’ve had planted in our mind of ancient history.
The Bible, on the other hand, is one of the most criticized books in the world. While many of us as Christians accept the Bible as God’s preserved word for us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we cannot expect non-believers to regard it with the same reverence. Most have not devoted extensive time or research to its validity and so they parrot the old argument, “It was written over 2000 years ago. It’s a biased, outdated, work of fiction by some crazy men.”
This post will not be a fully extensive argument regarding the accuracy of the scriptures. There are books aplenty which can go into greater detail, and I will give you a few links within this article. This article is simply intended some facts, quotes, and sources to light that may be unknown to many people. It is my hope to enrich the faith and conviction of believers and provide some thoughts to ponder to the skeptical. I quote heavily from The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell because McDowell (the author) has such a vast collection of sources that I simply do not possess (nor have room to possess) in my personal library.
One of the greatest failings I see in discussions between Christians and non-Christians is the impulse of the Christian to lob Bible verses at people who have no reverence for the Bible. As my long-time readers know, I am a huge advocate of reading, memorizing, writing, and applying Bible verses in our walk with Christ. However, when discussing issues with those outside Christ, there is a time and place for quoting scripture.
In discussions on homosexuality, sex outside marriage, etc., people often quote 1 Corinthians 6.9-10: “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” I agree with this passage (particularly the following self-convicting verse which reads, “and such were some of you...”) However, using these passages in a discussion with a non-believer only deepens their predisposition against the gospel, faith, and—yes—the Bible.
There is a time and a place to quote scripture, but it isn’t always the best place to begin.
When this particular verse is used in such discussions they will proceed to do one of the following:
- Argue against Paul’s apostleship
- Propose that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality
- Point to the age (and therefore, irrelevance) of the Bible
- Tell you that old crutch (the Bible) may be your truth but it isn’t theirs.
- Pronounce the Bible as an inaccurate book.
In such situations, it is important to address the crux of our disagreement:
Why do we accept the Bible?
How can we trust it’s accuracy?
A Collection of Books Unlike Any Other.
I have found in the Bible words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterance for my hidden griefs and pleadings for my shame and feebleness.Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English Poet
Write the following fact on the inside cover of your Bible and commit it to memory:
The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written over 1600 years by over 40 people.
We often refer to the Bible as a book, but it is really a set of books condensed into one volume. I have the collected works of Shakespeare, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, a book of English Poetry (with poetry spanning a few hundred years), as well as a book containing a collection of adventure novels. Often such collections are marked by difference in style, language usage, underlying belief systems, and even different time periods. In spite of the vast swath of authors, backgrounds, time periods, and even particular themes, the Bible has a continuity of purpose found in no other anthology.
As McDowell points out in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Bible is unique in the following ways:
- Unique in its Continuity
- Unique in its Circulation
- Unique in its Translation
- Unique in its Survival
- Unique in its Teachings
- Unique in its Influence on Literature
- Unique in its Influence on Civilization
No other book—or rather, collection of books—has influenced world events, survived multiple attempts to destroy it, or transformed so many lives as the Bible. Even if one chose not to believe in its divine inspiration or obey its teachings, its powerful influence and historical significance cannot be overstated.
Unparalled in Preservation
We have an overwhelming number of manuscript copies of the New Testament. As noted in the above chart, we possess over 5,000! Furthermore, the gap between the composition of the original and the copy ranges from 50-225 years. While that may seem rather large, compare it to Homer’s Illiad. Not only is there a fraction of the copies compared to the New Testament writings, there is a gap of 400 years!!
Part of the reason many of these works of antiquity (including the New Testament) do not have originals is due to the destructible nature of their writing surfaces.
When someone attempts to diminish the Bible’s accuracy, have a copy of this chart handy. Point out that no document in antiquity can compare to the New Testament’s massive collection of manuscripts nor do they come close to bridging the time gap between original and copy.
Historically Verifiable Events Recorded in the Text
When people throw doubt on the historicity of the scriptures, it is a good practice to know some of the non-Christian references to these events. Here is a short list:
- Luke 2.1-3 mentions the census demanded by Caesar Augustus
- Pliny the Younger, Roman administrator, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan regarding the conduct of early Christians, specifically their worship service and teaching.
- Josephus (a Pharisee) gives several references including the execution of John the Baptist by Herod, the existence of Jesus, and the already accepted 39 books of the Old Testament.
- Existence of Christ, His Crucifixion, and the connection to Pontius Pilate. Tacitus’—a first century Roman—made a brief reference to theorigin of Christians: “Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out, not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…”
- Tablets found in the palace of Ashurbanipal (an Assyrian king) make several references to their forays with the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. This includes a record of Sennacherib who attempted to destroy Hezekiah (c.f. 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 31-32, Isaiah 36-37)
This short list barely scratches the surface of the historical references to Biblical events.
Translated, Yet Unchanging
The original text of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic. The Septuagint (often referred to as LXX)—translated from 250-100 B.C. in Alexandria—is the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Copies of the Old Testament were painstakingly copied by Jewish Scribes who considered it their duty to get every bit of it correct. Jesus quoted often from the septuagint as well, lending credibility to its use as a source for the Old Testament text we currently use today.
The New Testament was composed in Koine Greek—a common language used from the Hellenistic period and into the period of the Byzantine Empire. With the New Testament gospels and letters written in this common language, to gospels and apostolic letters could be understood by people throughout the Roman Empire. This allowed the gospel to be spread rapidly during the first and second centuries.
Koine Greek—like latin—is considered a “dead language” since it is not used as a form of communication in our present day. Because the Bible was written in these “dead languages” the words retain their original meanings without being altered. This allows the Bible to be translated from the original language into other languages without losing the original intent of the passage. Bible skeptics are quick to make claims to “errors in translation” yet in spite of any minor errors, the essential doctrines laid out in scripture are unaffected by such errors.
Preserved in spite of heresies, persecutions, and power-plays
I truly appreciate the Rose Book of Bible Charts Maps & Timelines’ layout of “How We Got the Bible.” They have a beautiful timeline, chronicling many of the people involved in the translation and collection of the scriptures.
During my reading in preparation for this post, I found it interesting that many leaders within worldly prominent churches attempted to prevent the Bible from being translated into common languages. I suspect that their primary motivation was control over the masses. In spite of their efforts, people like Tyndale persisted in making God’s word available to everyone.
In spite of persecutions, wars, power plays, and corrupt church leaders, the pure text of the Bible managed to survive. Even more profound is the fact that discoveries in the 1900s (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) verified the text we currently use today.
God has preserved his Word for our benefit and the benefit of generations to come.
Do not be afraid to dig more deeply or ask questions. I have been a follower of Christ for over 25 years, and I have discovered that God’s word can stand up to the strongest scrutiny. If you are discussing issues with someone and they begin criticizing the Bible, take a side trip to defend the Bible. Bring up the wealth of manuscripts, the historical verifiability, or its preservation throughout the ages.
Unless we can come to an agreement that the Bible is reliable, or arguments will simply be “our truth” versus “their truth.” We’ll boiling lots of hot water without cooking anything—all steam (anger), no substance (persuasion)! All the hot topics of our day—abortion, homosexuality, fornication, etcetera—really boil down to an issue of authority. We do not oppose such things because we are self-righteous, but because we believe an authority higher than ourselves (God) has condemned such practices.
Additional Reading & Resources:
“The Case for the Bible” from The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.
The Rose Book of Charts, Maps, and Timelines has an excellent section with visuals entitled, “How We Got the Bible.”
A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William Nix
What are some questions you have had in your discussions on the Bible? What resources have you found helpful? Please share in the comments section!
This is part 4 of the Series Teaching The Truth in Love. To read the previous posts, please click the links below:
What is the Greatest Challenge Facing Christians Today?
11 thoughts on “How Can We Trust the Bible?”
Here’s yet another reason we must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. When we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in ministry unto others no matter where they are or what they’re dealing with, He tears down those barriers and silences those otherwise arguments. For the last nine months I’ve been engaging in a rather intense one on one ministry, “over the phone with someone 800 miles away, and I’ve seen God move mountains. He’s taught me the importance of understanding that ministry isn’t a sprint but a marathon, and when we meet a person through love and patience, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit’s words, often times He quenches any doubts and confusion as to the absolute realness of His word. As we walk following the Lord in ministry, He gives them certain experiences and revelations that solidify the realness and accuracy of scripture….
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I love your description—“ministry isn’t a sprint but a marathon…” Yes!
Thank you for sharing this experience. God can definitely do some amazing things in and through the lives of people!
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Indeed indeed! God is amazing!!
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This is a great list of resources. Thanks for putting this post together, Elihu!
“What are some questions you have had in your discussions on the Bible?” Have you heard arguments about the word homosexuality being questionable in its translation or any arguments like that? I want to research more about it.
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That’s an excellent question, Lily. I’d have to look into it more to give a complete answer. Just based on what I currently know, when it comes to homosexuality in the Bible, there are more than a few references, so it’d be hard for someone to dismiss it outright. There is the reference in Corinthians I mentioned above (I’d need to check the original Greek for exact wording) and in Romans 1 it reads: ““For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” The OT refers to homosexuality in the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah and Judges, and it is never portrayed favorably. One might be able to dismiss a word, but the contexts and implications are unmistakable. I will give your question more thought and study and try to address it when I get to the post on homosexuality. Thank you for bringing up such an excellent question!
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The main reason I ask is because I attend a United Methodist Church. Over the last few years, there has been a major debate about whether homosexuals (who are either abstinent or married) should be allowed to be clergy. On the one hand, the church has historically opposed the homosexual life as sinful, but on the other hand, I am at least open to considering the idea that we have misinterpreted certain things. I’m not saying that we necessarily have been wrong–just that I am open to the possibility that humans, imperfect creatures that we are, could have been wrong on certain things. Here is a thought-provoking link I found– https://www.gaychurch.org/homosexuality-and-the-bible/the-bible-christianity-and-homosexuality/
No pressure, but I would be interested if you had more to say on this subject. 🙂
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Hi Lily! First, let me apologize for taking so long to respond. I chewed on the article for a couple days and then got busy with life.
I read through the article you posted, and while I understand some of the author’s objections, I think that his accusations of bias are sort of like the phrase “every time you point your finger, three more point back at you.” The author is very pro-homosexual, and as such seems determined to twist the context to fit his own bias. Anytime someone has to over-explain parts of a passage to reach a particular conclusion, that is usually a red flag for me. I’ve heard preachers from my own faith tradition do that, and I usually reject such arguments even if I agree with their conclusion.
For example, in the article he mentions “natural relations” and says “natural” just means going against a homosexual’s own natural inclination to prefer men. I read that three part three times, considered, and still disagree. An alcoholic has a natural inclination to drink alcohol; a gambler, to gamble; a porn addict, to watch porn; a prideful person, to be self-centered. Just because we have an inclination toward a certain thing does not mean its a good inclination.
We are created to be male and female. Men are physically created to pair with women, just as women are physically created to pair with men (Please forgive me if that sounds a bit crude, but I have no nicer way to put it). It is a “natural,”—as in “according to nature”—coupling. The greek word is phusikos meaning: natural, according to nature. In some usages of the word it means “merely animal.” He refers to nature as an inclination, but the way the greek term fits in this passage is more in line with “the way we are created.”
He seems to determined to justify homosexuality further by asserting that the sin at Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing to do with homosexuality, but rather the issue of “rape.” Rape was a common in enough practice in other places, so why would he rain fire and brimstone on those two cities and not others? Is it just the issue of rape? Or is it more? In the Genesis account, the men don’t really seem interested in heterosexual rape, only homosexual. Even in Judges when they violently rape a woman when they cannot get to the man they want, it begins with the homosexual lust first then leads to murder. Both are equally wrong, but to say homosexual relationships are ok as long as they don’t rape is like saying males and females can have sex as long as its consensual. It disregards God’s commandment that the marriage bed (which, by the way, marriage is only ever mentioned in the scriptures as being between a man and a woman) remain undefiled by fornication, adultery, lust, etc.
We (and I include myself in this) need to take great care before injecting our bias onto the scriptures. If we have to perform a ton of mental gymnastics to make a passage say what we want it to say, then it is time to honestly examine our bias and honestly decide whether or not we are correct in our conclusion.
I am a firm believer in context. In the Romans passage, the context seems unmistakably clear. Context too can be subject to bias, but it is one of the best starting points in bible study. Lily, I’m very grateful that you brought this article to my attention because it gave me some points to consider as I prepare to write my upcoming post on homosexuality. I do not claim to be a bible expert—I never attended seminary and my knowledge of latin and greek is limited—but I believe that God preserved the Bible in such a way so that it can be understood on the simplest and most basic levels.
I appreciate and admire your openness to assessing the merits and demerits of the arguments in favor of homosexuality. It’s important to ask the hard questions and challenge our fixed beliefs so that we do not hamper the word of the Lord. God will guide honest hearts to the truth, and I believe He can do that for you and me.
May the Lord bless you abundantly as you pursue Him with your whole heart and may He guide you as you seek the truth from His Word. 🙂
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I wanted to share a post I saw years ago, that proves (at least in my mind) that mathematically it would be 1 to the 39th power that 668 of 668 prophecies (out of over 1000 – the rest are for the end times) in the Bible would all be true (2 not proven false), without the Holy Spirit helping the writers of the Bible with their predictions…
Blessings in Christ, bruce