Why can I trust my Bible?
In 2013, Macklemore released Same Love, a song with a political plea for the neutrality of gender and the propagation of “love.” In the song, Macklemore does two things. First, he attacks the authority of Scripture,
“America the brave
Still fears what we don’t know And God loves all his children it’s somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written 3, 500 hundred years ago.”
Then, he appeals to the same authority that he said is irrelevant,
“Love is patient
Love is kind…”
Macklemore appeals to define love from the same source (1 Corinthians 13) that he says we can’t trust: the Bible. This questioning of the Bible is not only done by Macklemore, but by college professors, high school and junior high teachers, parents, and millions of others throughout the world.
Even skeptic philosophers and scholars admit that Christianity has always been a “religion of the book.”
A better question than, “Can I trust my Bible?” would be “Why can I trust my Bible?” If we start out with the attitude of open-minded rather than close-minded, we are much more apt to see these arguments for what they are. We should be open-minded in all things. If we can trust our Bible, then we can trust and obey God. If we cannot trust it, then how can we trust and obey God? The answer to this question is absolutely crucial!
The Bible’s Claims for Itself
- “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, ESV).
- “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8, ESV).
- “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35, ESV).
These are the Bible’s claims for itself! These are only a few of many. The Bible claims inerrancy.
Inerrancy: perfect in the original writings (autographs)
The idea of inerrancy is simply the fact that the Scriptures, in their original writings, were free from any error. Scripture is inerrant because of the author. God has inspired the Scriptures through men, who are moved by the Holy Spirit.
Inspiration: God spoke through the human authors to communicate a special message
A few texts that enlighten us to the doctrine of inspiration are:
- “For I would have you know brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:11–12, ESV).
- “knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:20–21, ESV).
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17, ESV).
Inspiration means that we have the very words of God in our current Bible. The pages are not inspired. The ink is not inspired. The chapter and verse numbers are not inspired. The words are inspired!
The New Testament constantly refers to the Old Testament as Scripture in the common phrase, “It is written…” Yet, another question is, how do we know that the New Testament documents are Scripture? A simple answer is that the New Testament texts even refer to other New Testament texts as Scripture. Below are two examples:
- “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ (Deut 25:4) and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages (Luke 10:7).’” (1 Tim 5:17–18, ESV)
- “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet 3:16, ESV)
History’s Claims for the Bible
If the Bible’s claim for itself is inerrancy, then history’s claim for the Bible is infallibility.
Infallibility: no doctrinal error in the current copies
If inerrancy meant free from any error at all in the original writings (autographs), then infallibility means our current copies are free from any doctrinal error. There may be minimal textual errors—a comma in a wrong place or a punctuation mark missing—everything we believe from Scripture is still intact and uncorrupted.
Our Bible today is very different from the Bible in Jesus’s and the apostle’s day. The original Greek Scripture:
- All capitals (uncials)
- No spaces
- No punctuation
- No chapters
- No verses
- No footnotes
- No index
- No cross-references
- No maps
- No table of contents
- The list goes on…
Age of the Bible
The Bible is an old book. It is a living book (Hebrews 4:12). It was written over a period of 1500 years (c. 1400 BC – AD 90). The oldest book is Genesis, written around 1443 BC. The youngest book is revelation, written around AD 95-96. How is something so old so reliable? I will suggest to you five reasons.
1) Numerous Manuscripts
We have over 5,800 New Testament manuscripts at our disposal that have been discovered over the centuries. We have even more when taking into account the quotations and citations from the early church. Even Ehrman, the leading skeptic on the Bible, admits that we have sufficient quotation “for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.”
The earliest manuscript (AD 125) is within thirty years of the final book of the Bible (AD 95). This manuscript contains John 18:31–33, 37.
The earliest complete New Testament manuscript – Codex Sanaiticus – dates back to the 4th century. Most of our manuscripts are from the 3rd and 4th centuries. This is due to an imperial edict issued on February 23, 303 to surrender all copies of Christian Scripture for destruction. Since this edict was issued and carried out, there is a scarcity of Scriptures from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
If we compare these 5,800 manuscripts of the New Testament to other ancient works, our evidence is insurmountably beyond any other. Consider the following examples as compared to our manuscripts within just a century.
2) Corrupt Copies?
Before the printing press, all copies of Scripture were handwritten. In the process of hand-copying Scriptures, natural mistakes would occur as opposed to a copy machine spitting out a pristine, uncorrupted copy. Is it possible that we have anything close to the Scriptures as they were originally written?
Thankfully, because of textual criticism, our current Bibles are incredibly reliable and incredibly close to the original Scriptures.
Textual Criticism: a method used to determine what the original manuscripts of the Bible said
A longer and more technical definition may be “the field of research that studies the various ancient manuscripts to evaluate the different manuscripts and their variant readings to determine which reading is closest to the original.”
Imagine I was in a room with 100 people and said the phrase, “The duck walked across the street last night at 3:00 am.” and asked everyone in the room to write it down. Then I gather all the papers that they wrote the phrase on and gave them to someone who was not in the room and asked them what the phrase said. Undoubtedly, someone would misspell “duck” or “across” or any other word. Some may write out “three o’clock A.M.” instead of “3:00 am.” Some may place a period at the end of the sentence while others do not. Though there would be minor differences in the various writings, the reader, looking among all the copies, would easily be able to discern the original sentence. This is the work of textual criticism.
Both those who advocate for and against the authority of the Bible admit the value of textual criticism. Most admit that this field of research brings us within 1-3% of the original writings. As Bart Ehrman even admits, ““The more manuscripts one discovers, the more variant readings; but also the more the likelihood that somewhere among those variant readings one will be able to uncover the original text.”
3) Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran Texts)
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by an Arab boy named “the wolf.” While tending sheep with his cousin, he threw a rock into a cave and heard a jar break. The rest in history!
Since the initial discovery, some 100,000 fragments and intact scrolls comprising over 800 volumes have been found in 11 caves near the Dead Sea. They were written between 200 BC and AD 70. The great implication of these scrolls is that they validated the reliability of our current copies.
As 1900 years had passed since the writing of the New Testament and even more of the Old Testament, we had no answer – other than faith and reason – as to why our Scriptures were reliable. As these texts were examined, they were found to be nearly identical to the texts we had at the time! This shows that our current copies have by no means been corrupted.
There is too much too archaeology to delve into in this short article. It will simply be said that time and time again, archaeology has proven the Bible to be true.
5) Death of the Apostles
All of the apostles died under persecution. All of them except for John were martyred for their faith. Even John was dipped in a cauldron of boiling oil, and it didn’t seem to harm him one bit. As these apostles went through tortures and gruesome, painful death, we know that they died for what they believed in. People don’t die for something they made up. If J.K. Rowling began to claim that Harry Potter was a true story and was about to go to jail for it, she would probably recant!
The death of the apostles are recorded outside of Scripture. Their deaths attest to the truth and reliability of Scripture, and thus can be used as an argument to the authority of Scripture in our lives.
Why Can I Trust My Bible?
As we have covered much in a short amount of space, we can trust our Bible not only on the internal claims it makes of itself, but also on the external claims that history makes for the Bible. The external claims are summarized as fivefold:
- Numerous copies (over 5,800)
- Textual criticism
- Dead Sea Scrolls (Qumran Texts)
- Apostles willing to die for what is written in it