Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Can I trust the Bible?

Here is an article I was asked to write on this subject. Hope you find it helpful, whatever your answer was to the question.

As I stood in the queue in a shop waiting to be served one evening, I got talking to the woman behind me. She asked me what my job was, and I told her I taught people about the Bible. At this point she looked at me like I had just sprouted another head.
“Why would you ever do something like that?” she asked with genuine bewilderment. She honestly thought the Bible was completely unreliable and utterly irrelevant. Her view is not rare, but is it right? Is there any good reason to think the Bible is God’s word, and does it make any difference to us anyway? The answer to both those questions is yes. There is lots of evidence and massive relevance.
When it comes to the reliability of the Bible there are two questions that need to be addressed. The first is, Do we have what was originally written? The second is, Is what was written true?
As far as the first question is concerned, we can confidently answer yes. The manuscript evidence for the Bible is unrivalled by any other ancient text. It has been said that the integrity of the Old Testament text is guaranteed by the quality of the copies, while the integrity of the New Testament text is guaranteed by the quantity of the copies. The Old Testament was copied by professional scribes and meticulous care was taken to ensure the accuracy of their work, and their accuracy has been confirmed for example by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. When it comes to the New Testament manuscripts, they were rapidly copied and widely spread, meaning there was no person or group who had custody over all the texts. These “multiple streams of transmission” ensure that any mistakes or tampering can be easily identified because there was no one with the ability or authority to make changes to all the thousands of texts that were going out to all different parts of the world.
The first question is settled – we have what was originally written.[1] But what about the second question – is what was written true? The claim of the Bible is that, although it came through human writers, it came from God. That is quite a claim, but is there any good reason to believe it? Absolutely! There are many good reasons, but in this article we will confine ourselves to two.
1.   Its prophecies
There are many ways in which the Bible is unique amongst all the so-called holy books of world religions, and one of those ways is that it is a book of prophecy. This is surely not without significance. If someone claims to be speaking from God and for God then they should be able to tell something about future events which would be beyond the ability of the speaker to guess or influence, but the fact is that the Bible is the only book that deals in predictive prophecy. There are prophecies relating to international events, national events and local events, but the clearest and most compelling are those about Jesus Christ. Consider two examples – Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.
These are passages that indisputably predate Christ, and yet just as indisputably predict Christ. Psalm 22 is a psalm of David written about 1000 BC. Isaiah 53 was written about 700 BC.[2] Bear in mind crucifixion was invented by the Persians in the late sixth century BC, and the Roman Empire, which crucified Christ, didn’t take control of Judea until AD 6, but when you read these accounts they sketch an outline that can only be filled by a cross, and paint a portrait that matches none other than Jesus. The details of Christ’s crucifixion are graphically and accurately portrayed and yet the writers had never witnessed crucifixion and certainly would never have naturally anticipated that their promised King would experience it.
How do we account for this? If I told you that someone was going to call at your house and I described in detail some very strange clothes he would be wearing, and then someone called at your house exactly matching the description I gave, what would you think? You certainly wouldn’t say it was a fluke. You would immediately conclude that I had arranged it in some way. When such exact and unusual details are given and then the prediction comes to pass, you can’t put that down to guess work – it’s a set up. So the question is, as we look at Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, who set this up? Who gave David and Isaiah the telescope to look down centuries of time to events they could not naturally have known or cleverly anticipated? The only answer that makes any sense is the answer that the Bible itself gives, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3.16).
The relevance of this is pretty obvious. If the Bible has proven itself to get it right when it talks about the future then we had better listen when it talks about our future. It tells us death isn’t the end, there is a heaven and there is a hell, and, because of the sins we have committed, it’s hell we are going to, and the only way of being saved from that punishment is through Jesus Christ. The Bible didn’t just prophecy how Christ would die, but why He would die – He would give Himself to take the punishment we deserve so that we could go free.
Here then is proof that can be examined – the Bible is the word of God.
2.   Its power
Not only is there proof that can be examined, there is proof that can be experienced. The message of the Biblical gospel doesn’t just promise heaven in the future to those that trust Christ for salvation, it promises new life here and now, and that is a promise that has been repeatedly proven to be true. Example after example could be given, testimony after testimony told of how the gospel of Christ has a power that is truly divine. Multiplied millions throughout history and across the world have been powerfully, positively and permanently transformed, not by will power, therapy or religion, but by believing the gospel and receiving the Saviour it offers. When the message of the Bible is accepted it gives people new aims, appetites and abilities. The way the Lord Jesus put it is that they are “born again” (John 3.1-7). Perhaps you are saying you could never see yourself being interested in things that Christians are interested in – it all seems as dry as dust and as dull as ditchwater. Well, join the club – we were all in it. No one is naturally interested in these things, and this is the proof of the power of God’s word – conversion to Christ gives you the interest in things that once you had no interest in, and enables you to delight in what you once detested, and detest what you once delighted in.
Once someone is born again, his eyes are opened to appreciate the Bible in a way that was simply impossible before – it becomes a channel through which he encounters God and comes to know Him. The transcendent beauty, amazing unity and divine authority of Scripture become so clear and obvious. 1 Samuel 3 verse 21 says, “the Lord revealed the word of the Lord.” We know the Bible is the revelation from God because in it we have been confronted by a revelation of God.
“I don’t believe the Bible, but if it’s true then I’ll be in big trouble.” This was the candid admission a man made to his Christian friend, and he was right.
There is a lot riding on the issue of the Bible’s authority. If it is what it claims to be – the word of God, then we can’t afford to ignore its message, because it isn’t just a code of conduct or a source of comfort. It presents itself as the self-revelation of the true and living God, containing the one way of being reconciled to that God and saved from the eternal punishment our sins deserve.
Paul, the Christian apostle wrote the following to his friend, Timothy:
...from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God... (2 Timothy 3.15-16)
He certainly didn’t believe the Bible was unreliable – he believed it was given by inspiration of God. Neither did he believe it was irrelevant – it teaches the way of salvation. We have looked at two proofs to back up those claims – the prophecies and power of Scripture. These can’t be explained by atheism or equalled by any religion. That means that it’s not only the case that you can trust the Bible’s message, but you must trust it.

[1] For further reading see for example, Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Press, 1986.
[2] Copies of both of these passages are found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls dating back to the second century BC.