The Bible. Scripture. The Word of God. The Holy Bible. These are synonymous terms referencing the sixty-six books that comprise the Old and New Testaments.
Guinness—the record-keeping people, not the beer people—believe there are between 2.5 and 5 billion (with a ‘b’) copies of the Bible in circulation. About 400 million (with an ‘m’) copies of Harry Potter have been sold.
There are numerous versions of The Bible—meaning: a variety of translations with varying degrees of accuracy to the original languages used when writing each book. For the most part, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek, and there are smatterings of Aramaic here and there. I ran across a helpful diagram of biblical translations the other day. It’s here but is not for the faint of heart.
The Bible is the holy book of Christianity. It contains the lines of writ that those claiming faith in Jesus Christ consider authoritative.
Some followers of Christ believe the Bible is inspired by God. If true, then the words between the covers are holy and authoritative for how life is governed and lived. “If God said it, then I believe it,” is their conviction regarding the Bible.
There are also followers of Jesus Christ who consider the Bible authoritative, but not authoritative in the sense that its counsel governs their life as an absolute truth, not authoritative in that it is God-breathed, or divinely inspired. Rather, it is authoritative like books of wisdom are authoritative—sort of like good ideas, life-wisdom, and so forth; like a collection of concepts, mainly in story form, that make you a better person for memorizing a few quotations. But if a situation presents itself that begs a differing view from that espoused in biblical wisdom, then opting for what seems in the moment to be the best choice is their philosophy.
As is the case with all aspects of faith, we can never absolutely prove our position.
So, what is Scripture, and what is it not? Is it an inspired authority, or is it a collection of myths that can be helpful to know—that kind of authority? Does drawing a distinction matter?
Is Scripture alone the word of God, or are there other sources of God’s word to us? How can we know?
As is the case with all aspects of faith, we can never absolutely prove our position, otherwise there would be no mandate for faith. In the case of the Bible’s inspiration, we can get close to proof—in the same way an attorney can get close to proving his case absolutely. But faith always requires a decision tinged with a degree of doubt.
A choice to believe necessitates faith, and faith requires a choice. Declaring you believe but doing nothing in response is nothing more than warm air. Or, as the Bible states it, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (Jm. 2:17).
This ability to think, to reason, and to choose is part and parcel of how we must approach considerations of Christian faith. Faith, and the doubt that accompanies it, leaves room for us to make a decision without undue coercion. If He wanted to, God could eliminate faith with divine proof, but relationships are not founded upon proof but upon love, respect, and freedom of choice. This is why the marriage question is answered, “I do,” not “I must.”
God certainly makes His appeal to us, as we are fixing to examine, but God never disregards or absolves our privilege of making our own choice. Christian faith, the faith of the Bible, is between depending upon God or depending upon something else. In the Bible, God declares that it is impossible to please Him apart from faith, so faith must be part of every aspect of life that concerns God.
And indeed it is. That God will not violate our freedom of choice, i.e. self-determination, means that the necessity of faith sets the stage for mutual respect between God and us. Faith is an invitation to a relationship whose foundation is free, a volitional agreement to accept each other. The closest parallel is marriage, consummated on the wedding night. It’s opposite is rape.
What standards are in place that might establish the Bible as inspired?
With these caveats in place, I want to consider evidence-based perspective that will enable us to reasonably conclude if the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But not only that. I hope to also present reasonable evidence and thought that presents the Bible as the lone, inspired voice that speaks for God. This is what theologians call, sola Scriptura.
Let me clarify before proceeding: To assert that Scripture alone speaks for God does not dismiss the significant body of teaching and commentary that illuminates the Scripture, nor does it preclude our ability, responsibility, and privilege to study the Scripture and speak confidently of its revelation. What this article will assert is that any commentary, revelation, or perceived inspiration concerning God must be measured against Scripture, or if not by Scripture, then by the same standards applied to Scripture that establish its uniqueness among documents and its messages divinely inspired.
What standards are in place that might establish the Bible as the inspired Word of God? How should we measure it to see if what it claims is true? Furthermore, once standards are established, do any other sources—written or oral—rise to the level of Scripture?
The Bible says of itself, “All Scripture is inspired by God (lit. God-breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped in every good work” (2 Tm. 3:16-17). Its claim is clear, and therefore the basis—the standard—by which it must be evaluated is equally clear.
In his book, More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell includes a chapter on the uniqueness of the Bible. He asserts that the Bible should be examined based upon three criteria: bibliographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence. The degree to which these are affirmed, and the stringency demanded by these standards, indicates something of the Bible’s uniqueness. If it can be set apart as unique, then it can be evaluated more clearly based upon its claims.
Bibliographical evidence compares the Bible to other great works of ancient history by accepted writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, and Caesar, among others. What McDowell establishes is that no other work of history comes close to approaching the volume and quality of bibliographical evidence that the Bible enjoys. As a matter of fact, there are far more original-quality documents of the biblical text than of all the other ancient works cited above combined. Thus, the Bible is unique based upon bibliographical evidence.
Archaeologists estimate that only 2% of all there is to be uncovered has been excavated.
Internal evidence examines what a document claims about itself. In all fairness to the text and its author, you judge a work based upon what it claims, not what someone asserts about it. The Bible claims to be inspired, eternal, an accurate recounting of events, eyewitness to its accounts, the truth, and not just in the opinion of the various writers, but of the public and religious officials of the day. Does it achieve what it claims? There are additional resources at the conclusion of this article if you want to further examine the internal evidence.
And obviously, the content itself must also be weighed and examined. For example, there are many details and perspectives offered in the Bible that would not be included if it was a fabrication. That such are included in its pages gives it distinction. The historian, Will Durant, marveled at this aspect of the biblical text as compared to other documents of antiquity. Thus, the Bible is unique as judged by its internal evidence.
As to external evidence concerning the Bible, with the escalation of archaeology as a science beginning around 1950, the artifacts corroborating the biblical accounts have grown faster than the ability of archaeologists to analyze and catalog all of it. It is estimated that only 2% of all there is to be uncovered has been excavated, and of those artifacts uncovered, only about 5% have been evaluated and studied. Nevertheless, these discoveries include many documents and artifacts that underscore the accuracy and validity of the biblical text.
Not the least of these resources are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain significant quantities of the biblical text, and many additional critical texts and artifacts of Hebrew and Greek providing external clarity about and evidence for the biblical text. This is in addition to the variety of other resources that have been in the hands of scholars for many years. These include the writings of Josephus, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and others all of which affirm the biblical text and accounts. In other words, to dismiss the Bible as mythical musings necessitates dismissing the work, thought, and considered opinion of noteworthy scholars and historians.
McDowell references Professor Montiero-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanskrit and ancient literature. He spent forty-two years studying Eastern books and said in comparing them with the Bible, “Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table; but place your own Holy Bible on the right side—all by itself, all alone—and with a wide gap between them. For, there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever… a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science or religious thought.”
The Bible was written over a span of 1600 years and 60 generations. It was penned by over 40 authors representing every walk of life. It was written in different places, different times, and different moods. It was written on three continents and in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Its subject matter includes hundreds of controversial subjects, yet it remains harmonious throughout every page and never diverges from its central message: God’s redemption of man.
The Bible has no other close competitor as the single biggest seller of all time, read by more people than any other book, and translated into more languages. It is unique in translation, survival (note that Voltaire predicted the Bible would be extinct by 1850), teaching, and its influence upon surrounding literature. It is safe to say, based upon external evidence, the Bible is truly unique. No other book is even close.
“New” words or “additional” works must be judged by the same standard as the Bible.
Considering prophecy, which is only one of the unique characteristics of the Bible’s teaching, McDowell devotes fifty pages of his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, to prophecy and the probabilities of prophetic messages coming true. While Jesus’ birth alone fulfilled some 300 prophecies, McDowell evaluates just eleven prophecies and calculates the probability of these eleven prophecies coming true. His conclusion? 1 in 5.76 times 10 to the 59th power, a number so incredibly large it must draw upon the size of the universe to be illustrated and comprehended.
Do the preceding paragraphs prove the Bible is the inspired, the sole Word of God? No. But they do narrow the alleged “leap of faith” to accept this as true.
Shifting gears: Are additional revelations equal to that of the Bible? What of the idea that there are in fact words of the Lord that are for today, and therefore, supersede by their modernity the antiquity of the Bible?
Ultimately, these “new” words or “additional” works must be judged by the same standard as the canonized words of revelation in the Bible. If placed alongside Scripture, and carrying the same weight as Scripture, these new revelations must be subjected to the same standards listed above (and note, this article only scratches the surface regarding biblical veracity). Otherwise, we are potentially dealing with conjecture.
This is not saying that we cannot accurately advocate on behalf of, or teach accurately, the biblical text as the word of God. What it does say in conjunction with the establishment of Scripture as a unique, infallible, and inerrant-in-guidance document of God’s revelation is that we measure what any person says against Scripture as the final arbiter of whether the teaching is in keeping with the word of God. If there is disparity, benefit of the doubt goes to the Bible, not the individual.
I do not dismiss a person who says they have a word from God, but I’m anxious to see some Scriptural backup. If none is forthcoming, I consider their words speculative at best, not worthy of hope in the least, and most likely fallacious. To state the obvious, if a “word from God” contradicts Scripture it isn’t truly a word from God.
If we conclude the Bible is the Word of God, then we cannot afford the luxury of picking and choosing among its messages.
Scripture alone speaks for God (i.e., sola Scriptura). The best anyone can do under the influence and guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God is advocate on God’s behalf while standing firmly upon the foundations of the Bible.
Given that there is no other source that withstands the same scrutiny the Bible has endured, we must either honor the Bible for what it is or dismiss it by whatever force of will we believe is necessary. We cannot maintain intellectual, moral, and spiritual honesty and be neutral regarding Scripture.
Similarly, if we conclude the Bible is the Word of God, then we cannot afford ourselves the luxury of picking and choosing among its messages or adding to its pages. If the Bible is as it appears, based upon these standards, then we would be wise to discipline ourselves to the diligent study of it and application of its message to our lives.
Keep in mind, one of the qualities of Scripture we discussed earlier is the tightly woven theme and interdependency of the biblical books and message. If you, or anyone offering you a perspective on the Bible, discover a viewpoint or revelation that is not substantiated by the counsel of additional passages of Scripture, then proceed very cautiously.
There are many wise and gifted teachers of Scripture. There are many study tools. The prudent student will not listen to one Bible teacher or rely solely upon one study source. In His wisdom, God blessed us with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and gave us a rational mind. It is He who guides us into truth as we consider teaching and opinion regarding Scripture (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1).
Read. Study. Enjoy. Bask in the revelation of God. Relish its fullness in your heart as you probe the intricacies of God and His perspective. The Bible is a document unlike any other. The evidence indicates it speaks for God.
Summarizing its declarations, it is the inspired and infallible Word of God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that you may be adequate, equipped for every good work. By placing Scripture in our hearts, we are guarded against those weaknesses that compromise us.
The Bible sheds light on our path and is able to keep us from stumbling. The Word of God is sharp, like a two-edged sword, and is able to divide what no man can even delineate, i.e. the distinction between soul and spirit, thus speaking to the deepest recesses of mankind.
Everything around us will pass away with time, but the Word of God stands forever. In light of these things, we should study with reliance upon the power of the Spirit and carefully consider the Scriptures in order to handle them accurately.
If the Bible is unique, then it merits a place of its own in your consideration.
But what if you are not yet convinced? What if you are pondering these thoughts? What next?
Maybe you need to do additional study before drawing a conclusion (see below). That’s fine… provided you follow through. It is human nature to procrastinate when faced with change or major decisions. But you know as well as I do that delay easily lapses into denial.
Here is the bottom line: If the Bible is unique—and not just a little bit, but the most unique piece of literature and composition known to the history of mankind—then it merits a place of its own in your consideration. I believe a wise person will choose diligence, not deflection.
The internal message of the Bible is that it is inspired by God. It’s fine for you to consider its literary qualities and historical perspectives, but if you stop there you willfully misjudge the Bible. To adequately assess it, to be intellectually honest, you must take its message and claims at face value. It claims to be a word from God to you. Based upon the evidence, is it or is it not?
This is an important question, and there is faith involved. But, there is no great leap. This is a reasonable degree of faith being proposed.
But it doesn’t feel reasonable. Even though presented with compelling evidence, aligning your life with biblical perspective can feel—akin to a giant leap. What’s the incongruity about? If Christian faith is reasonable, why does it feel like an irrational leap?
If you have believed to this point that Scripture is mythical and Jesus Christ nothing beyond a good man—hardly divine, as the Bible presents Him and as He claimed—then the adjustment in your life from self-determination to faith feels monumental, not because the belief is staggering in span, but because the life-implications are staggering in scope.
I recognize this article is far from exhaustive. Neither is it scholarly.
Adopting faith, declaring God your God and His Bible authoritative to govern and guide your life, may feel like leaping into an abyss, but this is not because faith is a giant leap. This hesitancy is less about intellectual ascent and more about relinquishing self-determination for God-dependence, i.e. faith.
What does that step, that passage from self-determination and self-reliance to faith, look like? How is it accomplished?
Make a choice to speak to God. Address Him and believe (forget the funky emotions for now) He is listening. Here’s a template you can use: God, to the best of my ability, I acknowledge your existence and pledge my allegiance to you. I’m sorry for my failures and rebellions against you and your reign in my life. I ask for your forgiveness. Would you help me now to live in your light and power? Would you fill my life with the life that is from you, Jesus Christ? And finally, would you lead me and guide me in this new way of living? I’m believing you by faith. Amen.
If you made that declaration and don’t have good, clear understanding of what to do next, write to me and I’ll help you get started down the path of faith in God through Jesus Christ. You can contact me here.
If you want—feel like you need—more before you can honestly believe, let me offer these thoughts: First, I recognize this article is far from exhaustive. Neither is it scholarly, i.e. I’ve not cited the customary number of sources. This is not because there is a shortage of sources, but because the article is already twice my normal length.
Second, I’ve referenced Josh McDowell. Search on his name and you will find lots of material, or you can start here. You can also read Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God.” Lee Strobel has written, “The Case for Christ.” It is a solid resource. Both of these are approachable books.
To examine the life of Jesus Christ more in depth, I suggest you read Philip Yancey’s, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” or CS Lewis’s magnificent work, “Mere Christianity.” If you start with Lewis, give yourself a chapter of literary grace to get in sync with his British vernacular.
Again, if you need help getting started, contact me.
[i] ref. 2 Tm. 3:16-17; Ps. 119:11; 119:105; Heb. 4:12; Is. 40:8; 2 Tm. 2:15