Just What Makes You So Sure The Bible Is True? Part I
I was leading another teaching trip through Europe with a group of men and we were sitting in the airport in Budapest, Hungary. As we were killing time waiting for a delayed flight, several of them started a conversation with a young man who had been backpacking through Europe and was now was returning to his home in Ireland. He asked what we were doing, and several of the men said I'd been teaching them a biblical worldview.
Immediately he asked the question, "Just what makes you so sure the Bible is true?" The sun stood still. The terminal went quiet. Crickets. Each of my guys having this conversation looked at each other, and one stumbled through an answer that didn't even make sense to him. Finally, one of the guys called for reinforcements. " Clare!"
I grew up in the church like most of these men. Christian schools. Christian college. I never had a doubt that the Bible was true. Was that because I researched deeply where and how we got the Bible, discovered how God actually communicated to humans to write it and how the church eventually decided which books of the Bible to include that made up our modern Bible? My parents and other adults I admired in my church told me that the Bible was God's inspired word, so I just accepted that by faith.
That's how the vast majority of Christians came to trust the Bible as the word of God (the truth of God) and the story of God - by faith. But when non-Christians ask most Christians why we are so sure the Bible is true, like my guys in the airport, they often can't really tell you. It's not because there aren't many good reasons. It's just that most Christians have never learned them.
I do believe the Bible is true. But, like I've previously said about God, I can't prove that with certainty, and neither can anyone else. Instead, in the balance of this book I like to offer what I call soft proofs. Soft proofs are facts and arguments that make more sense when you put them together with dozens of them, building to what attorneys would call a "preponderance of evidence," making it more likely it's true than not. Whether that's enough to convince you, that's for you to decide.
What does "true" even mean?
What does it mean that the Bible is true? Decades ago the "Gospel of Judas" was discovered and bought by National Geographic. A group of college students I was teaching at the time asked me, "Could the Gospel of Judas be true?"
"That depends on what you mean by true. It's possible Judas actually wrote it. Even then, do we have the original, or a copy and if a copy, how do we know it was copied accurately? But the most important "truth test" is this: Is what Judas wrote actually true? If Hitler had written The History of WWII, it might be true that Hitler wrote it, but that doesn’t mean what he wrote was actually true.
To be fair, the same test should be applied to the Bible. As far as we know, we do not have the original copy of any book of the Bible, although we do have hundreds of portions of the New Testament dating back to the first century and thousands more from the second. That enables scholars to compare the earliest manuscripts with the Bible we have today, which gives us a high degree of confidence that some monk didn't just start editorializing on his own. Let's be honest, it's possible there's some copying errors. And most of us could live with a few typos, and some missing thous and wherefores, if we were confident the people who wrote the books of the Bible actually got their specific direction from God and what we are reading today still conveys God's intended message.
How God "told" men exactly what he wanted them to write isn’t clear. But Peter says this: "For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but men, though human, spoke from God as though they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:21.
And in I Thessalonians 2:13 we read this: "And we thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe."
In other words, people didn't just make these writings up. Almost all Christians believe the inspiration for every idea came from God himself, expressed in a literary style of each writer. If God had simply put every writer in a trance and dictated to these holy stenographers, we'd see no difference in style, but we do. Others believe every single word of the Bible was inspired by God himself. However this process came about, this much we do know; the people who read these words and were living at the time of their writing accepted them as coming from God himself. But what makes Christian so confident of that?
The Old Testament
When you read the Old Testament. one of the first things that jump out to you are the stories. God is a storyteller. Those stories are there for a reason, primarily to tell us something about God. They also inform us about what happens when people believe and obey God and what happens when they don't.
My dad used to tell us stories around the dinner table of the men he knew. When he described a dishonorable man he didn't turn to us kids and tell us not to act that way. And when he described a man or woman he admired the smile on his face, told us exactly what he thought of them as well. The stories themselves informed and shaped our moral worldviews. The same is true with God; some stories in the Bible are there to inspire us and others to warn us. I love this observation about the Bible made by a whip smart man I once met with who eventually became a believer. "If I were to write a book to promote a religion, it wouldn't have so many flawed and sinful people as its central characters." I agree! Many of the people God used to carry out his plans and said he loved deeply were actually scoundrels.
I'm intrigued with the pains God took to make sure incredibly important teachings in the Old Testament like, the law, were documented. The law is a generic term for the whole body of laws found in the first five books of the Bible, including all the hundreds of commands God gave Israel that would govern them until the Messiah came. The Sunday school version of the story we got about these laws has Moses going up the Mount Sinai to meet with God, who wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone, gives them to Moses who comes down off the mountain and reads them to everyone. "Here's what God told me to tell you." That story is true, but it's not the whole story.
Apparently God wanted to make sure that no one ever accused Moses of just making up these laws on his own. God, in effect, was giving the nation of Israel its Constitution, and this was so important that he tells Moses this.
"The Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." -Exodus 19:9
"And God spoke all these words." Exodus 20:1 And then he gave Moses the law, which was very likely much more than the ten commandments. It's estimated that between a million and a million and a half people left Egypt. So here you have God speaking outloud to a million plus eyewitnesses that Moses is up on the mountain with God.
So, why is this important? Unlike Muhammad who supposedly got his message from Allah, but no other human witnessed thos conversations. On the other hand, Moses had a million ear witnesses! We believe Moses also wrote the first five books of the Bible, including the creation story. To be fair, the Israelites probably didn't hear God dictating the whole book of Genesis to Moses, but who's going to doubt a man to whom God spoke directly? And the Israelites were no pushover. They bellyached, complained, and rebelled against Moses over all kinds of things, but not once did they ever express any doubt that what Moses received from God was true. Neither do both serious Christians and Jews today.
The Testimony of Jesus
Then we also have the testimony of Jesus about the Old Testament. The gospels record him quoting from 14 Old Testament books. He spoke about Adam, Eve, Job, Moses, Abraham, Jonah, and King David, and referred to many other Old Testament people and stories. He even quoted from the Old Testament when he was tempted by the devil in the desert.
The point is, if the Old Testament isn't true, and this Jesus who claimed to be God didn't know it wasn't true, or lied about it, then Christians have a way bigger problem than whether the Bible is true or not. Jesus couldn't have been God after all! A real God would know the Old Testament was false or wouldn't have lied about it!
Maybe you don't yet believe Jesus was/is God; if so, then this argument makes no difference to you. Fair enough. But if you do believe Jesus is God and you believe at least the four gospel books are true, then Jesus validated the Old Testament and never doubted or repudiated any of it. And neither should we.
Next week we will begin to take a look at how the New Testament came into being and why Christians believe those books are true as well.