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Can I trust the Bible? - Part 2

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We continue our 4-part series on the question: “How do I know the Bible is the word of God?” The first post addressed how someone comes to believe the Bible. We learned how stooleveryone arrives at their deep convictions for rational, social, and personal reasons (“The 3-Legged Stool of Belief”). All three legs are necessary to form strong belief in the Bible. This article will address the first leg: rational reasons.

A Few Rational Reasons to Believe the Bible

The Unity of the Story: The Bible is a library of 66 books written over a period of roughly 2000 years by 40 different kinds of authors on 3 different continents, in 3 different languages, in different genres, all from different contexts. Yet, the Bible is one unified story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.

The Fulfillment of Prophecy: There are a number of explicit prophecies in the Old Testament which are fulfilled in Jesus. Psalm 110; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-8; 11:1-16; 35:5; 53; Jeremiah 31:33; Daniel 9:20-27; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9-12; 12:10; Malachi 3:1-5. No doubt people may not find this convincing, but skepticism toward prophecies depends to some degree on the assumption that God doesn’t govern history.

The Power of the Word: The Bible has consistently demonstrated throughout history an ability to transform lives when it is faithfully taught. No other book is like it in the way in which it so powerfully changes people.

Addressing Rational Objections to the Bible

Objection #1: "We don't have the right books."

The first way people might try to undermine the Bible is by saying we don’t know if we have the right books. They claim there were many different books swirling around in the first century (i.e. gospel of Mary, gospel of Thomas, etc.). Then in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine used his authority to hand pick New Testament, censuring all other competing books. The problem with this theory is the facts. In reality, by the year 250 AD (75 years before Constantine’s pronouncement) all 27 books of the New Testament were affirmed by Origen, one of the most prominent leaders in the early church. The 27 New Testament books were already being widely accepted in the early church as the word of God. There was very little confusion over which books belonged in the New Testament.

In reality, all 4 gospels were written before 100AD,[1] which is only 20-60 years after Jesus’ death. Thus, eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were still alive to testify! The earliest other “gospel” (Gospel of Thomas) wasn’t even written until 150AD (over 100 years after Jesus died). Not only was Thomas long dead, but the eyewitnesses weren’t around anymore!

Objection #2: "We don't have the right words."

Another objection attacks the fact that we don’t have any original copies of any book of the Bible. The good news is there are scientists who deal specifically with this: textual critics. Their expertise is verifying how close the copies are when the originals are lost. In other words, science tells us how we can know what Paul, Peter and others originally wrote. Here is how it works[2]: the more copies we have and the shorter the timeframe between the copies and originals, the better we can know what the original writers wrote.

How does the New Testament compare to other documents in this? The New Testament has what textual critic Danial Wallace calls an “embarrassment of riches.”[3] Compared to other ancient documents, the New Testament has an embarrassingly high number of copies with a very short timeframe between the copies and originals. We can verify the accuracy of the New Testament better than any other ancient document. See the chart below for evidence:

NT Copies

Virtually no one today questions whether the copies of Plato or Caesar’s writings match what they originally wrote. But, if we accept what textual critics say about other ancient documents, how much more should we trust the New Testament?

Objection 3: "The gospels are filled with myths."

The Bible was preserved by illiterate people through oral history before it was ever written down. So, people claim that as time went on we probably lost the original story of Jesus because so many people misheard or misquoted the gospels, leaving us with legends.

The problem is that the gospels were written too early for it to be mythical. Historians have proven the reliability oral history.[4] The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus happened in broad daylight for all to see and verify any oral history about him. For example, the names of Simon of Cyrene’s children are mentioned in Mark 15:21 and Paul mentions over 500 eyewitnesses in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Why? So that anyone could check with them if it really did happen.

Objection #4: "Science disproves miracles."

The last rational objection to the Bible is against miracles. It is said that science has proven there can’t be any miracles. First, if God’s existence is possible, then miracles are logically possible. But if miracles are possible, then they can’t be ruled out. If the existence of God is possible, then we must be open to the possibility of miracles.

Second, science cannot verify super-natural events, only natural. Science only deals with things that are controlled and repeatable. Miracles are un-controlled and un-repeatable. So, for someone to say, “Science proves miracles can’t happen,” is like a 5-year-old boy who lost his toy car but will only look for it in his well-lit room because his toy closet has no lights. Then after a while he stands up and says, “I conclude that my toys disappeared!”

The furthest one can go in their skepticism is to say they aren’t sure about miracles, but miracles by no means dis-prove the Bible.

In summary, attempts to undermine the Bible are weak. Admittedly, this is a brief overview of the topic and it needs to be said that rationality alone is insufficient to arrive at belief in the Bible. Therefore, next week we will examine the social reasons for belief in the Bible.

 

Footnotes

[1] Matthew/Mark: 50-60AD, Luke: 60-70AD, John: 70-90AD

[2] This is a simplification of textual criticism, rather than a detailed explanation.

[3] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/

[4] Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (November 9, 2006)

1 Comment

This is really good, love the chart. Looking forward to Part 3.

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