The Bible is an amazing book. The word is derived from the Latin word Biblia, which means book. From a purely statistical perspective, no other book comes close to the Bible's popularity. Since it was first printed in 1455, more than six billion copies of the Bible have been published. Yet statistics don't begin to describe the miraculous nature of a book that originated in the mind of God, was written by human authors who were divinely inspired by the breath of God, and can now be read by ordinary people with access to the Spirit of God.
Why is the Bible so Important?
The Bible is an essential component of the Christian faith. The Bible is not the object of our faith. As important as the Bible is, the Bible is not the object of our faith. That may sound rather obvious, but it's easy to place the Bible in the same category as God – something wholly to be worshiped and glorified. God and only God is the object of our faith. The Bible is God's revelation to us, but it is not God. Just as God is distinct from all he created, God is distinct from all he has said.
There are some reasons why the Bible is important and why it is necessary to believe that the Bible is truly God's work:
1. The Bible claims to be the word of God. This is an astonishing claim. A written book contains the very message of the invisible God. Yet that's exactly what the Bible is: the verbal and written revelation of God.
In the Old Testament, Moses and the prophets claim verbal inspiration from God. Here is what God said to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18).
Moses also presented the written revelation from God in the form of the 10 Commandments, written on stone tablets by God (Exodus 31:18).
In the New Testament, the words of Scripture are attributed to God revealing His words through the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)
The apostle Paul confirms that God's word is literally His word (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
2. The Bible gives us God's plan for humanity and the world. The Bible not only gives us an account of God's creative act in bringing the universe into existence but also describes in detail his creation of people who carry out his divine imprint and can relate to him personally Genesis 1:26-27. The Bible then describes the rebellion of the human race, followed by God's loving efforts to restore a relationship with fallen humanity. Henrietta Mears eloquently describes the Bible in this way:
"The Bible is one book, one history, one-story, his story. Behind 10,000 events stands God, the builder of history, the maker of the ages. Eternity bounds the one side, eternity bounds the other site, and time is in between: Genesis – origins, revelation – endings, and all the way between, God is working things out. You can go down into the minutest detail everywhere and see that there is one great purpose moving through the ages: the eternal design of the Almighty God to redeem the wretched and ruined world."
3. The Bible tells us about Jesus Christ. The central figure in the Bible is Jesus Christ, the living Word of God – John 1:1. Who came to earth in human form John 1:14. He lived a perfect life and reveals the true nature and character of God. The most important, the Bible gives us the words of Jesus who clearly explains why he came: God sent his son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17).
4. The Bible gives us instructions for living every day. The Bible is descriptive and what it tells us about God and his plan to restore our relationship with him. And it is prescriptive in that it tells us how God wants us to live: all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right to (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Utter Uniqueness of the Bible
Consider these facts:
1. The Bible is made up of 66 books written by 40 different authors. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The subject matter of this anthology includes thousands of topics many of them controversial. Yet the authors, who for the most part didn't know each other or live at the same time, wrote in complete harmony with each other.
2. The Bible was written on three continents over a span of centuries. Starting with Moses and Job, and ending with the apostle John, the Bible was written over a period of 1600 years on the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
3. The Bible was written in two languages. Hebrew is the original language of the Old Testament. The New Testament was written in Greek (the international language at the time of Christ).
4. The Bible records thousands of prophecies. These concerned nations, cities, national and world leaders, and the coming of Jesus Christ. Nearly every fulfilled prophecy recorded in the Bible can be verified by historical records outside the Bible – and not one prophecy has been proven wrong.
Hugh Ross, says that approximately 2,000 of the 2,500 prophecies in the Bible have been fulfilled to the letter with no errors (The remaining 500 concern events that have not yet occurred). The chances that all 2000 prophecies could have been fulfilled by chance without error is less than one in 102000 power. Since any probability less than 1 in 1050 is considered impossible, the only reasonable explanation for the complete accuracy of the prophecies found in the Bible is this: God made them, and God fulfilled them
5. The Bible has one theme in one message throughout. From Genesis to Revelation, the books of the Bible records one internally consistent point of view about God and humankind.
Evidence from the Bible
We want to make a distinction between two kinds of evidences: Evidence from the Bible and Evidence for the Bible. The Bible tells us a lot about God and how He relates to the world He created. It gives us information about God that is consistent with what we know from the natural world, but it goes much further and tells us things about God that can't be known any other way. But the evidence and information about God in the Bible is good only if we can trust the Bible to be a true and trustworthy document. You could say the evidence from the Bible is dependent on the evidence for the Bible.
How did the Bible get here in the first place?
How did God's revelation get from His mind to your Bible? Norman Geisler explains that God's word passed through three "links" in the chain from God to you: inspiration, canonization, and transmission. Each of these in their own way gives evidence for the reliability and accuracy of the Bible.
The first link in the chain is inspiration. In the literal sense of the word, inspire means to breathe or to blow into, and that's what God did. Using the Holy Spirit, God literally breathed his message into 40 different human writers (2 Peter 1:20-21). Even Webster's dictionary acknowledges the uniqueness of inspiration, defining it as a "divine influence." Because of this process, you can trust the Bible completely, even if you don't understand everything about it. God, who is perfect, used a foolproof means to get His message into print. God breathed in what He wanted. Nothing more, nothing less. And all of it is inspired and valuable.
When God inspired the human authors to write down his message, he didn't speak into some kind of divine Dictaphone. Instead, the Holy Spirit communicated the message of God to each human writer, who then wrote down the words using his own style and personality. That's why different books of the Bible have different writing styles and perspectives.
The second link in the chain is canonicity, which is the process by which church leaders recognize individual books of the Bible as being inspired by God. The Canon is a collection of books that make up the Bible used today. The word Canon comes from the root word translated reed. Reeds were used as measuring sticks in ancient times.
When applied to the Bible, Canon indicates the measure or the standard used to evaluate which books were inspired and which ones weren't. The final book of the Bible to be inspired by God was the book of Revelation. The apostle John, who was the human author, finish writing revelation at the end of the first century. For the next few hundred years, church councils met to determine which books should be included in the canon of Scripture. Their main task was to evaluate books written during and after the time of Christ – the Old Testament Canon had already been determined. According to Dr. Geisler, the councils followed strict guidelines in order to determine whether or not a book was inspired by God.
The third link in the chain has nothing to do with your car. Transmission describes the total process of transmitting the Bible from the early writers to us today using the most practical and reliable methods and materials available. According to Geisler, "The Scriptures had to be copied, translated, recopied, and retranslated. This process not only provided the Scriptures for the other nations, but for other generations as well."
The Bible is known to be infallible and inerrant. This means it is completely true. This is because God, who is the author, is incapable of error. However, this doesn't mean that today's Bible translations are completely without error. Only the original manuscripts were absolutely correct.
The whole Bible didn't come at one time. God inspired 40 authors over a period of 1600 years to write the Bible. With all the materials and people involved, how did God make sure that his word was transmitted accurately from one person to the next from one generation to the next, from one century to the next? How was the Bible copied from generation to generation?
From the earliest times, Jewish scribes (you could call them professional copiers) had to follow detailed procedures and rules for copying Scripture. These rules help ensure complete concentration and accuracy. Their meticulous approach set the standard for monks and other scholars who transcribed the Bible through the ages. There are just three rules for scribes that will give you some idea as to the painstaking detail involved in copying God's work:
1. No word or letter or any other mark may be written from memory. The scribe must look directly at the original scroll for every stroke.
2. between every letter, the space of a hair or thread must intervene.
3. Should a King address him while writing the name of God, the scribe must take no notice of the King until finished.
The Language of God's Word
The materials used to write down God's work were important and so were many detailed methods of transcribing the words. The two original languages of the Bible were Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). God didn't choose these languages at random, rather for specific purposes including accuracy, reliability, and understanding. The language is God chose were the best possible for communicating his message to us.
Hebrew – Language experts agree that Hebrew the principal language of the Old Testament and of the Jewish people, is precise, pictorial, and personal. Hebrew has been described as the perfect biographical language because it describes a God who is very much involved in the lives of people, especially his chosen people, the Jews.
Greek – One of the reasons God chose Greek as the language of the New Testament is that this was the language spoken by most of the world at the time of Jesus Christ lived on earth. Greek has been called the perfect intellectual language, which is ideal for expressing the propositional truth of the New Testament.
Translating the Original Languages
Translating means simply changing from one language to another while retaining the meanings of the original language. The first translation of the Bible came in the third or second century BC when the old testament Hebrew was translated into Greek so more people could read it. It was called the Septuagint because 70 scholars work on the translation. The entire Bible was translated into Latin in A.D. 405 (it was called the Vulgate), and that remains the authoritative Bible translation for the next thousand years.
The first English version of the Bible didn't come until 1384, when John Wycliffe translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate. In 1530 William Tyndale finished translating the Bible from original languages into English. The Geneva Bible (also known as the Puritan Bible because this is the Bible the pilgrims brought to America on the Mayflower in 1620) was produced in 1560. The King James version, the most popular English translation ever, was first published in 1611. Many of the modern English translations we read today were produced in the 20th century.
The Bible and the Printing Press
As recently as the 15th century, it took ten months to copy the Bible by hand and a single copy cost more money than the average person made in a lifetime. Besides that, few people knew how to read. Then came Johannes Gutenberg and his printing press, generally known to be the most significant invention of the past thousand years. Gutenberg printed in 1455 the Latin version of the Bible. This was the first book printed. Within 50 years, hundreds of Gutenberg presses were producing thousands of Bibles. The price of a Bible dropped dramatically, people learn how to read, and the world has not been the same since.
Evidence for the Bible
Can the Bible be trusted for its reliability and accuracy? Scholars have a way of determining if ancient documents are reliable and accurate. First, how many copies existed of a document? The more copies there are, the more chance you have to compare the copies and test the accuracy. Archaeologists have uncovered more copies of the ancient Bible manuscripts than any other document of antiquity. There are more than 5,000 various manuscript fragments of the New Testament Scriptures alone!
Second, how close to the date of the first manuscript are the copies? The Bible shines in this area as well. In 1947 some Bedouins found ancient scrolls in a cave in Jordan. Scholars drooled over this magnificent discovery. They were known as Dead Sea Scrolls. Before the discovery of the scrolls the oldest complete copy of the Old Testament dated 1400 years after the Old Testament was completed. The Dead Sea Scrolls close the gap by 1000 years and they showed that the Bible text has been transmitted accurately.
Third, the test of reliability and accuracy has to do with corroborating evidence. In other words, do any other historical documents confirm the claims of the Bible? The answer is resounding yes. Not every person, date, or fact in the Bible has been verified by outside sources, but many have, and not one has been shown to be false. The evidence for the accuracy of the Bible from sources outside the Bible is nothing short of miraculous.
The Bible can be Trusted Historically
The critics of the Bible generally say that it is not historically trustworthy document, but instead a collection of legends and myths. Most of the criticism centers on the New Testament, in particular the four Gospels.
The Four Gospels
Dr. Timothy Keller offers three excellent reasons why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not legends, but in fact accurate and historically reliable.
1. The timing is far too early for the Gospels to be legends. Critics claim that the four Gospels were written too long after the actual events they describe to be truly accurate. In fact, the Gospels were written sometime in the 2nd half of the 1st century – at the latest, 40 to 60 years after Jesus death. This means the writings were in circulation well within the lifetimes of people who were eyewitnesses of the people, places, and events described in the Gospels, in particular the person of Jesus and all he did.
And it wasn't just the people who supported jesus who were still alive when the Gospels were first being circulated. His enemies would have been around as well. If the gospel accounts were inaccurate, you can be sure people would have offered a challenge. But such challenges do not exist. What does that mean? The Gospel accounts are true.
2. The content is far too counterproductive for the gospel to be legends. Many critics today contend that the Gospels were deliberately written to promote Christianity. But this idea doesn't make sense. For one thing, the stories in the Gospels, such as the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of the early Christians, don't portray Christianity as a very attractive belief. Jesus was executed as a criminal, and his followers were marginalized and killed. Horribly the kind of information you would put on a recruitment brochure.
For one thing – and this is important – if the Gospels were written to promote Christianity and its central figure, Jesus Christ, why were women the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ? In the Roman world of the first century, women were so low on the social ladder that their testimony was admissible as evidence in court. If the gospel writers had wanted to sell their religion to the public, they would have written the resurrection story with men as the first eyewitnesses. There's only one reason why the story is the way it is: it's true.
3. The literal form is too detailed to be legends. The style of writing at the time of the Gospels – indeed, until about 300 years ago – didn't focus on details. Literary works weren't realistic the way novels are today. The Gospels aren't fiction, but they are written in a detailed style that is unique for the time. The authors of the gospel's reveal little details about the characters that only an eyewitness could know. These details are included in all four Gospels simply because the writers actually saw them.
The Letters of Paul
The church has accepted Paul as an apostle, but critics of Christianity often attack Paul and blame him for turning the simple faith of Jesus into a religion. His themes are blamed by atheists and agnostics alike distorting the person and message of Jesus (who they say was nothing more than a very tragic human figure).
The truth is that Paul did a great deal to explain the meaning of Christ's death and its meaning for salvation, but he didn't invent it. For example, Paul statement that Christ died according to the Scriptures is based on literature that predates Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). The idea of Christ's atonement for sins isn't Paul's original idea. He got it from Jesus!
Other critics contend that Paul isn't a credible witness of the risen Christ. They say his conversion was a hallucination. When Paul thus convert, he doesn't just become another Christian. He becomes ambassador for Christ to the whole world. Paul doesn't just follow Jesus and remain in the circle of converted Jews in Jerusalem. He takes the message to the Gentiles, whom the Jews considered second-class. Hallucinations don't normally produce this kind of dramatic result.
How to Read the Bible
All the evidence in the world doesn't amount to much unless you actually read and study the Bible. As you do this, the most valuable thing you can do is to bring out the meaning. This is also known as interpretation. And you interpret something, you make it plain and understandable. The interpreter – that's you – to task:
- The interpreter needs to be engaged in "careful, systematic study of the scripture to discover the original, intended meaning" this is called exegesis. You don't read the Bible only when you feel like it or only on Sundays. As an interpreter, you are in the word of God daily.
- The interpreter needs to seek "the contemporary relevance of ancient text" this is called hermeneutics. In other words, you learn to apply what the Scripture says without contradicting the original meaning.
Principles of Interpretation
There are no two ways about it. If you want to be a good Bible interpreter, you need to work at it. You need to be a skilled and accurate interpreter. Many people think that if they just read the Bible casually, all these amazing insights will come into their heads, but it doesn't work that way. Yes, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth, but you can't remain a passive bystander. You need to engage the brain God gave you, and that means developing your interpretation skills. Getting good at Bible interpretation is no different from getting good at business, sports, science, or music. If you want to be a success, you have to observe the rules and follow the principles.
1. Interpret the Bible by the Bible. "What is obscure in one part of the Scripture may be clear in another," writes R.C. Sproul. "To interpret Scripture by Scripture means that we must not set one passage of Scripture against another passage." This also means that you always read Bible verses and passages in context.
Context is like a character. Just as we can be tempted to jump on a rumor about someone even if it's totally out of character, we can also be tempted to take something the Bible out of context. In both cases, all that does is makes us feel better, even if were wrong. Here's a guideline: when it comes to people, consider the character before making a conclusion. When it comes to Scripture, consider the context before making an interpretation. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart talk about two rules of contexts: historical and literal. Each book of the Bible has different historical context, which has to do with the time and culture of the author and his readers. You have to ask why and when the book was written. What was going on in the culture at that time, and who were the major historical figures involved? To get a general sense of the historical context, read the introductory notes to the book in your Bible.
The literal context of the Bible refers to the words themselves. All words have meaning, but they take on different meanings in a sentence or paragraph. For example if we said the word lawyer you probably have negative thoughts. But if we said, "My best friend, Bob is a lawyer," then you would think happy thoughts. You know he will work for your interest. The word takes on a different meaning in context.
2. Interpret the Bible literally. This means that you should interpret the Bible as it is written. The Bible is a miraculous book but not a magical book. God used the rules of grammar to communicate his message, which means a noun is always a noun and a verb is always a verb. "To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it it as literature," R.C. Sproul writes. This means you have to look at literal form or style, such as poetry, prophecy and historical narratives (we do this with everything we read). Is the author using a metaphor (figurative language) or a hyperbole (deliverable exaggeration used for effect) to make a point? For example, when Jesus said your faith could move mountains, he didn't mean that you could literally move Mount Everest (Matthew 17:20-21). Jesus was using a literal expression to show us how potent our faith really is.
3. Interpret the Bible Objectively. It's easy to interpret the Bible subjectively, according to our own viewpoints and desires. This is where people can get into serious disagreements, both with the Bible and with each other. As you read and study the Bible, focus on what it says rather than on what you already believe. You must first ask what is given Scripture was intended to mean to the people for whom it was originally written before you can ask what it means to you personally.
Avoid the temptation to stamp your own impressions or feelings on Scripture before you discover the objective truth it contains. This doesn't mean that you should come to your own conclusion about what the Bible means. You aren't obligated to follow someone else's viewpoint. However, your own private interpretation will only be meaningful with the guidance of the Holy Spirit bind with your own diligent study. Remember that the Bible bears the authority of God. Trust God's word to mean what it says.
By following these principles, you will become a person who "correctly explains the word of truth" to 2 Timothy 2:15
- The Bible is an essential component of the Christian faith. You could even say that the Christian faith requires belief in the Bible.
- Believing that the Bible truly is God's word is important for at least four reasons: (1) the Bible claims to be the word of God. (2) the Bible gives us God's plan for humanity and the world. (3) the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ. (4) the Bible gives us instructions for living every day.
- The Bible is the most remarkable book in history. It was written by 40 authors over a span of 1600 years into languages, yet it has one consistent message.
- Evidence from the Bible depends on evidence for the Bible for one simple reason: the evidence and information about God and the Bible is good only if we can trust the Bible to be a true and trustworthy document.
- The key component of evidence from the Bible are inspiration, canonicity, and transmission.
- The pieces of evidence for the Bible includes these: (1) there are more than 5,000 various manuscripts of the New Testament. (2) the ancient manuscripts upon which the Bible is based are amazingly consistent. (3) evidence for the Bible's accuracy from sources outside the Bible is miraculous.
- There is ample evidence to show that the four Gospels, which gives us the story of Jesus, are accurate and historically reliable.
- The evidence for the Bible doesn't mean anything unless you read it. Most valuable thing you can do is to interpret the Bible accurately, using these principles as guidelines: interpret the Bible by the Bible, interpret the Bible literally and interpret the Bible objectively.
Reflection and discussion
1. Why do you read the Bible? What benefits do you experience when you're consistent in your reading and study?
2. In what ways is the Bible claims to be the word of God Western Mark according to the Bible, what is God's plan for humanity?
3. Review the three principles of Bible interpretation. Give a one sentence reason for the importance of these.
Bickel, Bruce and Stan Jantz. Evidence for Faith 101:Understanding Apologetics in Plain Language. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008, 116-138