This column appeared Aug. 16, 2012 in The Pathway, the official news service of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Muslims claim The Qur’an is the perfect revelation of Allah, delivered by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad. It corrects corrupted Jewish and Christian scriptures and supersedes all other religious writings.
Mormons profess belief in four standard works: The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible. The Book of Mormon is especially important, recording Jesus’ appearance in America to the descendants of a Jewish prophet; it is, in Mormon teaching, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
Adherents to the Church of Scientology study Dianetics, a book by one-time science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who claimed that people go through multiple rebirths and must shed negative baggage from past lives in order to become “operating thetans.”
Then, of course, there’s the Bible, which Christians call the Word of God.
Add to these the sacred writings of other belief systems – from Buddhism to Baha’ism – and the claims to truth are astounding in their number and variety.
But which of these books is really true? Is it possible that all of them contain some truth – or that all of them are true for the people who choose to believe them? Is it narrow-minded, arrogant, or culturally insensitive to say that any of these writings is false? Why do Christians insist that the Bible is the Word of God? Can’t we all just get along?
Inerrant, inspired, authoritative
Most Christians believe in the veracity of scripture. That is, we trust the Bible to be the inerrant, inspired Word of God and the authoritative source of all we believe and practice.
By inerrant, we mean the original autographs are without error because God, as its Author, does not lie or make mistakes. By inspired, we mean the Bible is “God breathed.” And by authoritative, we mean the Bible is God’s written revelation to us and therefore must guide our thoughts, words and deeds.
But many people – including some professing Christians – do not share such a high view of scripture. They raise serious objections to the church’s claims about the Bible’s truthfulness and reliability. For example, some critics charge:
- “No one really knows what the Bible says because we don’t have the original manuscripts.”
- “It’s silly to assume that one book contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to The Book of Mormon, do not come from God.”
- “The Bible is full of contradictions.”
Responding to these objections is a daunting task – in part because critics raise some valid points. For example, it’s true that we do not have the “autographs,” or original manuscripts, penned by the Bible’s human authors.
However, the Bible soars above other ancient documents in many convincing ways, giving us good reasons to trust the scriptures.
Reason 1: The documents
While the autographs, or original manuscripts, of the Bible have not survived the ravages of time, no other book from the ancient world has more, earlier, or more accurately copied manuscripts than the Bible.
For example, we have 25,000 – 30,000 handwritten copies of some or all of the New Testament, 5,700 of them in Greek. This is astounding when you consider that the average Greek author has fewer than 20 copies of his works – and no originals – still in existence.
Even if there were no copies of these biblical texts, we could reconstruct the entire New Testaments from the writings of the ancient church fathers, who quoted from the New Testament more than one million times.
In addition, the existing Bible manuscripts are relatively older than other ancient documents, dating closer to the time of the originals, thus lending credence to their reliability.
Finally, while these documents vary somewhat as they have been copied over the years, nearly all of the variants are minor, and none of them challenges a single doctrine of the Christian faith.
Reason 2: The scribes
The 40 men who penned the scriptures over a period of 1,500 years insisted that their message came from God. Many were persecuted, or even martyred, for their faith. The authors of the Bible claimed to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
The prophets ascribed their message to God. Phrases such as “Thus saith the Lord,” “God said,” and “the Word of the Lord came to me” are found hundreds of times in the Bible. The apostle Paul declared that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter referred to the writings of Paul as “scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
Even non-Christian ancient writings attest to the truthfulness of the eyewitness accounts of Christ. For example, the Jewish historian Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, corroborates the claims of the New Testament writers that Jesus was more than a man; He was the Messiah, and rose from the dead on the third day.
Next: Reasons 3-7 to trust the scriptures.