This is the first in a series of columns on the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture.
When Christians say the Bible is true, we often use terms to describe the manner in which God has spoken to us through His written Word.
One such term is “inspired.” But what does that mean?
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God …”
The phrase “inspired by God” comes from the Greek theopneustos. It means “God-breathed” and conveys the idea that Scripture is the product of a holy exhalation.
God did not breathe into the Scriptures, thus inspiring them; He breathed out His Word. The Bible’s origin is God Himself.
This is the final installment of a nine-part series of articles offering sound reasons to believe the Bible is the Word of God.
In Systematic Theology (Vol. I), Dr. Norman Geisler presents many lines of evidence supporting claims for the Bible as the Word of God. In unique fashion, he labels each line of evidence with a word beginning with the letter “S,” making his arguments relatively easy to follow and remember. This article borrows his headings and then incorporates some of Geisler’s research with numerous other sources, which are cited.
Reason 9: The testimony of the saved
- The Bible’s life-changing power is widely known through the testimony of those who have come to know Christ. The apostle Paul, once known as a Christ-hating persecutor, declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
- The writer of Hebrews declares: “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
- Peter added, “… you have been born again – not of perishable seed but of imperishable – through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).
- The celebrated British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, who began his studies as a skeptic, became a Christian after exploring the sites of Paul’s journeys firsthand and comparing them with the testimony of Acts (“The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Craig L. Blomberg, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 220).
- Testimonies throughout the centuries and in this day speak emphatically and gloriously of the power of God’s Word to bring about a conviction of sin and forgiveness of that sin by faith in Jesus Christ.
Geisler concludes, “The Bible is the only known book in the world that both claims to be and proves to be the Word of God…. The testimony of science that demonstrates it, of the scrolls that transmit it, the scribes who wrote it, the supernatural that confirms it, the structure that manifests it, the stones that support it, the Savior who verified it, the Spirit that witnesses to it, and the saved who have been transformed by it. These combined testimonies confirm that the Bible is what it claims to be – the divinely inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 561).
In Systematic Theology (Vol. 1), Dr. Norman Geisler presents many lines of evidence supporting claims for the Bible as the Word of God. In unique fashion, he labels each line of evidence with a word beginning with the letter “S,” making his arguments relatively easy to follow and remember. These articles borrow his headings and then incorporate some of Geisler’s research with other sources, which are cited.
Reason 3: The testimony of 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 and even killed for their faith. Of the 11 faithful apostles plus Paul, only John escaped a martyr’s death, although he was boiled in oil and banished to Patmos; even at that, he continued to boldly proclaim divine truth.
- The authors of the Bible claimed to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21).
- 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 prophets were convinced they were speaking and writing God’s Word. Near the end of the Old Testament, Zechariah mentioned “the law (and) the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets” (Zech. 7:12). Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:21 that “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Many of the prophets suffered and died for their belief that they were speaking God’s Word (Matt. 23:34-35).
- Writing about the Old Testament, Paul declared that “All Scripture is God-breathed …” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). New Testament writers like Peter referred to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). And the author of Hebrews ranked the New Testament with the Old Testament (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:3).
- Non-Christian ancient writings attest to the truthfulness of the eyewitness accounts of Christ. Ancient history dealt almost exclusively with political or military rulers, or with religious and philosophical leaders of established and respected religions. Since Jesus fits none of these categories, we would expect to see very little about Him in non-Christian writings. Yet the Jewish historian Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, written in the last third of the first century, corroborates the claims of the New Testament writers that Jesus was more than a man, was the Messiah, and rose from the dead on the third day (18:63-64, quoted in “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” Craig L. Blomberg, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 215).
Next — Reason 4: The testimony of the supernatural
Objection 5: The Bible is full of contradictions.
When someone raises this objection, a reasonable first response is, “Show me one.” Often, the person objecting cannot do so. However, it must be acknowledged that there are numerous places in scripture where there are seemingly conflicting testimonies and apparent contradictions. If the Bible comes from God, and if God does not make mistakes, how do we reconcile these Bible difficulties?
First, we should examine the Bible the same way we examine other documents, using the traditional rules of logic and reason. A good place to start is by applying the law of non-contradiction, which maintains that “nothing can both be and not be.” For example, it cannot be day and night in the same place at the same time. Therefore, if a passage of scripture violates the law of non-contradiction, its trustworthiness is undermined. At the same time, based on the law of non-contradiction, two statements may differ without being contradictory. For example, in Matthew, we read that Jesus met two blind men. In Mark and Luke, we only read about one blind man meeting Jesus. Are these contradictory statements? Not according to the law of non-contradiction and the rules of evidence. If Jesus met two men, He certainly met one. (By the way, alleged contradictions such as this provide supporting evidence for the veracity of the eyewitnesses; they show that the New Testament writers didn’t “get their story straight” in order to concoct a hoax.)
Second, we should consider translation and context. Some Bible passages appear contradictory because of the nuances of Bible translation. A case in point: The Book of Acts has two accounts of Paul’s conversion experience. Acts 9:7 (KJV) says the men journeying with Paul heard a voice but saw no one. Acts 22:9 (KJV) says they did not hear the voice. The two passages appear contradictory, but the Greek clears it up, as do some modern translations. The construction of the verb is different in each account. W.F. Arndt explains: “In Acts 9:7 it (the verb “to hear,” akouo), is not the same in both accounts. In Acts 9:7 it is used with the genitive, in Acts 22:9 with the accusative. The construction with the genitive simply expresses that something is being heard or that certain sounds reach the ear; nothing is indicated as to whether a person understands what he hears or not. The construction with the accusative, however, describes a hearing, which includes mental apprehension of the message spoken. From this it becomes evident that the two passages are not contradictory” (Does the Bible Contradict Itself? Quoted in “Bible Contradictions – Appearance or Reality?” found in www.allabouttruth.org.)
Some additional considerations:
- Time. Some seemingly contradictory statements are separated by years – even hundreds of years – and must be seen in their proper time frame. For example, Gen. 1:31 records that God was satisfied with creation, while Gen. 6:6 says He was sorry that He made man. Contradictory? No. Keep in mind that hundreds of years, including the fall of man, came between the first and second statements.
- Context. A careful study of the chapters and books in which the seeming contradictions occurred often reveals subtle differences that aid understanding.
- Sense. Words and phrases can be used literally or figuratively. For example, Matt. 11:14 identifies John the Baptist as Elijah, yet in John 1:21 John denies being Elijah. Contradiction? No. In Matthew, Elijah is described as the spiritual antitype of the great prophet (see Luke 1:17).
- Quotations. Many references to Old Testament passages are not word-for-word quotes in the New Testament. Rather, they are paraphrases or summaries.
- Understanding. Some critics assume that passages they can’t explain cannot be explained by anyone. But hard sayings do not imply errors in transmission.
- Perspective. When two or more writers provide separate accounts of the same events, differences in names, numbers, and conversations may be accounted for by each writer’s perspective: What did he see? Who did he interview? What was most important to record? Who is the audience to whom he wrote? Should numbers be exact or rounded?
Rick Cornish summarizes: “The Bible enjoys a much better track record than the critics. They’ve been proven wrong man times; Scripture, not once. Even though criticized for centuries, it has stood the test of time. But skeptics play a constructive role. Their challenges force us to study and sometimes reevaluate our interpretations. But until they improve their own game, we need not worry about their accusation that ‘the Bible is full of errors and contradictions.’ It’s not” (5 Minute Apologist, p. 68).
Next — Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Objection 3: The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books – perhaps some equally inspired writings.
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, compiled a list of the 27 books we now know as the New Testament in 367 A.D. He also was the first person in the church to use the word “canon,” which comes from the Greek kanon and means measure or rule. The councils of Carthage (393 A.D.) and Hippo (397 A.D.) fixed the final list of New Testament books, but it’s important to note that the question of which books were truly “scripture” was being addressed long before this. Even more important, Christians believe the Holy Spirit, who authored scripture, also managed its preservation and organization (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Four developments prompted the church to act to “close” the canon: 1) heretics began circulating false writings; 2) counterfeit books, falsely written under the name of an apostle, began to appear; 3) Christianity spread to new lands, and missionaries needed to know which books should be translated into the native languages; 4) the edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) ordered the destruction of the Christians’ sacred writings and threatened death for those who refused; believers needed to know which books were worth dying for.
The early church used a number of criteria in discerning which books belonged in the canon: 1) Evidence/claims of inspiration; 2) apostolic origin (written by an apostle or an associate who preserved the apostle’s teaching), the only exceptions being granted to James and Jude, brothers of Jesus who became followers after His death and resurrection; 3) written while the apostles were still alive; 4) general acceptance and use by the church and in continuous use in worship services; 5) agreement with accepted and undisputed scripture.
What about the Apocrypha, a collection of 14 books of Jewish history and tradition written from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.? The argument against these books includes the following: 1) The Jews never accepted these books as scripture and did not include them in their Bible; 2) any acceptance the books enjoyed was local and temporary; 3) no major church council included these books in scripture; 4) many of the books contain errors; 5) some books include teachings that contradict scripture; 6) neither Jesus nor the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha even though they quoted from the Old Testament hundreds of times; 7) the Christian churches that accepted these books did so many centuries after the Canon was closed.
The term “Bible” derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use of la biblia in the sense of “Bible” is found in 2 Clement 2:14, around 150 A.D.
Next — Objection 4: It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.