The faith of some Christians is challenged when they learn that the autographs, or originals, of the Bible no longer exist. Written on stone, metal, papyrus, and parchment, the words first penned by 40 divinely inspired authors over 1,500 years have not survived the ravages of time.
If God is able to breathe out His Word so that the originals are rightly described as inerrant, infallible, and sufficient, could He not also have ensured that the originals survived?
Of course. But He didn’t.
Nor did God promise that an unbroken line of inerrant copies would be made and preserved from the inspired autographs.
What we’re left with are thousands of manuscript copies sporting tens of thousands of variants, a reality that has spurred scholars like Bart Ehrman to abandon Evangelical Christianity in favor of agnosticism.
But should that be our response?
This is the last 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 “sufficient.” But what does that mean?
All the words God intended
“The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly,” writes Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology.
By sufficient, we mean the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. It’s what the Reformers called sola scriptura – by Scripture alone.
In practical terms, this means the Bible answers life’s most important questions, such as: Is there a God? What’s wrong with the world? And what happens when I die?
Not that Scripture is an exhaustive catalogue of everything God knows, for omniscience cannot be confined to a single set of divinely inspired writings.
Equally important, sufficiency does not prevent God from speaking to us today through Spirit-filled leaders, dreams and visions, or even an audible voice if He so chooses, although these forms of communication are better classified as illumination, not revelation, and they must conform to Scripture.
This column appeared Aug. 30, 2012, in The Pathway, the official news service of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
In the last column we began exploring good reasons to trust the scriptures, including the reliability of the ancient documents and the faithful testimony of the human authors. Now, we examine five more reasons to be confident that the Bible we hold in our hands is true written revelation from God.
Reason 3: Fulfilled prophecy
The Old Testament features nearly 300 prophecies of the Messiah. Many are highly detailed, making it impossible – apart from divine intervention – for one man to fulfill them all. Yet Jesus did, confirming His identity as the Christ and providing exceptional evidence for the reliability of scripture. Among the Messianic prophecies fulfilled in Jesus are:
- His virgin birth (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21)
- His birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4-7)
- His miracle-working authority (Isa. 35:5-6; Matt. 9:35)
- His rejection by the Jews (Ps. 118:22; 1 Peter 2:7)
- His suffering and death (Ps. 22; Isa. 53; Matt. 27:27ff)
- His resurrection (Ps. 16:10; Mark 16:6; Acts 2:31; 1 Cor. 15:3-8)
- His ascension into heaven (Ps. 68:18; Acts 1:9)
- His place today at the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Heb. 1:3)
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.
Christians generally believe in the reliability and authority of Scripture. But some have doubts and others raise serious objections to the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. This study will address eight of the more common objections, including: “No one really knows what the Bible says because the original manuscripts are lost,” and “The Bible is full of contradictions.”
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