Is the Bible Credible?

You have heard objections to the credibility of the Bible: “The Bible is just a fairy tale.”  “How do we know people didn’t just make this stuff up?” “The Bible we have today isn’t what the original authors wrote.”  “The Bible cannot be trusted because the originals do not exist.”  “The Bible is full of mistakes.”  Unfortunately, much of what we hear from mainstream media promulgates such statements through the insistence of only consulting liberal scholars such as those within the Jesus Seminar.  In addition, my experience of teaching biblical hermeneutics and debating others about the veracity of Scripture has taught me that many people who question the Bible know very little about it.

In this post I hope to give evidence that the Bible is an amazingly credible document.  A few caveats: First, there is so much more I could add of a technical nature (which I teach in my seminary class) to defend this position, but for sake of space (and boredom!) I will try and make it simple.  Second, one ultimately believes in God and believes His Word on the basis of faith.  That said, I firmly believe that believing in God and the credibility of Scripture is a very rational thing.  In other words, to be a Christian and believe in the Bible does not mean you have to check your brains at the door.  Third, issues relating to this topic such as the inspiration of Scripture and the inerrancy of Scripture will be covered in forthcoming posts.

So, is the Bible reliable?  What does it say about itself and what does the historical evidence reveal?

Internal Evidence

The first question we should ask is whether or not the Bible itself claims to be the authoritative words of God.  The answer is a resounding “yes!”  Consider these texts:

2 Tim. 3:16- 17- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Pet. 1:21- “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Also significant is that Jesus considered the Scripture to be authoritative, accurate, and credible.  Matt. 5:17-Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament- the “Bible” of Jesus’ day]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”  Clearly, Jesus had the utmost regard for Scripture.

External Evidence

Consider the following in terms of the credibility of the Bible:

The practical effects of the Bible in the lives of people.  Granted, this may be an academically weak point, but you cannot discount the fact that the Bible has changed more lives in human history than any other book.  It remains today one of the best selling books (and can be argued the best seller) every year.

Remarkable survival and withstanding of scrutiny. The Bible has been scrutinized and held to a higher standard in terms of credibility than any other document in history.  See “Credibility of the Text” below.

Confirmations in archaeological findings. Consider, for example, that the Book of Mormon states that the people of Jared, descendants from the Tower of Babel, migrated to North America and built large, industrialized cities in the pre-Colombian era.  The problem is that archaeologists have yet to find one of these cities.  On the other hand, the vast majority of the cities mentioned in the Bible have been discovered.

Credibility of the Text

The Bible has been scrutinized more than any other book.  In general, scholars consider the validity of an ancient document on the basis of two criteria: One, the number of ancient copies that are extant (in existence); Two, the date of the earliest copy in relation to the date of the autograph (the original).  NOTE: It is often argued that the Bible is not to be trusted because the originals do not exist.  However, the original to ANY ancient document the age of the Bible does not exist.  The actual documents written by the hand of Plato, for example, are not extant.  So, the lack of originals is a completely fallacious argument.

Consider the two criteria I just mentioned.  The first is number of ancient copies.  Let’s say you walked into a high school or college classroom and asked the students, “Do you any of you doubt Livy wrote Roman History?” No one would raise their hand.  But if you asked that same question of Paul and his letters, you would certainly have some skeptics.  But let’s examine the evidence. Today, there are 20 copies of Livy’s Roman History.  There are 9 copies of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  There are 8 copies of Herodotus’ History.  All of these easy fulfill the scholarly criteria for being credible.  So what about the Bible- the New Testament in particular?  Today we have over 5,000 full copies and fragments of the New Testament in its original language of Koine Greek (if you include other language copies, that number shoots to more than 25,000).  20, 9, 8, and 5,000- which document is more credible?

The second criteria is the gap of time between the date of the original and the earliest copy.  The argument is that the shorter amount of time between the original and earliest copy is better because that is less time for scribes to make errors or additions.  The oldest copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars we have today was written around 850 A.D.  Caesar wrote Gallic Wars around 50 B.C.  The gap of time between the original and the earliest copy is 900 years.  The gap of time between the original of Herodotus’ History and the earliest copy is about 1,300 years.  The gap of time between the writings of Plato and the earliest copy is also about 1,300 years.  All of these fit the scholarly criteria and would never be thought as anything but credible.  Once again, what about the Bible?  John wrote his Gospel around 90 A.D.  We have a portion of a copy of John 18 (the Rylands fragment, known as “P52”) that is just 35 years after the original!  900 years, 1,300 years, and 35 years.  Which document is more credible? The Muratorian Canon (170 A.D.- about 200 years after most of the New Testament was written) contains a list of almost the entire New Testament as being in wide circulation in the early church (incidentally this is a blow to the “research” of author Dan Brown).

The works of Livy, Herodotus, Caesar, and Plato are seldom, if ever questioned, as for their credibility.  However, the Bible is always questioned.  Yet, the historical evidence does not bear this out.

Scholars and scribes through the centuries have used strict criteria in evaluating biblical manuscripts.  They consider the age of the manuscript and its physical condition.  They consider what is known about the manuscript and its scribe and if there is any reason to suspect editing.  They consider if the text is in harmony with the same text in other manuscripts.  They look to see if there is an easier reading substituted for a more difficult one.  In so many ways, the text of the Bible has been carefully copied in the transmission of God’s Word.

Credibility of the author

Here’s another objection to the credibility of the Bible: The authors are biased.  Do they tell us the truth about Jesus or what they want us to believe about Jesus?  Everything ever written is biased to some degree.  Everyone who writes has a purpose for writing and a particular point of view.  A newspaper story, the letter you got from your mother, even your electric bill has some bias.  The question is, “Is there too much bias?

Biblical authors included their shortcomings unlike most ancient authors. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the chronicles written by Pharoahs, and Mesopotamian kings are all written about themselves by themselves.  They do not tell of any defeat, only victories.  The purpose of these writings is to glorify themselves.  On the other hand, biblical writers are out to glorify God, not themselves.  If the biblical writers were biased, we would not read about:

-Moses murdering a man and forced into exile.

-David sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband.

-Peter denying Christ three times.

Accuracy

The Bible is accurate in all that it says.  There are countless critics who have determined so-called “errors” in the Bible.  I do not have the time to consider these (perhaps in future posts?), but studying these “errors” and how time after time advancements in textual scholarship and archaeology always support the Bible and not the critics is fascinating.  We could go through a long litany of evidences on how the Bible is accurate, but consider just two.

One, much of what the Bible claims, if they were lies, would by their nature not exist.  Let me explain.  Let’s say four guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all meet at the Jerusalem Starbucks in 60 A.D. and decide to “invent” a new religion to foist onto to people as a joke or ploy for popularity.  If they were “inventing” a new religion, wouldn’t they make it something that would be believable and credible in the minds of people?  Instead, the Gospels start off with the protagonist being born of a virgin, healing people and raising people from the dead, then raising himself from the dead with the first witness of the resurrection being a woman (whose credibility as a witness in the first century was inadmissible).  The only reason such “unbelievable” things appear in the New Testament is because they really happened.  If these guys were making this stuff up they certainly would not have included such outrageous claims.  Furthermore, most of the earliest followers of Jesus gave their lives as martyrs for their faith.  If the account of Jesus had been a lie they had fabricated, they certainly would have come clean about their deception in order to save themselves.

Two, the fulfilled prophecy contained in the Bible cannot be discounted.  Suppose you picked up a book and it predicted the major events of WWII.  It talked about the rise of Hitler, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the atomic bomb.  You then looked at the copyright on the book and it says “1950.”  Big deal.  Written after the facts.  But what if that same book had a copyright of 1920?  Then you would be on to something!  Consider the fulfilled prophecy in the Bible written long before the events occurred, many times in amazing detail.  Micah wrote (5:2) that Jesus the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, over 700 years before it happened.  Psalm 22, written even earlier, accurately predicted that the soldiers would not divide Jesus’ robe at the crucifixion, but rather cast lots for it. There are about 300 prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled in the person Jesus Christ.

There is so much more that could be said in defense of the Bible, but I hope I made the point that, even by the world’s secular standards, the Bible can fairly be called the most credible ancient document in existence.  You don’t have to check your brains at the door!  Again, we ultimately trust God’s Word to be true and authoritative on the basis of faith.  We love His Word because we love Him.  The Bible is truly an amazing, powerful, guide by which to live our lives.

Psalm 119:129-130- “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

 

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6 Responses to “Is the Bible Credible?”

  1. Hi Todd, as an atheist, I just wanted to point out some flaws in your arguments since you have positioned them as proof for nonbelievers. I hope you don’t find my comments unwelcome, I only mean to be helpful since I have heard these arguments before. I apologize for the length of the comment, I skipped a few arguments but feel free to reply with those as well.

    Internal Evidence:
    The Bible claiming that the Bible is true surely must stand out to you as being something of a totology. Every other religious text claims its own veracity as well, but I think we would agree that they are not true. If you wouldn’t believe Muhammed’s claims about the Quran, then Jesus’ claims about the New Testament probably won’t work either.

    Practical Effects:
    I agree with you that this one is a weak point. A story being ‘best selling’ and ‘life changing’ does not mean that it is true.

    Scrutiny:
    I agree that it is perhaps the most scutinized text in history, but along with with that has come a mountain of contradictions and inaccuracies that you haven’t mentioned. Even ignoring the creation story, the events in Egypt and Roman territories should have been recorded by extrabiblical stories, but were not.

    Archaeological findings & Credibility of the Text
    No one argues that the cities in the Bible didn’t exist. Plenty of other religions mention historical places in their texts too, but that doesn’t help to prove miracles or the existance of a god. Even ignoring the creation story, why is there no evidence for the flood, the 400 years in Egypt or contemporary sources from the time of Jesus, etc?
    The reason that Plato and Caesar are easier to believe is they are not making magical claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you tell me you ate eggs for breakfast, I have no reason to think you are lying. If you tell me you ate dragon eggs for breakfast, I should be more skeptical.

    Stories of virgin births, announced by supernatural beings, heralded by a star, during the winter solstice, death and resurrection are all elements that many religious figures have in common. Horus, Krishna, Mithras and Zoroaster have all these things in common and had believers in the area for centuries before Jesus. It shouldn’t be surprising that elements from these characters would be attributed also to Jesus following his death. It shouldn’t be surprising either that his biography would be made to match the Jewish prophesies as well. Remember that most biblical scholars believe that the first gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death (probably no earlier than 51 AD) and probably not by anyone who witnessed the events themselves. When the Council of Nicaea created the canon that we are familiar with today in 325 AD, many of these elements were still under debate and were combined to create consensus among the factions that had already developed.

    So it is more important to look at the history world’s religions, it’s thousands of sects and gods, and how they came about. I think that you would agree with me about the nonexistance of most of those gods, but if you are going to set about proving the existance of Yahweh, please consider why you are not following the others.

    This articles seems to be aimed more toward reassuring those who already believe. I am sure I am not the only nonbeliever eager to hear something new or refined, so I hope this helps.

    • Joshua, thank you for reading the post and giving your comments. My reply is below, but granted, swapping comments on a blog is not the greatest forum for debate. As you say, there is so much more that could be said. Yes, I’m sure many of my arguments are old hat for you as are your arguments for me. But I appreciate the dialogue and the opportunity to learn.

      Yes, the Bible’s claim of its veracity and authority are a tautology (I think you meant that, not totology which is something completely different) to me. The reason for this is that my epistemology is faith. As I said, I ultimately do not believe in God or the Bible because both can be “proved.” If my epistemology were the scientific method (as I assume yours is) then I would need “proof.” I certainly do not discredit the scientific method. Yet, in terms of understanding our origins and the meaning of life, faith is how I choose to know things- albeit not in a sense of fideism, i.e. you don’t have to check your brains at the door. I merely state the Bible’s internal evidence of credibility because I must do so in terms of an epistemology of faith.

      I agree with you that the Bible being “best selling” and “life changing” doesn’t make it true, but neither can you discount its influence and impact. How many people across the globe are familiar with the names Moses, Abraham, and Jesus instead of the names Shiva, Ganesha, or Sariputta? Did Christianity just get “lucky” to be so widespread? I believe that more than luck is behind it. Incidentally, “luck” is the basic premise behind the theory of evolution. I want to base my epistemology and worldview on something more substantive than luck.

      Yes, there is little archaeological evidence of the events of the Exodus and the presence of Israelites in Egypt as slaves. However, some do exist such as the Ipuwer papyrus and the Israel Stele. The reason there is not an abundance of archaeological evidence for the events in Egypt is twofold: One, the Nile Delta is an alluvial fan of mud with no source of stone. The Nile’s annual flooding destroys anything that would serve as archaeological evidence. Two, it is well documented that Egyptian Pharaohs never monumentalized their defeats either in writings or on walls of temples. The loss of so many slaves (and soldiers) in the Exodus would certainly have been viewed as a defeat. As I mentioned, the Bible’s credibility is demonstrated in its lack of bias, unlike other ancient documents.

      As for the flood, there are vast amounts of archaeological evidence that prove a universal flood did exist. Tons of geological and even paleontological evidence support the flood. Recently I returned form a trip in Africa where I hiked atop a peak of about 7,000 feet above sea level. I saw numerous marine fossils on that peak. How did those get there? Academics such as Phillip Johnson have done a masterful job of showing that the scientific world largely dismisses such evidence on the basis of epistemological presupposition.

      It’s true that other religions contain similar concepts found within Christianity. They are similar, but far from identical. Personally, I think many of these writings contain overt mythological genre that the Bible does not express. The claim that Christianity is simply an amalgamation of predated religious traditions isn’t a strong argument, at least to me. The Gilgamesh Epic is claimed to have existed before Moses recorded Genesis (although that can be fairly argued) and thus Moses merely “stole” a previous rendering of the answer to the origin of the world and man. However, the Gilgamesh is likely a skewed version of what was already in existence in an oral culture- namely the biblical account of creation and the flood. Moses recording Genesis is merely setting the “record straight” in codified form. This is also the impetus behind the reason New Testament documents do not appear until decades after the life of Christ.

      Ultimately, we will disagree on your argument on the history of world religions and why believe in God and not other gods on the basis of faith. I believe God is personal and living. The other gods are not. I believe the Bible is the definitive truth on our origin. Again, my epistemology does not call on me to “prove” these things, but at the same time there is ample and more than credible evidence that does not warrant my faith being labeled “irrational.” I believe that substantial evidence corroborates this belief concerning fulfilled prophecy and the resurrection of Jesus.

      Early Christians who were eyewitnesses of Jesus believed the veracity of his claims and life so much that they gave their lives for it. Incidentally, two of the four authors of the Gospels were eyewitnesses of Jesus (Matthew and John whose authorship is generally accepted by scholars). That the church centuries later at Nicea created a canon that would defend their position and validate Old Testament prophecy is completely false. First, the Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the formation of the biblical canon. Nicea’s synod had the foremost task of addressing the Arian heresy- namely the deity of Christ. Contra Dan Brown, the Council of Nicea never debated if Jesus was divine. They debated in what sense He was divine. Also contra to Dan Brown and your comment, the church councils did not strong arm their agenda amidst a sea of competing views and theories about the person and work of Jesus. Brown is no doubt alluding in his writings to the Gnostic documents in the Nag Hammadi library when he claims that many “other Gospels” were in circulation in the first century. The truth is that the earliest document in Nag Hammadi is dated mid-second century.

      The canon of the Bible was established by two church councils convened at Hippo Regius and Carthage in 393 and 397 A.D. respectively. It is very clear that these councils never “created” the canon amidst competing views. Rather they “codified” what was already in widespread use by the churches. Brown leads us to believe that the majority of churches in the first four centuries were not following the New Testament documents nor were they adhering to a theological construct outlined by the New Testament. This claim is patently false. I referenced the Muratorian Canon in my post. This document, written around 170 A.D. in Rome, lists almost the entire New Testament as we have it today as being in widespread use by the church. It does list a few books that are not in the present canon, but specifically condemns a number of works as being forgeries or Gnostic writings. This stands in stark opposition to the views of Brown and other critics.

      Thank you again for your comments and the spirit in which you gave them. I hope my reply was given likewise. I fear much of the debate between Christians and atheists has devolved to Nietzschean dynamics of who is strongest rather than what is the truth.

    • Joshua, Muhammed is not the same person as Jesus, and the Quran is not the same book as the Bible so you cant cancel it out.

      • And since you said that you are an atheist, who do you think created the World? And explain how the Grand Canyon happened? The world is far too complex to not have had a creator.

    • This will answer all of your questions, be sure to click the read more http://www.allabouttruth.org/origin-of-the-bible.htm

  2. carolyn fisher frakes Reply April 13, 2011 at 3:00 AM

    Todd, I am so happy to read your discussion of Bible Credibility. Very interesting and thought provoking. ” As for me and my house, we will worship God”. Thank you and God Bless. Your Dad and Grandparents would be very proud.