Is the Bible Reliable?

June 19, 2017

 

The Bible contains God’s Word—the truth. It is “God-breathed.” It outlines the history of mankind since the creation of the world and records some of God’s dealings with us throughout the ages. It is the story of humanity’s estrangement from God (because of our sin) and eventual reconciliation to Him—because of His love and mercy.  It’s a compilation of 66 books and letters written over a period of about 1,500 years by more than 40 authors, who were divinely inspired to record without error God’s Word for mankind.

 

The Bible is divided into two sections. The Old Testament focuses largely on God’s dealings with His chosen nation, Israel, containing within it the Law and the Prophets. The New Testament details the life and ministry of Jesus Christ: the Son of God and promised Savior of mankind. It includes at its core a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the hope of eternal life.

 

The Bible reveals an incredible picture of God’s love for mankind through His Only Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins to reconcile us to God. It offers the hope of eternal life for all who believe in His name: the promise of defeating death, overcoming condemnation, and living forever in the presence of The Creator. Christians trust God’s Word and its promises based on faith.

 

Nevertheless, God has not left us all without compelling evidence for why the Bible can be trusted. First and foremost, the Bible is reliable based on God’s own testimony of His Word. Jesus authenticates the Old Testament many times throughout his earthly ministry. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18). Here we see the preservation of the Law maintained, even to the detail of each and every pen stroke. And even after heaven and earth pass away, His words will remain, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Rather, they are “firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).

 

Often Jesus would ask his disciples, “have you never read in the scriptures…?” (Matthew 21:42). Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy when countering the devil while being tempted in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Every time Jesus was tempted by the devil, he responded by quoting the Old Testament, giving validity to its authority as God’s Word. Jesus also uses the Old Testament in his Sermon on the Mount. In fact, one out of every ten recorded words of Jesus are Old Testament quotes.

 

Throughout the Gospels we also learn that Jesus confirms the historical reality of Adam and Eve, Jonah, Elijah, David, Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Abel, to name a few. Jesus confirms that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Matthew 19:7-9). Jesus also reveals that he believed in everything written in the book of Moses, the Pentateuch (Mark 12:26). He affirms and uses Daniel to explain the future (Matthew 24:15). It is undeniable that, according to the Gospel accounts, Jesus affirms the Old Testament as authoritative scripture—God’s Word.

 

In addition to Jesus’ witness of scripture while on earth, the Bible time and time again witnesses to the inerrancy, inspiration, and eternality of itself as God’s Word. “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21). Scripture is God-breathed: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). It is eternal: “The Word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24). It is refined and pure—perfect: “The words of the Lord are pure, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O Lord, will keep them…” (Psalm 12:6-7).

 

Evidence for the refined, pure, and perfect nature of God’s Word in the Bible is found in its prophetic accuracy. Approximately 2,500 prophecies appear in the pages of the Bible, about 2,000 of which have already been fulfilled. For example, sometime before 500 BC, the prophet Daniel prophesied the time-frame for the coming of the Messiah of Israel, that the Messiah’s public ministry would begin 483 years after the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25-26). He also predicted that the Messiah would be “cut off,” killed, and that this would happen prior to a second destruction of Jerusalem.[1]

 

Amazingly, all of this has been fulfilled perfectly in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy, with plenty of documentation validating its fulfillment. In 458 BC, King Artaxerses of Persia issued a decree regarding the restoration of Jerusalem; Jesus’ ministry in Galilee began 483 years later (taking into account calendar changes and the fact 1 BC to 1 AD is just one year, most historians date the start of Christ’s ministry at about 26 AD). Jesus’ crucifixion came a few years later, and about 40 years after that, in 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed.[2]

 

Prophecies were fulfilled concerning the destruction of ancient Babylon. Prior to its destruction, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both declared its doom. Isaiah amazingly foretold the name of the conqueror—Cyrus—who would lay waste to it and subdue the surrounding nations of Israel. Isaiah also prophesied that Cyrus would freely release the Jewish exiles in his region (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1; 45:13). Isaiah made these prophecies 150 years before Cyrus was even born and 80 years before the Jews were taken into exile. But they were all fulfilled.[3]

 

It was also foretold that after Babylon’s destruction, travelers would avoid Babylon’s ruins: a city never again to be inhabited, its stones not even to be moved for use as building material (Isaiah 13:17-22; Jeremiah 51:26, 43). These prophecies would have seemed ridiculous at the time they were given. Mighty Babylon was considered indestructible, enclosed by both a moat and a double wall 330 feet high, each part 90 feet thick. But in 539 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. All details of these prophecies were fulfilled.[4]

 

An overview for the history of the Israelite nation was given in advance through Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, and others—sweeping across 3,500 years of history. Details about the destructions, captivity, restoration, scattering, and gathering of Israel have been prophesied and fulfilled. Predictions about ancient lands once fertile becoming barren wastelands have been fulfilled. Prophecies have also been fulfilled concerning the location of Israel’s Messiah’s birth, details about his death, as well as his betrayal for 30 pieces of silver. In fact, there perhaps are more than 300 Bible prophecies alone fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The list could go on and on.[5]

 

The Bible is not only prophetically accurate, but textually reliable. Around 25,000 partial and complete ancient handwritten manuscript copies of the New Testament exist. There are also thousands of Old Testament copies, many predating the time of Christ. There is no other ancient work of literature even close in comparison in regard to manuscript evidence. For instance, only a few copies on any single work of Aristotle exists; fewer than 700 copies have been found for Homer’s Iliad.2 Discovered in 1947 near the Dead Sea are scrolls of some 900 ancient Bible documents, predating 100 A.D., which include a complete copy of the book of Isaiah. The Dead Sea Scrolls have validated that today’s Bible text is the same the early church had 2,000 years ago.[6]

 

In addition to being textually reliable, most historical claims of the Bible can be archeologically validated. The Tel Dan Inscription is one example. It is a stone tablet found containing an inscription referring to the Davidic dynasty. This validates there was actually a man named David who reigned as King in Israel, as the Bible reports. Another example is that of a crucified man’s remains from the first century. The skeleton contained a crucifixion nail. This confirms crucifixion as a form of capital punished in Jesus’ time, verifying as well the use of nails as explained in the biblical narrative. The Pilate Inscription, found in Caesarea, read: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”[7] This verifies the Biblical account of Pilate as the prefect of Judea. The archeological evidence is massive and ever-increasing as more discoveries are found, continually affirming the claims of the Bible.

 

In addition to archeological evidence, extra-biblical historical sources corroborate details surrounding many events revealed in the Bible, including: the Flood, long life spans prior to the Flood, details surrounding the Exodus, the Assyrian invasion of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah, Cyrus’s freeing of Jews from Babylon, the prolonged darkness on the day Jesus died, Herod Agrippa’s sudden death after being hailed as a god, and the expulsion of the Jews from Rome.[8] We believe God’s Word based on faith, but God has not left us without evidence. Considering the Bible’s prophetic accuracy, textual reliability, archeological evidence, and extra-biblical corroboration on its historical events, it would seem prudent to take the book seriously.

 

But there are many more reasons for one to consider the Bible as reliable, legitimate, and true. Why would those who penned the New Testament be willing to die for Jesus if what they claimed about what Jesus said and did among them didn’t really happen? History records or indicates the following about Jesus’ disciples: Matthew was slain with an axe in Ethiopia. Mark died after having been cruelly dragged through the streets of Alexandria. Luke was hung to death in Greece. John was tortured and then banished to the island of Patmos. James was beheaded in Jerusalem. Paul was beheaded in Rome. And there were many more.[9]

 

Many of the Bible authors died for the sake of their convictions of the truth. They were also forthright about their own failures. They Bible treats its authors and characters with transparency in regard to their weaknesses and sins. They do not cast themselves in great light. Consider a few examples: Noah gets drunk shortly after getting off the ark. Abraham lies more than once saying Sarah is his sister. Moses misrepresents God and couldn’t enter the Promised Land. King David commits adultery and murder. Peter denies having known Jesus three times. Paul confesses himself as “a wretched man.” If these written works were of man and not God, then they would have likely featured themselves in a better light.[10] 

 

The Bible is full of internal consistencies. It’s pretty miraculous to consider that the Bible contains 66 books with more than 40 writers, written over a span of 1,500 years by people from different educational and cultural backgrounds. And yet the book is harmonious and consistent. It’s like a complicated puzzle in which all of the pieces each have a place and fit together perfectly. There is a beautiful simplicity to its overall message that even a child can grasp. At the same time there is depth and intricacy unmatched by any other literary work. Take, for example, the genealogy of the Bible. When read from Adam to Jesus—applying the meanings of each name—an incredible prophecy emerges. To provide a portion from this codified prophesy, examine the sequence starting with God, who created the first man, Adam, all the way to Noah, and this is what is seen: “"The God-man is appointed; a mortal man of sorrow is born! The Glory of God shall come down and teach that His death shall bring the grieving comfort and rest."[11] The Gospel in a nutshell. People can study the Bible for a lifetime, never reaching the bottom of the riches the book has to offer: always learning something new, discovering added layers, making allegorical and typological connections—treasures of knowledge unearthed continually.

 

Finall