We can know God without the Bible, as our faith relies in a Creator than some book, but the Bible can make our relationship even richer if it is God’s inspired guidance. When certain literature claims to be divinely inspired, it should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Some may rightly doubt the Bible is inspired because of how certain interpretations characterize God. But, God is not a sadistic torturer! Hell is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words, created over the centuries to scare people into obedience.
Before we can believe the Bible’s claim to be the thoughts of our Creator, we have to consider: if the words we have are what the writers close to the action actually wrote; are the Scriptures we have the Books intended by God; and how credible are the writers’ claims to be inspired by God. Are their claims any different than someone today declaring they are speaking for God?
- If the New Testament was considered a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would not be questioned. We don’t question the reliable of Julius Caesar’s exploits in the Gallic Wars though derived from ten manuscript copies, the earliest of which date to within 1000 years of the time the Gallic Wars was written. Nearly 25,000 manuscripts of the NT exist in libraries and universities today. The earliest of these is a fragment of John’s Gospel, which has been dated to within 50 years of the date when the apostle John penned the original. Within 100 years we have books, within 150 years most of the NT, within 225 years the complete NT.
- We don’t have the original NT manuscripts written by the authors themselves, but we know what the original manuscripts said through textual criticism for over 99 percent of the words of the Bible. We know what the variants are (different words in different ancient copies of the same verse) but none change any doctrines on the Scriptures. Thus, our present manuscripts are practically the same as the original manuscripts.
- Proof for Old Testament literature is no less impressive. Before 1947, the oldest complete Hebrew manuscript dated to AD 900. But with the discovery of 223 manuscripts in caves on the west side of the Dead Sea, we now have OT manuscripts that are a thousand years older dated around 125 BC. They have proved to be identical, word for word, in more than 95% of the text. Minor variations do not alter the clear meaning of the text into question.
- How do we know we have the Books intended by God to convey His guidance? The OT books that were considered to be God’s words to His people were set in place between about 1200 – 400 B.C. It is fair to say that Jesus believed in the collections of the OT books as we have them today (Lk. 24:44). Jesus quoted from 24 of the books. The five books not quoted were considered a part of the collections Jesus’ referenced in Luke. Paul felt the Old Testament, which was Scriptures for Paul, was inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16).
- For the NT Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only four gospels that can be shown to be first-century documents. Being closer to the action makes them more reliable. Paul wrote most of the rest of the NT books. No one at that time disputed that Paul had been appointed by God to carry out Jesus’ message (Acts 26:16-18). Paul was accepted as speaking with the wisdom given to him by God (2 Peter 3:15). There was no official canonization of NT books thought to be under God’s guidance, but most over the next few centuries accepted the collections of books we know as the NT.
- How credible is the writers’ claim to be inspired by God? It does seem the 66 different books written in three different languages by many different authors, has an incredible unity and consistency as though orchestrated by a Higher Power. The OT books show an incredible unity pointing toward the fulfillment of a promise by God, beginning with a promise made to Eve about her seed destroying the evil one and accumulating in Malachi where God will be sending His messenger (3:1). Many reading this have little doubt that Jesus the Messiah was the fulfillment of this promise.
- The Bible claims that God’s actually words were spoken such as God’s command to Adam (Gen 2:16-17) or the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Ex 20:1-3). At Jesus’ baptism God actually spoke from heaven (Matt 3:17) and these words were recorded. We must either accept where Scripture records “God said” that the writers are actually recording the words of God spoken to them in some fashion, or the writers are lying and saying God spoke to them when He didn’t. If you believe them, there is no reason to not trust their other writings.
- “Thus says the Lord” appears thousands of time in the OT, thus distinguishing thoughts and words from God from their own. God said He would actually give the prophets His words in their mouth (Jer. 1:9; Deut. 18:18-20). Death was a consequence for one claiming to be speaking for the Lord but who had not received a message from God (Deut. 18:20-22). OT Scriptures do not indicate dictation from God the very words written by the prophets; instead, the prophets clearly indicate they knew when the Spirit of God was teaching them. Most don’t claim that today. Nathan advising King David on his own was clearly differentiated when God spoke to Nathan and told him to advise David otherwise (2 Sam. 7:1-17).
- In the world of the OT, the phrase “Thus says the Lord” would have been recognized as identical in form to the phrase, “Thus says king…” which was used to preface the edict of a king that could not be questioned but simply had to be obeyed. Thus, when the prophets say “Thus says the Lord,” they are claiming to be messengers from the sovereign King of Israel, namely, God himself, and they are claiming that their words are the absolutely authoritative words of God. When a prophet spoke in God’s name in this way, every word he spoke had to come from God, or he would be a false prophet (Num. 22:38; Deut. 18:18-20; Jer. 1:9; 14:14; 23:16-22; 29-31-32; Ezek. 2:7; 13:1-16) [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 74]
- One main reason the Bible can be view as reliable is because the writers record as fact, when eyewitnesses were available, that Jesus resurrected from the dead. The Bible’s credibility can be totally destroyed if proved Jesus coming back from the dead after three days was a myth. The Apostle Paul says: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…” (I Cor. 15:17). Many faiths rely on a promise for the future; Christianity relies on a promise that has already happened in the past. Is the empty tomb a provable historical fact beyond reasonable doubt as opposed to a story made up by first centuries Christians and perpetuated over the next two thousand years? NT writers ended up being a martyr for what they believed in. Some will die for a future promise. Few if any will die for what they know to be a lie. The apostle knew Jesus was the Son of God because Jesus indeed resurrected from the dead.
Many believe in God because we know it to be true in our hearts. Though we cannot touch our Creator, we know God to be present and involved in our lives. But, make no mistake about it. Should there be a need to defend the evidence for our beliefs to others, we stand on solid ground. The resurrection is a historical, reliable fact beyond reasonable doubt. Jesus actually was born, lived, died, and came back from the grave. Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher or prophet as claimed by some. He proved to be the Son of God. Also, God continues to speak to us through His word given to others in a form we refer to as Scriptures. The Scriptures are reliable historical documents. Should you begin reading the Bible on a regular basis, I believe you will be a changed person for the better. Some may feel the Bible says some outlandish things that are not plausible of a loving God. I have written on some of these possible misbeliefs at my website.