(The first part of my script from RUCU's Rebel Apologetics Group)
How do we know what the Bible says is from God and not what a bunch of people made up?
I want to start by looking at the historical evidence from outside the Bible that the Bible is true. But before I do I want t say that when we do this, we’re on dangerous ground somewhat. As Christians we accept the Bible as our final, ultimate authority. Not history, or other writers or other data. Just the Bible. So while the evidence from outside the Bible is useful and interesting, we must be careful never to present this evidence as the final proof, as then that becomes our authority over the Bible itself. I’m increasingly convinced that the best way to argue for trusting the Bible is from the Bible itself, which we’ll be doing for most of the afternoon.
That said there is a lot of historical evidence to trust the Bible. The science of textual criticism is the science of discovering the reliability of a text. The higher the number of copies we have and the less time that passes between the original and the copies being made the more reliable the text we have in those copies is. Serious history books like Herodotus have a very large time gap, and only eight copies, whereas the Bible has, literally, thousands of copies and a time gap of, at the most, just three hundred years. The blink of an eye in terms of ancient history texts. One historian puts it like this: the text of the New Testament stands alone amongst ancient prose writing in terms of reliability.’ Other contemporary historians such as Josephus mention Jesus in their histories. One even says that ‘he was more of a God than a man.’ We’ve found ruins of places and buildings mentioned in both testaments and nothing historically or geographically in the Bible contradicts what we also believe to be true. We’ve found court records from some of the Kings mentioned in the OT and some that even mention their courtiers. The book of Daniel for example mentions King Nebuchadnezzar, and specifically that at one point late in his reign, he lost his mental faculties for a while. The madness of King Nebuchadnezzar is a recognised period of ancient history. Esther talks about King Xerxes, a well known King from the period where Esther is placed.
One further piece of evidence is how unlike other 1st century writing the Gospels are. CS Lewis puts it like this: I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this (gospel) text there are only two possible views. Either it is reportage...or else, some unknown ancient writer...without known predecessors or successors suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic realistic narrative
In short, whether you think it is necessary or not, there is a huge weight of historical and circumstantial evidence that we can trust the Bible. This evidence isn’t enough on its own though, so we must look to the Bible itself for authentication. If these seems like a slightly circular argument to you we’ll deal with that in a moment.
What about evidence from the Bible itself. There is some overlap here between this section and the section on how the Bible was recognised and put together. We need to know that this authority is what the Bible claims for itself. We see this in the OT phrase ‘Thus says the Lord’ which appears hundreds of times and would have echoed the words ‘thus says the King’ read before royal edicts. The words that fall under this banner constitute a large part of the OT and show that the original authors clearly thought they were recording God’s words.
As well as this we see what the NT says about the OT and about itself. 2 Timothy 3:16 says ‘all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ The word used for scripture here is graphe, which will become important in a moment. 2 Peter 1:21 says ‘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.’ Matthew 19:5 ‘and said therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ Which is of course a quotation by Jesus of Genesis 2:24.
So even from that small selection we can see that there is no reason to mistrust the OT as far as the NT is concerned. We’ll cover some more reasons later. What about the New Testament though? How do we know that it wasn’t made up by man? Well, 2 Peter 3:16 says: …there are some things in them (Paul’s letters) that are hard to understand which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.’ The word Peter uses here to describe Paul’s letters is graphe, the same word Paul used to talk about the OT. 1 Timothy 5:18 says ‘for scripture (again the word graphe) says you shall not muzzle and ox when it treads out the grain, and the labourer deserves his wages.’ What’s fascinating about that verse is it quotes Deuteronomy and Matthew and refers to them both as scripture, or, that word again, graphe. So from this we see that addition were being made that the term ‘scripture’ was applied to, so we can, feasibly apply 2 Timothy 3:16 to the NT as well as the OT.
Secondly, we are convinced of the authority of the Bible as we read it. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says: Now(A) we have received not(B) the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this(C) in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,(D) interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.[a]
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are(E) folly to him, and(F) he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
A conviction that the Bible is true does not come apart from reading the Bible. You can not know what the Bible says about itself unless you read it; you can not experience the inward testimony of the Bible unless you read it with faith. We are convinced of the Bible’s claims as we read the Bible. It’s words are self attesting. This is why I’m not keen to jump on the non Biblical reasons to prove the Bible, because the Bible is the final, self attesting authority.
At this point people will say that this is a hopeless circular argument. That we believe the Bible because we believe the Bible. In a way this is true. But that’s ok, it doesn’t invalidate the argument because any argument about final authority must appeal to that authority. Otherwise that authority would not be authoritative. It’s not a problem unique to Christianity. For example people might argue ‘my reason is my ultimate authority because it seems reasonable to make it so’ or ‘I know there can not be any ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority’
The ultimate truthfulness of the Bible will commend itself as being far more persuasive than other religious books. The Bible will be, and is, fully in accord with life around us, whereas other texts, or logical constructs will not. The Bible will commend itself to us in this way if we view life, and ourselves, and God in a clear way.
And here is yet another problem that sin causes in our hearts. Sin pollutes our hearts and our minds so that we are blind to the bell toll of Biblical truth, so that we can not see that glory of God in the face of Christ shining from the pages. It’s no coincidence that the people who have the deepest love for the Lord have the clearest understanding of the Bible. So in that sense the Biblical argument for Biblical authority isn’t a circle, but more a spiral. The more we are convinced of the Lordship of Christ over every area of life, the more we will be convinced of the authority of the Bible, and vice versa. This is a wonderful path to walk, and ultimately far more satisfying that relying on historical data, however worthy that may be. Of the Bible Jean Calvin says: ‘…if we turn pure eyes and upright senses towards it, the majesty of God will immediately come to view, subdue our bold rejection, and compel us to obey’.
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