I believe the Bible was written by human beings,” the man said to me, “like any other book.”
“You’re nearly right,” I said. He looked surprised.
“The Bible never claims otherwise,” I told him. “It says clearly that it was assembled by ‘men of God’ [2 Peter 1:21, NKJV].* I’m sorry if someone led you to believe that it was dropped from heaven complete. In fact, many of the Bible’s human penmen identify themselves. Some even describe the process of writing God’s Word.”
Can you trust this Book?
By the standards of a modern bestseller, the Bible is a long, rambling, and, at times, disorganized work. It doesn’t have a single easy-to-follow plotline. It’s made up of 66 separate documents by dozens of authors. Some of them are many chapters long; others only part of a page.
Furthermore, it’s a hodgepodge of styles: poetry, history, aphorisms, parables, personal letters, prophecy, complex theological discourse, genealogy, and even some fantastic figurative narrative called apocalyptic. Not all parts of the Bible are easy to read, so it’s no wonder that when you talk to people who love this Book they’ll usually speak of studying the Bible rather than simply perusing it as one would the latest novel.
The Bible came into being in an age without typewriters, printing presses, or copy machines. Some parts were dictated, others passed along orally for multiple generations. It was committed to parchment with quill pens in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, then copied and recopied hundreds of times. As these original languages ceased to be in common use, it was translated into hundreds of newer languages.
The question is, Can we trust a Book with a pedigree like that?
I think so, and here’s why: though it was written down by human beings, it was not written, as my friend said, “Like any other book.” The apostle Peter made it clear that holy men of God spoke and wrote as they were moved by God’s Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). They were the writers, but they didn’t originate the ideas. Look closer and you’ll see the marks of Divine inspiration.
The Gettysburg Address is perhaps the most famous speech in American history. It was transcribed by several people who heard it, then written out several times by Abraham Lincoln himself. Five manuscripts of the address exist, each of them different from the others, making it impossible to know precisely what Lincoln really said at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863.
Manuscripts will contain errors— even that of a two-minute speech only 150 years old. What’s astonishing about the Bible is its accuracy in spite of multiple authors adding to it over a 3,000-year span.
How can we assess the Bible’s accuracy?
The Bible’s internal consistency
The God that is described in the earliest chapters remains the same to the last. God’s relationship with humankind evolves over time, but always according to Divine principles that don’t vary.
A good example is the plan of salvation. Early in the Old Testament, it appears that God is offering salvation to just a few special people, the Jews (Exodus 19:5). But as the stories unfold, it becomes clear that His intention is to bring all people, everywhere, to Him (Isaiah 2:2, 3; Jeremiah 3:17). Jesus comes to earth among the Jewish people, but by His teachings and His relationship to “outsiders” He makes it evident that the door of salvation is intended to be open for every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Luke 2:14, 30; 3:16; 24:47). The apostle Paul wraps up the argument by agreeing that God is saving Israel (Romans 11:26), but he identifies Israel as everyone who accepts the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:29).
So what might appear to the casual reader as a contradiction as to whom and how salvation comes, careful reading reveals the continuity of God’s plan.
The Bible is also consistent with the history found in archaeology and ancient inscriptions. The Hittites are a frequently mentioned nation tribe in the Old Testament (Genesis 10:15; 23:3–10). However, there was no extra biblical evidence they’d ever existed until in the 1940s the archaeologist Hugo Winkler, excavating Boghazkoy in Turkey, found thousands of Hittite artifacts. Similarly, for many years Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1–28) were dismissed as mythical cities—until archaeological digs near the Dead Sea uncovered a ruin that matches the Bible description, including a layer of ash consistent with the Genesis account of the cities’ destruction.
Archaeology has uncovered inscriptions that prove the existence of King David and Pontius Pilate as well as evidence of the Jewish captivity in Babylon and the fall of Jericho’s walls. As many as 75 characters in the Bible are known from nonbiblical sources.
The Bible’s predictions
In the book of Daniel, there’s a cryptic passage about an event that would happen in the middle of the seventieth week after the word goes out “to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” At that point, said Daniel, “he will put an end to sacrifice and offering” (Daniel 9:25–27).
Fortunately, the starting date for this prophecy is known. Artaxerxes granted permission for the Jews to return to Palestine to rebuild their capital city in 457 B.C. If you apply the biblical principle that in prophecy a day is sometimes intended to represent a year (Ezekiel 4:5, 6), 70 weeks equals 490 years, which added to 457 B.C. (remembering that in this calculation you count years backwards to zero and then back up again), you end up at A.D. 34. Since the predicted event was to happen in the middle of the last week, we have to move back about three and a half years, which brings us to A.D 31, which is the date of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Daniel’s prediction is correct: at the moment that Jesus died, all of the temple offerings became worthless, for Jesus was the “Lamb of God” who died to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 10:14). No further sacrifice was necessary.
While we don’t know how well this prophetic time line was understood by Daniel himself, in retrospect its accuracy is startling.
Transmission through the ages
In 1947 a Bedouin boy climbed into a cave near Israel’s Dead Sea and discovered hundreds of ancient manuscripts sealed in jars. They were the oldest copies of the Old Testament ever found. Scholars were excited by the discovery but also apprehensive. What if these older manuscripts showed that the later ones (upon which both Jews and Christians had relied for centuries) weren’t accurate?
They needn’t have worried. The Dead Sea Scrolls turned to be the best proof ever that God had watched over the Bible not only in its writing, but afterwards as well. For while there are a few minor differences in these older scrolls, none of these differences alters a single central biblical teaching. By means of godly scholars who respected the text, the Bible was preserved through countless generations of handwritten copies.
Reason to believe
Determined skeptics, however, won’t be convinced by this evidence. And, indeed, we Christians trust the Bible, not because of its historical and archaeological credentials, but because we’ve found that it contains the truth about God that can transform our lives. “Your word,” wrote David, “is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). And to this day, billions of Christians agree.
The Bible tells us how we were created and why (Genesis 1:26). It identifies the basic human character flaw that tripped up our first ancestors and continues to do so to us (Genesis 3:1–15). In the Bible, God tells us how to live the happiest possible lives. The rules that it gives us, called the Ten Commandments, still form the basis of most laws on earth today (Exodus 20:3–17).
Jesus made the Bible’s teachings manifest in a real human Being. “The Word became flesh,” wrote John, “and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Ten Commandments told us what not to do, but Jesus demonstrated what to do— how to care for one another, how to live in love and peace. The Beatitudes, Jesus’ manifesto of the kingdom of heaven, help us to see that happiness comes from self-sacrifice, not self-empowerment.
Jesus offered salvation to everyone— and He proved how He was serious about this by dying a martyr’s death (John 3:16). Just as important, He showed that His Father was powerful enough to do what He promised when He raised Jesus from death to full, vigorous life (1 Corinthians 1:22).
Jesus also told us that the painful history of our earth will end someday (2 Peter 3:12). He also told us that He will return to rescue those who love Him (John 14:1–3). And God left encoded outlines of these events in the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation.
No, history, archaeology, prophecy, and textual soundness won’t prove to you that the Bible is God’s Word in the same way that a scientist can prove that you have cells in your body. You will recognize that you can trust the Bible when you see that its words are changing your life.
It’s a Book you can only really understand when you get acquainted with its Author.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Online
In October 2010, Israel’s Antiquities Authority and Google announced that they will join forces to bring the Dead Sea Scrolls online, thereby enabling widespread access to the ancient manuscripts for the first time.
The scrolls will be available in their original languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and at first an English
translation. Eventually, other translations will be added, and Google’s translation feature may also be incorporated. The scrolls will also be searchable.
The delicate scrolls are kept in dark, temperature-controlled rooms at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where
only four trained workers are permitted to handle the parchment and papyrus documents. Exposure to light risks damaging the scrolls.
The first images should be posted online in the next few months, with the project completed within five
years. Visit www.antiquities.org.il, for more information.