Is the Bible True?

by Peter Lillback, Ph.D., President and Professor of Historical Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

Not if what Angels and Demons declares is right:

Faith does not protect you.  Medicine and airbags…those are things that protect you.  God does not protect you.  Intelligence protects you.  Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results.  How long has it been since someone walked on water?  Modern miracles belong to science…computers, vaccines, space stations…even the divine miracle of creation.  Matter from nothing…in a lab.  Who needs God?  No! Science is God. (page 174)

This statement calls everything that the Bible teaches into question and in essence declares it to be false.  There is perhaps no more important question than the profound yet basic question of the truthfulness of the Bible. 

The Bible’s Influence on Culture is immeasurable

There is no debate about the Bible’s pivotal role in the creation and formation of Western Civilization.  Victor Hugo declared, "England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England."

But is the Bible merely a great work of literature?  Is the Bible merely a human book?  If it is merely a human book, even if the greatest of human books, it is conceivable that it might not be true.  Few would argue that fictional literature is useless because it is fiction, that is, that it is not a true description of reality. 

So, the question is not the usefulness of the Bible or the power and beauty of its literary content. The question is if it is true, if it is a reliable teacher of whatever it speaks.

To establish the truthfulness of the Bible, we can appeal to two key lines of thought.  The first is what the Bible says about itself.  The second is the evidence of the Bible being what it claims to be.

The Bible Claims to Be True

First, consider what the Bible claims about itself.  The Bible claims to be true. 

Jesus taught that the Bible was true.  Jesus prayed to God, “Sanctify them through your Word.  Your Word is truth.”  (John 17:17.)   Jesus said, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (Jn 10.35).

Not only does the Bible claim to be true, it also claims to be God’s Word in written form.  It declares that its words bring us “the very Word of God” (Romans 3:2).  Over 1,400 times the Bible claims to be God speaking to us.  This is significant because the Bible also declares that God is true and that God does not deceive us or mislead us.  This means that the Bible also possesses the truth of God’s nature. 

Think about it this way.  If the Bible is not the Word of God, yet claims to be, it is not just false, but also deceitful.  Yet these things are the very things the Bible says God cannot be.  Untruthfulness and deceitfulness cannot be attributed to God who is complete in knowledge and perfect in moral character.  If God is true and speaks the truth, so His written Word in the Bible must be true and speak the truth as well.  If the Bible is God’s Word, it must also be true because God Himself is true.

God’s nature of truth is taught consistently in the Bible.  1 Samuel 15:29 says:

And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!  (New Living Translation)

Hebrews 6:16-18 explains that God’s Word is His true promise.  He will not break His promise because it is impossible for God not to tell the truth and to lie: 

16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.  (NLT)
The Bible describes itself as the source of truth for our lives:

Psalm 119:105 declares,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”   

2 Timothy 3:16, 17 says,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 

Because the Bible is true, it penetrates our very hearts with its truth.  Hebrews 4:12 teaches:
"The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart"

But we might expect the Bible to claim to be the trustworthy word of God. Is there objective historical evidence for or against this assertion?

If the Bible claims to be True, is there good evidence that supports that claim?

Is the Bible True?  Consider the manuscript evidence.  No original manuscripts exist for any ancient book. Writing materials were too fragile to stand the passage of centuries. This is the case for Aristotle, Plato, Julius Caesar, the writings of Buddha and the Koran just as much as it is for the Old and New Testaments.

However, we possess today some 5,000 ancient Greek copies of the New Testament, and 10,000 copies in other ancient languages. Latin and Coptic copies go back to the second century; fragments of papyrus documents go back to AD 130. Quotations in the writings of early church fathers date to A.D. 100. Complete versions of the Gospels, Acts, Paul's letters and Hebrews date to the early part of the third century; Revelation to the latter half. Complete volumes of the New Testament date to the 4th century.

Now compare these manuscripts with other ancient documents. Of Caesar's Gallic Wars, we have today only nine or ten good manuscripts, none copied earlier than 900 years after Caesar. For the Histories of Tacitus, we have only 4 of his 14 original books, none copied earlier than the 10th century A.D. For Aristotle's works, we possess only five manuscripts of any one volume, none copied earlier than A.D. 1100 (14 centuries after the original).
Manuscript evidence for the New Testament is remarkable, far surpassing that which exists for any other ancient book. And those who work with these ancient copies (called "textual critics") are convinced that they have been able to recover a Greek New Testament which is virtually identical to the original. Quoting F.F. Bruce, "The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice."

This evidence does not prove that the Bible is the word of God. But it does demonstrate conclusively that the Bible you have is the same which was first written by its authors.

Is the Bible True? - There's good evidence from archaeology

Let's look next at the evidence of archaeology. Such findings continue to confirm the geographical and historical veracity of the biblical texts. For instance, the pool of Bethesda (Jn 5:2ff) was once dismissed as historical fiction. Now archaeologists locate it in the northeast quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. You can see it when you visit Jerusalem today.

Researchers have identified the remains of Caiaphas, the high priest of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. They have discovered the skeleton of Yohanan, a crucifixion victim from AD 70, and note that these remains confirm the details of Jesus' crucifixion as it is described in the gospels. Archaeological evidence strongly supports the trustworthiness of the biblical narratives.

Is the Bible True? - Consider the evidence from fulfilled prophecy

Last, consider the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. At least 48 major Messianic prophecies can be identified in the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled each one. Endeavoring to determine the odds of such a phenomenon, mathematician Peter Stoner isolated eight of these 48 prophecies. He then calculated the odds that any one person might have fulfilled them all.
Stoner determined those odds to be one in 10 to the 17th power (one followed by 17 zeroes). Visualize the number this way: take this number in silver dollars and lay them across the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state, two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he likes, but he must pick up the one silver dollar that you marked. What are the chances he will pick the one you marked? The same odds that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all fulfilled in one person.

Is the Bible true?  Reflect on the spiritual experience of billions of people.

Countless multitudes across 20 centuries can attest to the fact that the teachings of the Bible have been proven true and authoritative in their personal lives. Each believer in Christ who has trusted the Gospel of Christ found in the Bible can testify to its truth of changing their lives.  The Bible’s truth changes lives from the inside out showing the truth of its power.  Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.”  (Romans 1:16.)

To conclude, the Bible claims to be trustworthy because it is the word of God.   There is overwhelming personal experience for the truth of the Bible.  And there is outstanding historical and scholarly evidence to support this claim that the Bible is true. 

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Further Reading

Peter A. Lillback, "Symbolology"


Sources:

F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1977) pp. 19-20, 27.
James C. Denison, "The Real Painter of the Gospel: The Da Vinci Code in the Light of History" Feb 2006. pp 5-6
Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999) 193.


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Angels and Demonds Truth