GCengage: Is the Bible Reliable?

The Da Vinci Code put the criticism of the reliability of the Bible on the cultural map by embedding several controversial claims into the public square:

  • The accepted history of Christianity is a lie.
  • The Gospels are remarkably inaccurate.
  • Constantine got rid of other competing gospels.
  • Judaism and early Christianity were actually religions of goddess worship.
  • Jesus was clearly not God.

DVC had a huge impact on the public perception of the Bible. For some, it confirmed their disbelief. For others, it caused them to doubt the reliability of the Bible, and they scrambled to come up with a way to cling to Jesus while explaining away the Bible.  In previous weeks, we noted that 1) God exists, 2) we can know true things about him, and 3) it is in Christianity that we find the fullness of God’s revelation of himself through Jesus Christ.  Of course, we learn about Jesus through the Bible, so today’s focus is on the reliability of the Bible. As a way of thinking through some of the claims, here are some minimal facts about the Bible that it would be helpful to know.

Minimal Fact #1: It’s a serious historical book.

  • Real people really wrote it. Those people are part of history.
  • The book itself can be tracked throughout history, and if you study it the same way you study other ancient books, it stands out in its accuracy and preservation.  This had a lot to do with the way the early church very carefully preserved writings that stood above other things that were written about Jesus.
  • It’s also falsifiable in ways other religious texts are not: it makes claims about public events that are meant to be tested. It tells embarrassing stories about its heroes and gives unnecessary details.  In addition, the Bible itself claims that if the key teaching is proven false – the death and resurrection of Jesus – the entire system is false.

Minimal Fact #2: What’s in it now is what was in it then.

The Bible is often compared to the telephone game, where one person copies from another, who copies from another, and so on until the message that is received is nothing like the message that was intended. Another claim is that the Bible has been translated so many times that error has taken over the text. These are simply not the case. The Bible stands out in terms of its safe transmission. 

It’s worth noting there is absolutely no reason to believe that a notion of the sacred feminine was deleted, and no reason to believe that a secret, powerful group of people bullied certain books out of into the canon of Scripture. What we have now is what they had then, and what they had then was determined by a very public and careful process.

Minimal Fact #3: The Bible is Internally Consistent  

There's a lot that could be said here (see "Recommended Resources" at the end of this post), but let's look at one particular area that has gained recent popularity: undesigned coincidences. This happens when more than one writer give details about a story that seem insignificant in isolation, but put into context with others they create a cohesive, comprehensive picture.

  • For example, in Matthew 8:16 we read, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” The comment about evening seems irrelevant in comparison to casting out demons and healing the sick. Who cares what time of day it was?  But when reading other accounts, the pieces fall into place. Mark records the same incident and says that it was on a Sabbath (Mark 1:21). Matthew 12:10 notes the Jews would not heal on the Sabbath Since theJews considered 6pm as the end of the day,  people brought the sick people to be healed in the evening.  Small detail; interesting cohesion of stories.
  • Luke 9:36 records the disciples seeing Elijah and Moses, hearing God’s voice , and telling no one. That seems odd, doesn't it? Wouldn't they tell everybody? Mark 9:9-10 gives the explanation: “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant”.
  • In John 6:5, we read this incident in the life of Jesus: When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Why Phillip? Philip rarely gets any specific press, so why here? Why now?  Well, it turns out they were in Philip's home town. Who else would they ask? (John 1:44; Luke 9:10)

Minimal Fact #4: The Bible is Externally Verifiable

  Archaeology has provided massive amounts of corroborating evidence for the Biblical record. Check out biblicalarcheology.org for a lot of very cool examples.  In addition, ancient non-Christian writers such as Thallus, Josephus, Tacitus, Tranquillas, and Pliny recorded events in the life of Jesus and the early church. (For a good list with quotes, go to http://www.authenticlight.org/2011/01/ancient-writers-who-mention-jesus.html, or http://www.equip.org/articles/biblical-archaeology-factual-evidence-to-support-the-historicity-of-the-bible/

 Minimal Fact #5: Its testable, reliable, consistent claims about the physical world justify its spiritual claims.

An attesting miracle is one whereJesus did something in the physical world to substantiate a claim He was making about spiritual reality. Once, when Jesus was asked if he could forgive sins, he performed a miracle to substantiate His spiritual claims: "‘In order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’" (Mk. 2:10-11)  In other words, Jesus was not afraid to provide facts that would support faith.

 We see a similar example in Exodus 9:14: "For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth."  Once again, God is not adverse to using observable, historical events (in this case plagues) to verify unobservable, spiritual truths.

 So, what’s the purpose of all this evidence? After all, we are not trying to bring people to faith in the Bible; we are trying to bring people to faith in Christ.  Our goal is to show the skeptic that that Bible is reliable in the claims that can be empirically tested (with history, science, and archaeology), and so we have good reason to believe that when it speaks of realities beyond the physical world, it is also trustworthy. Eventually, we hope and pray that Scripture will be embraced as the trustworthy revelation of God to the world. Meanwhile, discussion about its reliability may at least keep the Bible on the conversational table.